A Bandage on my Head

With Mental Health Day last week on Wednesday 10 October, I went to speak to the Roedean girls on what Mental Health is and why we must be aware of it. I explained that when we have something physically wrong like we’ve broken our ankle and are on crutches, or we have a temperature and are coughing and sneezing, people realise we are sick and can offer their help and support. They can be gentle and kind to us, make sure that we’re looked after and tell us about how they’ve also hurt themselves in the past and how they’re now feeling better. All this helps us on our own journey of recovery and we don’t feel lonely and like we’re dealing with this on our own.

Yet when we are feeling sad, angry, lonely, anxious or depressed, there is no big bandage on our head. It would be helpful if there was. People would then know how we were feeling and they would offer us support and love. They would tell us that they too have felt like this, and how they dealt with it. We wouldn’t feel so isolated in our pain. In fact, we would look around and see that every one in four people also has a bandage on their head, and we would not feel so alone. Perhaps we’d all meet and chat about it, support and encourage each other, find strength in each other too. But for now, there is a lack of awareness of mental health issues and we feel very much on our own with our thoughts and feelings. We feel we are the only one wading through the mud. That everyone else is breezing through. That they all have the answers and that we don’t. And that to confide about our sadness or depression would make us seem weak and even more of a failure. Especially when our lives are full and we “have so much”. So, even worse, is that we blame ourselves and berate ourselves for our weakness.

We hide our pain, our depression, our fear and our sadness. We try to suppress it. It doesn’t feel so bad if we take these meds, or have that glass of wine (I didn’t say that to the girls!). We don’t feel it as much if we’re working madly or running around crazily and can’t stop to think. And yet, as the poet Nayyirah Waheed says, “It is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible”. I encouraged the girls to share their pain or sadness or anger with their parents, or teachers, or someone they can trust in their “inner circle”.

Miracle Grow Breath
We then learned a lovely breath which you may want to practice yourself and teach your children. We start all slumped down in our seats. We felt weak, tired, powerless, floppy. Slowly with each inhale we “grew up”, uncurling our bodies and opening up. With each breath in, we inhaled love and support. For just as plants need air, water, sunshine and soil to grow, so we need air, water, sunshine and food, but we also need love, connection and support. With our in-breaths, we breathed in love, connection and support for ourselves. And with our exhales we let go of what was worrying us. We expelled it from our bodies. And as we let go and felt our bodies straightening up, so we felt our chests expanding, our chins lifting and our faces softening. Finally we were sitting up tall and straight, and breathing in deeply. We felt powerful, brave, beautiful, alive.

The good news is that it doesn’t just make us “feel” more powerful, courageous and strong, it actually makes us more powerful, courageous and strong. According to the research that Amy Cuddy presents in her wonderful TED talk, after 2 minutes of adopting “power” poses such as the “fully grown” version of the Miracle Grow breath, our body releases more testosterone which increases our strength and power and makes us more dominant! It also decreases our cortisol levels which makes us feel less stressed, and better all round. All this just after 2 minutes of breathing and opening our bodies up.

So, try the Miracle Grow breath – I find it especially useful in the car while I’m driving, or sitting at my desk, when I find that my posture becomes more and more slouched, and I feel less and less energised. Doing a few Miracle Grow breaths gets me feeling better almost instantly.

And if you are feeling like you should be wearing a bandage on your head because of how you’re feeling, there are many great resources –
Lifeline http://lifeline.co.za
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) http://www.sadag.org
And some books:
A Manual for Heartache: How to Feel Better by Cathy Rentzenbrink https://www.loot.co.za/product/cathy-rentzenbrink-a-manual-for-heartache/ggcx-5023-g860
How to Feel Better by Dr Frances Goodhart and Lucy Atkins https://www.loot.co.za/product/frances-goodhart-how-to-feel-better/kjkt-3099-g890

I’m working closely with Breathwork Africa to bring more breath awareness and breathwork tools to children, families and schools. You can read more about their schools’ programmes here. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re interested and would like to know more. Marj Murray, from Breathwork Africa, is hosting a wonderful workshop for children and families on “anxiety busting techniques”, to help reduce anxiety and increase focus in children (and parents!). You can find out more information about this here

And finally, phone a friend. You may be surprised how many of us truly do understand because we’ve all had our battles in life – sometimes they’re just not as visible.

Please let me know in the comments section any resources, practitioners and books that may have helped you in times of challenge – many people can benefit from your experience and knowledge.

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