Even the most positive person can be fighting daily battles with mental health issues.
Mental health issues can become even more exacerbated during the holiday season, which is traditionally about family, connection, and togetherness, and that’s why it’s important to realise that you are not the only one struggling, even though it may FEEL like that when you’re in the thick of it…
One of the hardest parts of parenting whilst dealing with this reality myself has been the almost constant need to stuff and repress my feelings because I don’t WANT my children affected by them. So I can only get a sense of release and relief when I am alone and feel ‘allowed’ to let them out.
For me, it’s a lot like doing a poo; you don’t want an audience when you’re doing it, and nobody else wants to see it either!! But when you need to ‘go’, and you have young children to care for, every Mum knows you can’t just abandon them whilst you go off to the toilet! In order to keep them safe and supervised, you either have to put them somewhere safe OR take them in with you so you know they are safe.
But when you feel waves of overwhelming emotion start to rise, it’s not as easy as just taking them with you, or putting them somewhere safe. You don’t know how long that emotional ‘poo’ will last, and you know that it might not do your child(ren) a lot of good to see you going through that process (although some may argue that it’s also modelling how to express negative emotions and move on, but it depends on HOW you express them and how well you can move on in those moments afterwards; only you know how potentially helpful or destructive your processing can be for children).
So you stuff your feelings down, doing your best to repress them as much as possible and putting on a brave face for the sake of your children’s own emotional well-being (think of the scene of Emma Thompson in Love Actually, finding out the necklace wasn’t for her, and the way she hides in her bedroom momentarily to recover her composure when the emotion got too much to completely hide…).
With mental health issues, oftentimes those moments aren’t just limited to the rare big shocks and tragedies in life, but can be every day occurrences. So every day, often multiple times a day, those big feelings that need to be released, are having to be stuffed and repressed, and the more that happens, the more they can affect your behaviour, energy levels, joy in life, even your attitudes towards your loved ones etc.
The other week, I reached a point of such emotional constipation that a tiny little thing (I couldn’t do something technical on this website), triggered an absolutely massive meltdown of such huge proportions I have never behaved in such a way in my life. I screamed, I threw things around (including my external hard drive that I use for backups, and which I subsequently found was completely buggered 🙁 ), I collapsed on the floor in a flood of tears that lasted quite a while. NOT something you want your children to witness, as it’s not a particularly mature way of modelling coping with the frustrations in life. I certainly learned though that EVEN while I am a big believer in trying to be as positive as I can about dealing with the shit in my life, that occasionally, even relatively minor triggers can occur during a time when you’ve allowed things to build up, not taken care of yourself, and can become completely overwhelming and overtake ALL rationality.
So part of MY self-care, is MAKING opportunities to release those feelings, at a time that causes minimal disruption and emotional upset to my children, and doesn’t involve taking it out on my partner either. I need alone time in which to do this, as I can’t release any pent-up negative emotions if anyone is around me, as I worry about judgement, them worrying about me, their own emotional reaction to my feelings etc. And then I actively seek out highly triggering films, articles, music, stories etc that will ‘pop the cork’ on the repressed feelings that I’ve had to keep bottled up for so long in order to protect my family from having to deal with them. I call these kind of materials emotional laxatives, as they trigger the forceful expulsion of all my backed-up emotion. 😉
That way, I can carry out a ‘controlled explosion’ of my ’emotional poo’ in a safe-for-all environment, rather than keeping it buried in a field, forgotten about for sometimes decades, until some unsuspecting innocent party comes along and accidentally steps on the trigger…
The same thing often happens with social media when anyone posts something that triggers a reaction inside us. BEFORE we start furiously typing a knee-jerk response, we need to stop and reflect what from our past could be creating that reaction inside us and evaluate if this is something we still need to bring to our conscious awareness, REALLY allow ourselves to feel the feelings, deal with the thoughts and emotions as they arise, and finally, heal – I call it the ‘Feel, Deal, Heal’ process.
“Feel, Deal, Heal Process”:
Find a quiet, uninterrupted time when you know nobody will need you for a couple of hours (yes, I KNOW, being a Mother, especially a single Mother, can make that impossible at times, but please try to, even if you do it in the middle of the night)
- Feel – find something that you KNOW will trigger a reaction in you. You know what kind of materials and topics cause you to feel upset; maybe it’s true stories about animals being mistreated, or films about the destruction of the rainforest. Anything that provokes a negative emotional reaction in you can act as an emotional laxative. Allow yourself to really feel all the feelings that this emotional laxative provokes; let the tears flow freely, without censorship, and without overthinking. Your triggers may not be directly related to the pain you are releasing. For instance, you could be initially crying at a documentary about the work of the RSPCA and feeling saddened about animal abuse and neglect, but then deeper feelings may start to arise about how you felt abandoned by your parents as a child when they took you to school for the first time and left you there for the day. It might seem trivial to your rational mind, and you may even be tempted to judge yourself for equating something so ‘pathetic’ with animal abuse. But whatever comes up for you in that moment is what needs to be released at this time and may have nothing to do with the initial trigger, so just allow it to come forth without judgement.
- Deal – once the emotions are retreating, the first part of the cleansing process is over. The next step is to deal with any thoughts that arose during that process, so NOW is the time to allow your rational mind to get to work. Reflect on the process of releasing the emotions you felt and use this step to become consciously aware of what came up for you. You can journal about these thoughts if it helps you with the process. You may find additional insights come up for you that also shed light on your repressed pain; “I THOUGHT I was just crying about being ‘abandoned’ by my parents at school on my first day and I felt at the time that I was being pathetic and ridiculous as it wasn’t THAT bad looking back. But another image momentarily popped into my head of a dog my parents had that was taken to the vet and had to be put to sleep a few days before I started school. I hadn’t even remembered the dog until now as I was so little at the time. And NOW I remember them crying and feeling sad, and then the dog never being around after that. I didn’t really understand why my normally happy parents were so miserable, and I didn’t understand about death at that age. So when I was taken to school a few days later and left there, I felt I was never going to go back home either just like the dog, and it terrified me more than the first day of school would have done normally. But because they were still grieving about the dog dying, they weren’t able to recognise that and support me emotionally through those feelings of terror at being left at school and allow me to release them naturally. They thought I was just being oversensitive and silly about going to school. So when I watched the documentary about the RSPCA and saw the dog being abandoned, it brought all those memories alive at last and allowed those stuck feelings of being left at school and all the sadness in my family about the dog dying that I didn’t understand and made me feel scared to finally be released.”
- Heal – Use your rational mind to speak to yourself as if you were back in that painful situation again but using the insights you have now gained, parent yourself if you were a child, or ‘best-friend’ yourself (talk to yourself as if you were talking to your best friend going through the same pain) if you were an adult. The example scenario above was from a situation during childhood, so you could talk to yourself as if you were the ideal parent you would have wanted at the time as you consciously remember and acknowledge the feelings you felt by saying things like “Hey, it must seem SO scary to be left here in this big place, with all these strange people running around you, making all this noise. But I’m here with you and I won’t leave you. You’re safe and you’re loved. And your Mummy and Daddy will be coming back here to take you home again before dinner time tonight, so you’ll be able to see them again too. I know you feel scared because they are so sad at the moment. They don’t play with you like they normally do, and you don’t know why. You wish Daddy would just give you a piggy back again, and Mummy would smile more again when she sings to you at bedtime. All these changes seem very scary, don’t they? But you’re safe, and you’re loved, and I’m here for you…” etc etc. Don’t try to justify or explain WHY Mummy and Daddy are sad during this process; this is about YOUR painful feelings and validating them, and being soothing, reassuring, and comforting to help process those perfectly valid emotions that you felt at the time. If tears start to flow again, allow them. If angry feelings arise, allow them, but try to use the angry energy constructively rather than throwing expensive tech equipment around.
Feel free to journal any more thoughts that arise as part of this process as these could even provide the basis for future sessions. If you need to revisit the same issue more than once, that is perfectly normal and is to be expected with larger issues. If you find that the process is too much for you, then stop and seek out more professional support. I have deliberately focused on providing an example that doesn’t include actual abuse, as those kind of experiences may very likely need professional mental health support to help with. There is no shame in needing mental health help; I have used counsellors and therapists at various times throughout my adult life whenever I recognise the need for additional support. It’s not fair to expect my family members and friends to be able to help me through ALL my life challenges, so whenever I need an expert, I go to one; whether that is a vet, an electrician, or a counsellor . So DO seek one out if you feel you need one.
We provide lots of resources on this site to help you with your own emotional and mental processing. Lots of people find journalling their thoughts for a few minutes each day helpful. Others find running helps release pent-up feelings, and this is an especially good way of using up adrenaline too if you find you’ve had a surge of it released. Before I became unwell, I used to actually clean the oven as a way of using up my adrenaline when I was feeling angry! Or I declutter something and use that angry energy constructively to throw out those things I have been hanging on to for far too long due to sentiment or unhealthy emotional attachment.
Find a strategy of “Feel, Deal, Heal” that works for you, or seek out a therapist/counsellor and make time to do it!! It’s not self-indulgence; it’s self-care, and is vital to your overall health and well-being… <3