Throughout my mental health journey, I’ve repeatedly run into an obstacle, which I will loosely dub ‘I’m not sick enough to deserve help’.
Whenever I would think about getting therapy or talking to anyone about what was going on, I’d say, ‘Well, I’m still going to uni and getting my assignments done. I don’t take drugs. I can leave my house. I might be depressed, and having panic attacks every other day, but I can sort it out. I just need to stop being lazy.’
I think a lot of us take that perspective on our mental health. But let’s flip it so we’re talking about physical health, instead:
‘I hurt my leg a few years ago, but I can still crawl around to places. It’s not ideal because I have to drag this dead weight around with me, and I can’t put weight on that side. Still, it can’t be that bad, because I can use the other leg. I’m not gonna bother getting it checked out until I lose function in both legs. I’m just lazy and need to work harder.’
Sounds dumb right? Granted, lots of us do ignore our physical health for too long, but I don’t think it’s as normalised in our society.
To counter this, one the most helpful things I learned along my mental health journey is that everybody has a brain.
And if everybody has a brain, everybody also mental health.
And if everybody has mental health, we ALL need to learn to take care of it, and that may take work and identifying specific skills to do so. We also don’t need to wait until we’re sick to start helping ourselves — we can head to the gym, see a personal trainer or get advice on our diet and start putting those changes into practice way before we end up in the GP’s office.
But… how do we even work on our mental health? How do we lift heavier weights in our day to day lives?
Honestly, to me that all sounded like such boring, dull work when I first started thinking about it. I didn’t want to become a nun hiding away meditating in my room every day, with no access to TV or the internet or dumb memes. I thought I would somehow ‘lose’ me by getting help, as I was so used to see myself as the-anxious-one, the-unhappy-one. That was just who I was, and
I later realised that this was another offshoot of believing I wasn’t sick enough to get help. I’m not struggling with my mental health. All that stuff is just ME. Anxiety is my personality. I like it. I like all the things I do to avoid anxiety.
Yup. I’m very convincing.
I talked about this issue, and a way to tackle it during a recent Ladies Who UX workshop, for Mental Health Awareness Week. I also showed people my brain (seen above, more detail here) over two years of work with a therapist. The exercise in my workshop (from ‘You Are Not a Rock’ by Mark Freeman) called What’s on your path? draws these issues into sharp focus.
The basic premise of the exercise is this. You divide a page into three columns; on the path, off the path and just off the path.
On and off the path are fairly self explanatory. Being on the path is when you are doing actions that make you feel fulfilled, and keep you in good health overall.
Off the path is when you’re starting to fall into relapse — when you’re really struggling with acting in accordance with your values. We are often quite aware of these parts of our lives.
The area we often ignore, however, is ‘just off the path’; these are the things which take us just slightly away from where we want to go. Crucially, however, they’re often tasks that we like or that society has normalises. We make excuses every time we do them. We don’t realise that they might be distracting us from what’s meaningful to us — or maybe we do, but we like it so much that we allow it time and time again.
Doing this exercise showed me how holding onto those things I ‘liked’ doing were the things that were keeping me held back. Once or twice didn’t matter, but consistently walking just off the path would take me further and further away from where I wanted to go. In doing this exercise, too, I could also see more clearly the things I’d identified as activities I wanted to do more frequently, which I found way more meaningful than lying in bed watching restoration videos for hours (although they are fun).
What’s on your path (v2): the journey map
Mark Freeman is the designer of this exercise. I’ve mentioned him so many times on this blog, but there’s a reason for that. I find him one of the best sources of practical exercises for mental health, that are really engaging in their own right. Let’s face it, unless you’re the overthinking, planning type, most people don’t want to sit down and dig through their neuroses on a Tuesday evening.
This simple yet effective exercise gets you thinking and making changes without even realising you’re doing it (I’ve noticed a few colleagues referring to things as ‘on/off their path’ instead of good/bad lately). As I get better at UX research and design I really want to follow in his footsteps and be able to design my own exercises that help with mental health.
In a workshop I did with Mark in London a few years ago, he’d adapted this exercise to focus more on a specific goal like a 10k (I variant I made pictured above), and I thought this would be ideal to present at the Ladies Who UX conference, who are used to making user journey maps.
In a user journey map, you:
- Identify key touchpoints for the user along the way to their goal.
- Notice painpoints, and specific barriers to achieving the goal
- Empathise with the user about what they may be thinking or feeling at specific points in the journey
- Identify what will reduce those stresses and make the journey as frictionless as possible
We can do the same for our own mental health, and any goals we have in our lives — identifying where we want to go, anticipating what areas are going to be tricky for us and what supports we’ll need.
Make your own user journey map:
Pen, paper. You know the drill. Like the picture above, fill in your goal at one end of the line and START at the other.
Some questions to help you along:
- What are the stages of your journey to your goal? Will things get progressively difficult for you as the challenge ramps up?
- What skills will you need to deal with those extra challenges?
- What’s going to take you off your path? What will that look like – e.g. if your goal is to do a 10k, off the path might be never getting off the sofa to exercise.
- What sort of emotions and thoughts are you gonna have which you might struggle with, that might take you off your path?
- What’s likely to take you JUST off the path? What activities do you engage in which might take you away from your goal, which you actually like? For example, waiting until you ‘feel like’ practising.
- How can you begin supporting yourself to get back on the path, if you fall off?
I hope doing this exercise is as useful for you guys as it was for me!
Enjoy this journey 🙂