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.
So, I did the challenge, but failed at doing regular updates. Whoops. In any case, here’s what went down:
- I had coke twice – once on day 5 which I posted about, and another time I accidentally ordered a coke with a takeaway. I went a few days before drinking it, and found it crazy sweet.
- I was extremely busy during April, and ended up eating out a lot for lunch, and – well, this is probably where things went wrong. I still craved a carbonated drink, or some kind of sugary drink, so oftentimes I’d buy flavoured water and stuff. It’s not terrible, but I wasn’t exactly trying to prioritise water instead.
- I definitely ate worse overall, mitigating any impact of the soda stuff.
- I’ve had a few since the challenge ended but not really enjoyed it. Part of that is because I’ve had a really bad cold this week.
As you can see, it’s a little dubious whether I can say I succeeded or not. I stuck within my rules that I set out, but I’m not sure how I did within the ‘spirit’ of the challenge.
And that’s fine! It’s been pointed out to me that going cold turkey like this isn’t sustainable for habit building and honestly, I agree. I don’t expect long term change to come from these challenges.
Instead, I like doing these month long challenges to understand myself a bit better. If I’ve got into a habit and I want to change it, which parts do I find easy or hard to change? What things trigger the habit, such as going out to lunch? What helps me stop?
Doing this for a month, you start to notice what excuses you’re likely to make, what mental gymnastics you do to get something. I clearly did a lot of them this month because what I really wanted was the carbonation – so I can think of ways around that. In short, it brings a particular area of my life into focus and I can troubleshoot habit building around those compulsions and/or addictions.
In any case, I just think it’s fun to change stuff up sometimes 🙂
I don’t have any challenge plans for May so next one will probably be June
Every New Year’s Eve, for as long as I can remember, I have cleaned my room from top to bottom, cleared out documents and thrown away items I don’t want anymore. It’s a larger version of a mini ritual I do every weekend — ‘a weekly review’ you might call it, if you’re into productivity communities. When I feel stressed at work I clean up my desk as well, or delete all my emails. A cluttered mail inbox makes my skin crawl.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to clean and minimise. Looking after your belongings and taking care of your surroundings can certainly boost your mood. A weekly review is also a useful tool to get a picture of your week and learn from your mistakes. But in my hands it’s also been a compulsive tool.
I am one of the lucky ones.
That’s funny to say, now. I wouldn’t have considered myself lucky a few years ago, when I thought I’d never be free of anxiety. I never thought there would be a day when I wasn’t plagued by thoughts of harming myself or just ending it all, or when I’d go to bed without having to call someone so the anxiety would finally dissipate enough for me to sleep.
During the month of November, I decided (alongside a friend, who did her own monthly challenge) to go without takeaway (or fastfood in general), for the whole month.
The ‘rules’ were fairly simple:
- Where possible, cook every meal. This meant that all lunches would have to be something I made or prepared the night before. I wouldn’t, for example, buy a sandwich from a shop as a meal.
- If I’d made plans in October to have lunch or dinner with someone, I kept the plans. But I didn’t make any new plans to eat out. So I went out for dinner twice: once with my parents and once with a group of friends. For all other plans I had to work around it somehow (usually just getting a drink, if anything), rather than just turning up somewhere and hoping I could eat there. If someone invited me out spontaneously I’d usually just get a drink but not eat with them.
- For simplicity’s sake, I decided to forego convenience food like oven pizzas etc, for the most part. I only bought one throughout the month, although I did have quite a few portions of oven chips…
Honestly, I thought I’d bail within the first day or two, so I was pretty surprised that I lasted the whole month. Yay 😉
Still, what surprised me most was how this challenge gave me something worthwhile that I hadn’t expected: an odd sense of clarity on what my brain was doing with regards to food. I’ve always just followed my anxieties about food wherever they led me, but here I practised being able to accept those thoughts, while I did something completely different.
Here’s some of the mental health skills I got to practise this month: