Journalist, author and mental health campaigner Bryony Gordon is the founder of Mental Health Mates, a support group where people with mental health issues can come together to walk and talk without fear of judgement.
Here Bryony talks about how she manages her own health and the steps you can take to support yours.
Connect with others
Even though we live in a super-connected world, a lot of us have never felt so disconnected from actual people - from touch, hugs, face-to-face conversation. In fact one of the reasons I set up Mental Health Mates was because I know first-hand how isolating having a mental illness can be.
I came up with the idea about two and half years ago. I was not very well myself at the time and I was out running on Clapham Common near where I live, trying to make myself feel better. I couldn’t help but notice that there were all these people getting together - footballers, runners, groups of mums. And I thought, with so many of us out there suffering, why are there not groups of people with mental health issues here on the Common too?
Setting up Mental Health Mates has enabled me to meet lots of people like me and I’ve got much better while I’ve been doing it. I think it’s because connecting with other people is like beating mental illness at its own game.
Mental illness by its very nature wants you alone. It wants to isolate you. And it works very much like an abuser. It doesn’t want you to think that there are other people out there who feel the same way as you. It tells you that you’re the only one suffering, which keeps you in shame... and the shame keeps you ill. But once you connect with others and realise you’re not alone, you get through that chink in its armour and you’re on the way to recovery.
Remember you have a physical illness
I’ve come to accept that mental illness is just a part of my body make-up. It’s a long-term illness and just as much being ill as having a stomach bug. After all mental health IS physical health. Your brain is a part of your body…and a part that we really need to look after as it’s an incredibly powerful organ that drives everything!
By acknowledging that your brain is just as much a part of you as your body, it makes mental illness have much less of a stigma.
Do little things daily - they all add up
There are so many little things we can do to help ourselves and to be kinder to ourselves.
Everything adds up. Don’t get me wrong, going to one Mental Health Mates walk is not going to cure you. But all of these things combined together and done regularly put you in a place where you are more likely to be able to move forwards with your mental illness.
Put your recovery first
Looking after my head is the centre of my world. Before it was an afterthought and I didn’t really know what to do. But I’ve learned that I basically have to treat myself like a newborn baby. By that I mean I prioritise keeping myself fed, watered and well-rested. Sleep is so important.
I think in this country we’re quite bad at looking after ourselves. We’re almost taught it’s a selfish thing and that it’s self indulgent. But it’s not. Because if you don’t you aren’t really of any use to anyone, least of all yourself. It’s like that oxygen mask analogy - you have to put yours on first before you can help others.
Be nice to your body
The majority of my life has been spent punishing my body through alcohol, through excessive exercise or eating disorders. In fact I spent my whole life wanting to prove the experts were wrong and that I could drink and eat rubbish and I’d still be OK. But actually, no. None of those things help my mental health at all.
The more you respect your body the more you respect yourself. And self respect is so crucial because it stops you from doing things that are bad for you. Look after yourself and care for yourself, then you’re more likely to make the choices that make you happier.
Read more from Bryony here.