Coping strategies

17 Jan

“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I didn’t used to realise that mental health issues can happen to anyone. Until it happened to me. I went through burnout in 2008. It was a terrible and terrifying time – the end of life as I knew it, the end of a dream, the beginning of something new. A new compassion. A new understanding. A new perspective on life.

I had being trying to cope with a lot of stress, to stay strong, to keep going. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was under a lot of pressure – much of it self-inflicted. I think that burnout was my body’s way of keeping me alive – letting me stop, slow down, recover and resurrect. At the time, I felt devastated, utterly devastated. Now I look back in gratitude, not only that I was forced to change the way I lived – slowing down, becoming more honest about my weaknesses, learning to be kind to myself – but also that I now “know”  burnout and depression (or anxiety or a panic attack). I know now that these are simply attempts at coping with stress and pain – the body’s way of telling us something is out of kilter, the heart’s way of letting us know that our coping strategies aren’t working. I now know not to judge others, not to make assumptions, not to categorise people as “them” and “us”. 1 in 3 of us will struggle with mental health issues during our lives – it can happen to anyone. Money, “success”, fame, adoration do not insulate someone from depression or anxiety. Nor do loving relationships, solid friendships or a supportive family. It can happen to any of us, at any time.

There is no shame in depression/burnout/prozac/counselling. There is no shame because these are not signs of weakness. Being able to talk about them is a sign of strength. Listening to others talk about them is a sign of love and empathy. Let’s learn to talk, and to listen, more.

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