May 22, 2020

Kindness is a Gift

A further blog this month from Fiona Cook, one of the Directors of Physis Scotland, specifically to honour and mark Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

So, this is mental health awareness week in the UK, and it so happens that it has fallen during a time when all of us are perhaps more aware of our mental health than ever with COVID-19 prevailing all around the world, affecting all of us in different ways. The theme of this week is kindness and I will come back to that.

But let’s start with what is mental health? How do we know if we are healthy or not? Because I genuinely believe that all of us have mental health issues which affect us day by day to some extent or another.

I studied to become a registered general nurse over 40 years ago now and it was only then when I realised that, although I was studying general nursing, I was actually more concerned about people’s emotional wellbeing when they were in hospital than I was their physical wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong I was trained to care for patients physically, but I realised that often patients in hospital were ‘not themselves’. I understood that being unwell physically can affect our mental health and being unwell mentally can affect our physical health. They are entwined.

Growing up, my local hospital was a mental health hospital and I had the privilege of working there for many years in a range of roles until my retirement from nursing seven years ago. The foundation stone of the older building of the hospital calls the building a ‘lunatic asylum’. I find that term ‘lunatic’ offensive because each patient was and is a person, not a lunatic. Just somebody who found their day to day living hard and had to respond to their thoughts and feelings and react in a way which they and others might find difficult.

As a psychotherapist now, I have learned that all of us have a relationship with ourselves first and foremost, and that our relationship with ourselves often dictates how our relationships with others are formed and shaped so that we can survive in the world. I believe my job as a therapist is to help someone have the very best relationship with themselves that they can, support them to understand themselves better so that they can make changes, if they want to, in how they can live their lives well.

Our internal dialogue with self can really affect how we are in the here and now, and others may only see the result of that often, not really ever understanding how somebody may be feeling. Even then we can become quite savvy in disguising or discounting how we are feeling so others may not even notice. It’s not like having a broken arm where it is obvious to everybody that some injury has been sustained. It’s ok to ask about a broken arm, but sometimes it feels that it’s not ok to ask about a person’s mental health. So how can we use kindness to help each other and become more aware of what is going on for ourselves and others.

Kindness starts at home for me. So how can I be kind to myself when I am not feeling great, or am feeling anxious about the future. How can I be kind to myself when the part of myself that others see is not the anxious, worried person, but the competent and confident part of me. I often am ‘missed’ when I try to tell people that I can also be anxious and sad for apparently no reason. They are not being ‘unkind’, I am only letting them see the part of me that feels ok to show, so it can be hard to understand. It sometimes feels incredibly vulnerable to let people into my secret world, but that is where kindness to self actually starts. Try not to believe everything you think about yourself. Easier said than done I know, but by giving permission to myself to be myself, to be compassionate to myself, and let others in can be a great start. They can only help me when they know how I am feeling, and it’s ok to not feel ok. It all begins by being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable about myself at times.

If you haven’t got the book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, it’s worth a look. A quote from the book – ‘what is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ asked the boy. ‘Help’ said the horse. Great advice to follow.

How can I be kind to others? Well by asking how they really are and listening to what they have to say. I might not be able to fully understand what it feels like for them, but I can be curious, compassionate and be with them in their dark place and let them know they are not defined by their feelings, thoughts or behaviour, but by who they are as a fellow human, intrinsically priceless and worthy. Small acts of kindnesses mean the world to others.

Being vulnerable by letting people in and also asking about how they really are takes courage. When I look at the word ‘illness’, it starts with the letter I. When I look at the word ‘wellness’, it starts with the word We. What can I learn from this? If I keep things to myself, I might become Ill. When I share what is going on for me with others, there are others who can help and support me in even the smallest of ways. I then becomes We.

So, in this week of mental health awareness where we are being encouraged to be kind, let’s start with ourselves and then begin to reach out to others – ‘being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses’ said the mole. ‘We often wait for kindness, but being kind to yourself can start now’ said the Mole.

I say ‘Well said’. Let’s look after our own mental wellbeing and look out for others during this time and beyond. ‘What’s your best discovery?’ asked the mole. ‘That I am enough as I am’ said the boy.

Let’s all discover that! We are all enough. A final quote from the beautiful book. ‘Sometimes’ said the horse ‘every step you take is a victory.’ ‘Asking for help isn’t giving up’ said the horse. ‘its refusing to give up.’

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