Thoughts on self-care and mental wellbeing

I was 14 when I began referring to myself as someone with a mental health problem. Nowadays, I’m very open talking about my experiences. I sometimes wonder, when I am sat around a table of my friends and the subject drifts on to mental health, whether I’m making anyone uncomfortable by being so candid. But then I remind myself that when I was fourteen, I had wished that someone would open up a dialogue. If nothing else, I would have felt a little less ‘weird’.

But it’s not just important for me, as a person with a mental health problem to be so matter-of-fact about what goes through my head from time to time.

People who have never suffered from a diagnosed ‘disorder’, such as depression or anxiety, seem to think that the discussion around mental health is one that doesn’t affect them. That it’s something beyond their experience and beyond their understanding, so they either have no interest in participating or feel it’s ‘not their place’. But mental health is everyone’s issue. Because I’m about to drop a truth bomb: everybody has a brain.

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Congratulations, because at this very second, approximately 100 billion neurons are buzzing around in your brain. I doubt that the scientific community would approve of the term ‘buzzing’, but it sounds slightly funkier than “processing and transmitting information through electrical and chemical signals”. If you have a brain, then mental health is absolutely for you.

Because mental health doesn’t simply refer to a range of scary disorders that affect a minority of people; it’s as simple as it being the health of your mind. It’s as mundane as your eye health, but people don’t ever call you ‘controversial’ or ‘opinionated’ for talking about conjunctivitis.

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The brain is an organ like any other that requires routine, exercise, rest and the occasional bit of TLC to function at its full capacity. Too many of us neglect our brain by only ever stepping outside to go to the pub or to work, by staring passively at our phones/computer screens for hours on end, for pulling all-nighter after all-nighter and still expecting it to work properly. Now, I’m not being entirely moralistic and uppity right now. It’s currently 3am, so I’m actually a massive hypocrite.

I’m not saying that you have to become Jessica Ennis in order to look after your brain. But we all need to give our brains a break, or we might suffer consequences that are entirely avoidable.

Now, hold up. By ‘entirely avoidable’, I do not mean that all mental illness is avoidable. I, like many people, have a disorder that couldn’t have been remedied by any amount of running, sleeping, meditating or conscientious eating. For  this reason, I’m an advocate of using the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental wellbeing’ to denote very different things. Mental health, for me, refers to a range of psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression and has connotations of treatment and medication and long-term management.

Mental wellbeing is for everything else. You can have poor mental wellbeing because you don’t look after your brain properly.

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Self-care looks a little different for everybody. My idea of self-care is wholly unoriginal and quite obviously inspired by numerous YouTube videos made by people who can afford far more expensive treats than I can. Going on a 30-minute run or a long walk at the weekend, taking 5-10 minutes to meditate every once in a while, eating food that I know is good for me, practising yoga to get in tune with my body-ody-ody etc… is as important to me as taking my medication every night.

Sometimes self-care might also mean grabbing a glass of decent wine, some chocolate and curling up in front of a Charlie Chaplin movie, or having a really long lie-in, or taking the time to do my makeup nicely. Even, at my worst, making sure that I shower every day. Totally counts.

I don’t have a self-care routine because I have a psychological disorder. I have a self-care routine because I have those 100 billion neurons we talked about earlier. Because if i don’t look after my brain, it could stop being the brain I need it to be.

 

 

Review – Eastenders Live Episode (19th February 2015)

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This Friday, one of the nation’s best loved television programmes concluded their ‘Week of Revelations’ by treating fans to an ambitious, fully live episode. Following the reveal of Bobby Beale (Elliot Carrington) as the person who clobbered his half-sister Lucy (Hetti Bywater) all those months ago on Good Friday, EastEnders final episode in their highly-anticipated and heavily marketed 30th anniversary week opened with the soap’s longest-serving character, Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), accusing his on-off spouse Jane (Laurie Brett) of killing his daughter. What followed was nothing short of a triumph in live acting and production.

Minutes after Julia’s Theme and an impromptu firework display rounded off an emotional evening in Albert Square, the internet erupted with richly deserved praise for Adam Woodyatt’s phenomenal turn as a completely broken Ian Beale attempting to hold his family together. As well as the slew of soap and television award nominations he is bound to receive in the next twelve months, commentators are calling for a BAFTA nod that I would argue doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Woodyatt’s turn in this episode bordered on virtuosic in soap acting.

Many of the show’s actors have compared the live scenes to being on stage, simply “with a bigger audience”. I would stand to disagree. The realms of soap and theatre are worlds apart in what they demand of an actor and meaning is communicated in entirely different ways to a camera than it would be towards a live theatre audience. For Adam Woodyatt to create a convincing hybrid, pushing his performance to the very limit of Ian Beale, yet never waver from the world we have become accustomed to seeing him in demonstrates an enormous amount of talent that cannot be overlooked. Simply a brilliant show of acting by EastEnders’ longest-serving resident.

While Laurie Brett coped extraordinarily well with the huge range of emotions the revelation of Jane’s part in the cover-up of her step-daughter’s murder demanded of her, it was the younger actors portraying Peter (Ben Hardy) and Cindy (Mimi Keene) who went above and beyond what was expected of them. Although the episode demanded little more than anger from Hardy and didn’t sufficiently explore the character’s reaction, the material that was given to him was fantastically acted. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Keene was tasked with reading Lucy’s final words to her father as Lucy’s missing letter was finally found. The true tear-jerking material came once again from Woodyatt’s silent, sobbing reaction, but Keene’s delivery was the perfectly controlled counterpart the scene required it to be.

Despite being inevitably lost in the shadow of the Beale family, Maddy Hill also demonstrated exemplary professionalism in a sub-plot that saw her character, Nancy, become the only witness to what could be her father murdering her cousin/uncle (in true ‘Enders fashion). Hill’s role since joining in December 2013 has been chiefly in a supporting capacity to the storylines of her family members, but she truly shone in Friday’s episode, showing completely precocious control over Nancy’s desperate emotions whilst sparing the audience both melodrama and boredom.

Although many viewers on social media continue to object to the ‘unrealistic plot’ (to which I would argue: you are watching EastEnders), I felt that the script was marvellously well handled. With the exception of a few moments veering dangerously close towards soap clichés, such as Jane’s description of carrying Lucy across Walford Common ‘like a child’, the writing refreshingly veered away from classic EastEnders ‘fallouts’ of melodrama, shouting and explosions, whether material or emotional. Having spent the last ten months desperately trying to hold his family together against crippling grief, Ian’s shattered reaction to the revelation that could unravel this was addressed with a surprising and therefore all the more captivating calmness and maturity.

Finally, the true heroes of the “Who Killed Lucy” phenomenon and its earth-shaking conclusion were thanked in the televised live after party following the episode: the entirely invisible production team. It was a truly faultless effort in the fully live episode from the same group of people who have been charged with scripting a fantastic Whodunit without knowing who the killer is. Their hard work was perhaps the most important factor in delivering half an hour of television that both encapsulated and exceeded the soap genre and celebrated a show that has, over the last 30 years, become a national treasure.

Despite soap operas’ reputation as ‘cheap entertainment’, often lumped in the same category as Big Brother or Loose Women, the cast and crew of EastEnders demonstrated why the show has been so deeply loved by the nation over the last thirty years and why it is so often considered in the television industry to be the best in its genre.