This month is R U OK Day and next month is Mental Health Awareness Month, in light of this I’m writing this piece to share some of my story, but more importantly a few of the techniques, articles and videos which have been a tremendous help for me over the last year. Ultimately, the key piece of advice I can give is to seek professional help if you are overcome with thoughts or emotions, it has done me a world of good.
Prelude to the end
I can still vividly remember the day it ended. I’d been seeing this person for around four months but despite having many mutual friends it had been kept quiet (in hindsight, a big red flag). I’d sensed in the two days leading up to this day that something was amiss and even tried to cancel the early morning meetup. Nevertheless here I was collecting her to donate some items to a local charity store.
As we placed the items in the back of my car she stepped back and quietly suggested we have a chat in the park across the road. As I crossed the road I felt the dread of what was to come sink in, she explained, that she had decided we were incompatible, but assured me that she wanted to be friends and that I was still a “great guy”. Numb from her words, and physically cold as it was a very crisp winter morning, I tried to see if there was any hope of things being okay. However, I was met with nothing but polite pleasantries. In the awkwardness I insisted that we still donate the items, and then dropped her back home. The following day, after asking how she was, I was firmly told not to ask anymore and subsequently all communication was blocked.
I’m ok, I’m not ok
In the immediate aftermath I was terribly worried about what I had done so wrong for both the relationship and communication to be cut as abruptly as this, and it took weeks of convincing by mutual friends that I had done nothing. In the midst of these weeks I then faced the death of a grandparent, a former colleague, and other tumultuous issues in both my work and social life.
After taking a week of personal leave to deal with these issues I thought I would be okay. For the following two weeks my mood was quite low, I was struggling to fall to sleep and then waking around 5am with my head full of thoughts about the past and wondering (as I learned later, “fortune telling”) about her.
Although, I started to consider if I should seek some professional help, for the two subsequent weeks I was okay. By this time it was late-September, and I was in Canberra for a work conference. I had hoped that the few days away would be a welcome break. Instead, I woke shaking and nauseous with panic. Having had panic attacks many years ago I attempted to apply my usual control techniques, however, they didn’t work. At this moment it was clearly time to see a doctor.
What’s wrong with me?
Writing this in hindsight I’m really glad to say how excellent the doctor and psychologist who treated me are. The doctor I visited conducted a vast number of blood and other tests as the emotional stress I was going through had set off a number of physical issues (fortunately nothing long term). In addition I got a referral to a psychologist, which despite being the best outcome, it still then took me more than a week to build up the confidence to act on it.
Getting the full story of what I was going through took more than a few psychologist sessions. Fortunately, from the first session I was given some materials to work through to get my thoughts back under control.
The first, maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle, as obvious as it is, is hard to do. Especially, when you’re low on energy from lack of sleep. I found one of the simplest things I could do was to try and get home from work a little earlier and sit outside in stillness or reading taking in the last of sunlight.
The second was practicing mindfulness meditation. Smiling Mind is a great app for this. Although finding a full ten minutes with no distractions, to feel through the senses of every part of your body or to feel the breathe passing through the body, was a challenge for me. Over time, I learnt the power of pausing even for a few moments and breathing can be a big help in calming both the body and mind.
Third, accepting that I’m not responsible for the actions of others. There are two great resources on this, the first, I discovered in an early morning bout of sleeplessness is a Psychology Today article on “Why Ghosting Hurts so Much”
Ghosting is the ultimate use of the silent treatment, a tactic that has often been viewed by mental health professionals as a form of emotional cruelty.
… they have sent you an extremely loud message that says: I don’t have what it takes to have a mature healthy relationship with you.
My psychologist then recommended Brené Brown’s TEDx talk on vulnerability:
Healing takes time, much time
Over the next few months I regularly practiced mindfulness meditation and during this period my body recovered, I got more sleep and generally began to feel a lot better about myself. However, despite doing better I was far from my old self. In particular, certain thoughts about the past would come into my mind and get stuck for hours. A particular guided meditation to help with this is called “leaves on a stream”.
After about six months I tried to make contact with the person who had ghosted me as having many mutual friends in common continued to make social engagements a painful and anxious experience. However, this did not go down well with a mutual friend becoming involved. At this point I had to accept that there would be no clean closure and although I had kept communication channels open on my end in the hope of some communication I had to resort to blocking them off. Interestingly enough, a few months later I came across another TED talk which discusses this sort of approach for overcoming heartbreak:
The final app which has been extremely helpful over the last few months is Woebot. A quirky and fun little chatbot who you check in with on a daily basis. Woebot has been a great aid in suggesting lots of little tips and tricks to keep the mind positive and overcome the low feelings that can so easily creep in.
A year later
My journey over the last year has grown me and there are positives that have come out the pain. I’m much more aware of my emotional stressors and can share with others some of the techniques I’ve learned for staying in control when it feels like your life is crumbling around you. Additionally I have made changes in my life to achieve a healthy balanced life, from where I live, to where I work and I am happy to state that I have a new girlfriend who has supported me when at times I’ve felt like things are going dark all over again.
Finally, I’ve learnt that I can’t always be in control of everything in my life. Things external to me will affect me. For me, as a Christian, this has given me even stronger belief in these words from Edward Mote:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.