Mental health awareness as a theme has been dominated by reacting to illness. The moves made to normalise experiences of ill health and campaign for better treatment need to continue but also be joined by some more proactive interventions. If we are to be truly aware of mental health this should include ways to prevent, where possible, declines and develop individual understanding of what works.
A simple concept that I find powerful is that of the stress bucket.
I found one of the most painful aspects of depression was not knowing why it was happening to me. Or indeed what was happening to me. In 2018, as part of getting well from an episode of the illness, I made understanding myself the priority. The term “getting to know yourself” had always been an awkward one before. When you’ve lived with a condition that encourages self doubt and loathing, myself was the very person I didn’t want to know.
Along with things involving the support of others (medication from the GP and talking to others) I felt that eleven years after the first time being unwell I needed to see what I could do to recognise earlier the signs of things heading in the wrong direction. That’s where the stress bucket came in.
My interaction with theory came after reading Tim Cantopher’s book “Depressive Illness: The course of the strong” which had made me think about what contributed to what I had been through. The common denominator, on reflection, had always pushing myself too far. Be it, not enough sleep from poor lifestyle choices, taking on extra commitments outside of work or demanding too much of myself, all had coincided with a range of symptoms that didn’t end well.
The basis of the stress bucket of it has helped me get some insights into what does and does not help for me. Many stresses can’t be wholly avoided such as work, relationships and finances but there are some which can. Thinking of what I was putting in the bucket additionally was a good start. Did misusing alcohol help? Did I really have time for all those extra commitments? No to both! That led to thinking about managing the ever present aspects. How could I reduce stress at work? Was there a way of managing my relationships better? These questions led to the most uplifting part of it.
Considering the ways to keep the tap letting out some of the stress felt like an intriguing puzzle to solve. Once I recognised what could or could not be taken out of the bucket it then left me to ponder how the stress could be off set. For all the additions, there needs to be some subtractions. I thought about making exercise, seeing friends and family, reading, meditation and keeping a diary priorities to keep that ever important balance.
It hasn’t given perfect solutions. I slipped back into taking on too much in the following year or two but coped a little better due to knowing what did help. From autumn of last year I revisited the stress bucket to see if it could help with some difficult circumstances. This time I tried to be more disciplined. I have found that managing my time more, planning each day in a diary, took some control back to me to feel more at ease.
The self awareness it is helping to develop is doing more than just avoid depression. It is helping to achieve more but sustainably. Like anything, it is a work in progress but the bucket is always somewhere in my mind and it does me the world of good.