Our local Time to Change Champions are leading the fight against mental health stigma. With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week being themed on ‘Kindness’, they are sharing stories about how different sorts of kindness have helped them, and allowed them to help others:
“Kindness to self
When I found out that this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week was based on “Kindness” I wanted to share my story about how I am striving to be kind not only to others but perhaps more importantly the act of being kind to myself. I wanted to share a little of my journey into discovering self-kindness in the hope that it may help others, even in the smallest of ways, to know that YOU matter, you are worthy and that you are deserving.
Self-Kindness – is such a powerful phrase that conjures up a plethora of different thoughts and opinions.
Self-Kindness is something I admittedly actively avoided thinking about – it’s selfish, narcissistic, and self-indulgent. I always battled with a pervasive sense of not being good enough or worthy enough to allow myself to show kindness. However, having taken the step to get intensive daily support for Anorexia, I have learnt being kind to myself is so important and should be at the forefront of any journey into recovery. Without self-compassion recovery is neigh on impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, kindness to self is (like recovery) not linear, it comes with its hurdles and setbacks. Our own validation, self-worth, rises and falls in step with our latest successes or failures – I keep reminding myself that nothing worth having comes easy.
It is still something I battle with, feel guilty about, something that goes completely against what my Eating Disorder (ED) is telling me to do but in a strange way it empowers me, it fuels me to dismiss the negative voices that my ED enforces on me, that infiltrates my mind all day, it is putting me in touch with the authentic me – someone that has been controlled and manipulated for over a third of my life by an invisible, destructive demon illness.
I am going to continue to use all of the negative traits engrained within an ED – determination, stubbornness, grit, strength and use them towards positive outcomes, outcomes that will enable me to achieve the goals I’ve set myself in life, to be at peace with who I am and show myself the kindness that I show the people I care so dearly about.
So how did I start my journey of being kind to myself?
I became so tired of flagellating myself with self-criticism, self-doubt, and a lack of self-worth. I wanted to stop punishing myself for all the mistakes I made, for all the people I’ve let down, for all the times I corroded my sense of self.
I needed a plan to get out of this self-destructive and punishing trap I laid for myself. I had hit a very dark place, I moved in with my sister, had to take time off work and was under the support of a mental health crisis team – my life was spiralling and I needed to change this – this was not the life I craved, I just needed to figure out how to lay the foundations to pave a meaningful, fulfilling existence.
This is how my Year of Yes manifested itself – the year I vowed to be kinder, more accepting to myself and say yes to the things that would bring me a step closer to being in line with my authentic self – embracing life, the people in it, the experiences it offers and the opportunities it gives you to thrive and meet incredible people whilst doing it.
So, what did I say yes to?
Changing career, a career I loved so much but was highly detrimental to my health and wellbeing. This was the time I said yes to putting a pause on teaching and having the courage to take a risk. I now work with students who are studying at University with a disclosed disability. This has taught me that by being kind to myself is imperative. It made me realise that kindness actually needs to start from within before transcending to others (something that I value so much). It has taught me that I can transfer the skills I used in the classroom to a different role and still make a difference.
I ran my first 10k and rewarded myself with the first ice cream I had in years. I didn’t have a personal trainer or a training schedule to get me from my sofa to running such a distance, I just used my self-compassion as my coach – “You can do this Hayley”, “Just a little further,” “It’ll all be worth it in the end”. Do these phrases ring any bells? This experience taught me that the lessons you learn in one experience, in this case, running at an event, can be used to help you in the future with other life experiences – just to clarify, I’m not suggesting you all run a 10k to realise this!
I said yes to doing what I loved – travelling. I signed to embark on an adventure to Laos with a teaching charity that I saw advertised online just 6 weeks before. Prior to these 6 weeks I had (rather ignorantly) never heard of Laos – it is now one of my favourite places in the world! This enabled me to spread my passion for education, travel and meet the most inspirational people along the way. Having three weeks away from the bubble of being home, was for me, the ultimate gift to myself. This act of kindness towards myself gave me the opportunity to reflect on things; what I wanted out of life, what I cared most about and perhaps most importantly, how I wanted things to change on my return.
I said yes to trying new things, I never knew that a girl born in Essex whose idea of exercise constituted of walking around the local shopping centre, could and would end up loving climbing mountains – especially when the man of your dreams proposes to you at the top!
I realised that during my year of yes, self-kindness isn’t just about being on your own and doing things for yourself – it’s all about sharing your life with people that make you feel lucky to be alive – that actually spending time with good people is being kind to yourself. I learnt that being an Auntie to the most incredible nephews has given my life purpose, I can instil love, fun and most importantly kindness into my nephews so that hopefully, when they are older they’ll see their value in this world and give themselves the self-compassion that they deserve.
Sometimes self-care does involve spending a bit of money too – during this year of yes, I gave myself the permission to get something I’d always wanted – a CAT! After all, all the self-help books recommend pets as being great therapy! I can confirm this to be true. There is nothing better than sitting in bed, reading a book with a purring fluff ball keeping you company.
With each of these self-kindness successes, came greater confidence that I am, indeed stronger than my ED.
I’m still negotiating this relatively new territory of self-compassion, but I’m determined to stop the damaging berating that I have come to know as the norm. Life is full of hurdles, it’s terrifying, unpredictable but it’s also beautiful, fulfilling and enlightening at the same time – ultimately, we can only ever be who we are and do the best we can.
Let’s start a chain of self-kindness, after all we are all fragile human beings navigating life together, we are incredible treasures who have been given the gift of life – lets embrace it – let’s embrace ourselves!”
The Portsmouth and Southampton Time to change hub is delivered in partnership by Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council, co-ordinated by Solent Mind.
We are committed to the Hub being led by Champions. There are many ways that registered Champions can get involved in the direction of the Hub, including joining us at Steering Group meetings. If you’d like to find out more please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.