Sometimes everything in our lives is going well… except our mental health. It can ignite all kinds of emotions and thoughts. We may not understand it. We may feel guilty, hopeless, disappointed, and deeply ashamed. But there is nothing to be ashamed of. Poor mental health and mental illness can happen to anyone at any time.

When all is well... except our mental health.  The background shows a woman on the steps of a stairwell, her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees.

Misconceptions about mental health

There is a huge misconception that if our lives are “good” then we cannot experience poor mental health. It’s just not like that. Even if we have a new job, are in a stable relationship, and love where we live, our physical health can suffer. So can our mental health.

As with any condition, certain things can increase our risk of experiencing poor mental health, but some of us are diagnosed with mental illness despite having few or no identifiable risk factors.

How does it feel?

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel rubbish when everything around us seems fine. When life is “good” and others are “worse,” we can be guilty of our own refined feelings.

Guilt, self-loathing, and self-stigma can prevent us from telling someone about our feelings. We feel so alone.

We worry about people judging us because we have no “right” to feel bad when things are so “good”. So we sit on our lunch break until we can get our car back together. Plaster on the smile in front of our children. Swallow our tears before getting a phone call from a friend. Generally, we keep our feelings to ourselves, pretending we’re fine when we’re actually feeling something else.

Taking things down

Some of us are very effective at the “squish it” technique for a while.

If something happens that makes us feel bad, instead of dealing with it, we push it away and try to forget it. Unfortunately, when our ability to cope is exceeded, things start to appear and we can no longer ignore it.

It can seem frustrating that we think we “sort out” the things that affect our mental health. But trying to ignore the hard stuff doesn’t usually work as a permanent solution. It may work temporarily, but at some point we may need to tackle these difficult tasks and need support with that.

Effects of delayed processing on mental health

We don’t all process things at the same speed. Some of us react immediately. Others need more time.

Processing can become bogged down, especially if we are faced with complex and/or multiple difficult situations in a row. It may take time to process everything that happens to us. The things people say, the things we have to do, the decisions we have to make, the times we have to be brave, and any effects of difficult situations.

Processing can become almost background noise. As it goes on, there can be dips in our mental health that seem unexpected, but actually relate to the point at which we’ve reached a processing jam. This may take time to work through.

Get to a safe place

There are times when we go through really tough things and seem totally fine, then we get to a place where things are a little harder, only for our mental health to suffer. This may sound too modest.

We can think of it as being stuck on a big hill in an unexpected storm. Each of us would react differently to this imaginary storm, but some of us ‘get through it’. We’d be the ones to ramp up our team, come up with a plan of action, and get everyone off the big hill and into a warm, dry building. Only once in the building would we safely start shaking or crying.

Sometimes when we are going through difficult times we don’t feel safe enough to feel our feelings or admit our situation. We just keep our heads down and work hard to make things better for ourselves. Once we feel safe enough to let our guard down a bit, our mental health suffers.

This may seem somewhat counterintuitive. Bad times – coping, good times – barely wearing. But from an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense. While fighting for the basics, all our energy must go into survival. Only after our basic needs are met can we focus on our thoughts and feelings.

It runs empty

Some of us get so caught up in busyness and juggling responsibilities that we rarely stop to check in with ourselves. This means that we don’t realize our mental health is beginning to falter until the wobble begins to affect our ability to function.

When we are completely exhausted, whether we enjoy the things that exhaust us or not, it is difficult to maintain positive mental health. We may start to feel irritable, cry more often, feel more ‘left out’ and feel like we’re less capable than we’d like to deal with small issues.

To begin to understand this, it helps to start with a crystal clear picture of where we are. How much work are we currently doing? What does it look like? It can help to map this out on a weekly basis. We may want to add to it in a few weeks. When we write it for the first time, we may forget things because we are so used to doing them.

Seeing a standard week written out in front of us can help us assess whether we are really too busy, and if we are, we can start to cut back on some responsibilities. It can be scary to let go of commitments, but sometimes we don’t have to stop doing things, we just have to adjust how we do them. For example, can we reduce our taxi fees by carpooling to and from our children’s various clubs? Can we reduce the admin associated with our volunteer role? Could we pay a cleaner for one morning a week, freeing us up to spend time with our family and not in soapy water?

Rebalancing our time can sometimes help us get our mental health back on track.

“Going good” doesn’t fit our values

“Going well” is subjective. It means different things to different people.

While one person might define “well-being” as 2.4 kids, a dog, a semi-detached house, and a well-paying job, others might define “well-being” as being able to consistently meet our basic needs.

None of us grow up in a vacuum. We are all taught from a young age the definition of “going well”. It’s often a combination of family expectations, wisdom from friends, what our education system instills in us, and what we absorb from our society.

As we age, we develop our own opinions, personality, and belief systems. It can take a lot of choice and a lot of work to shake off the weight of expectations and tap into our buried personal values. Our current “not going well” situation may be far removed from our personal values. It can make us feel separate, disconnected, and somehow “off.”

Talking to others, writing, reading, journaling, drawing, thinking, doing ‘thinking walks’, listening and tuning into what feels ‘good’ and what doesn’t can help us reconnect with who we are. , what we want and what “good” means to us.

The despair of poor mental health

One particularly difficult aspect of dealing with poor mental health when other areas of our lives are going well is the sense of hopelessness it can foster.

When things go wrong, there is something we can attribute to our poor mental health. Something we can blame. We can point to something and say, “That’s it, that’s the reason.” The bad stuff is trash, but at least it keeps us focused. At least we have something tangible we can work on.

When all is well… where does that leave us?

It can lead to despair, especially if we’ve worked hard to get where we are and think we’ll feel better once all the ‘issues’ we’ve had are more or less sorted out. Sometimes this can lead to suicidal thoughts, because if we can’t put our finger on a specific issue that we can “fix,” then we can feel like we’re doomed to feel like crap forever.

It is very important that we have support when we feel hopeless. First, because no one should have to deal with such terrible feelings alone. But secondly, our loved ones or professionals can see things that we don’t. They may have ideas about things we can try. If not, at least they can be with us until things are brighter.

Whatever our circumstances, we deserve support

No matter what our situation is, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable our lives have been so far, we deserve support.

Poor mental health and mental illness do not discriminate. So neither should we. Regardless of our circumstances, no one has the right to judge us for our struggles, and that includes judging ourselves. We deserve to feel supported. We deserve to feel good. Help is out there. We are not alone.

Please help us help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.

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