“All grown ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.”
Antoine de Saint Exupery, ‘The Little Prince.’
After diagnosis, I spent many hours diligently absorbing podcasts that formed part of an online event called The Hay House Summit. Much of the wisdom that I heard & internalised by listening to the featured speakers & then reading more from those who really resonated with me made its way into the library of notebooks I have amassed in the years since.
A few themes really stood out, and one in particular: a speaker recommended trying to remember back to childhood days, and specifically to recall what it was that I was doing when my parent or carer had to call me more than once to get me to the table for dinner. That thing, the speaker said, was something I should still be doing regularly. It seems almost unbelievable to me now that this advice had such a profound impact. These days I make sure that the creative, expressive things I loved doing as a child form a regular part of my life, but back then I had lost touch with them almost completely. Like so many of us do, I had veered away from the path that brought me so much genuine joy and fulfilment way back when.
The similarities between my childhood self and the person I am today do not end there. As well as needing to do the things that brought me joy back then, I also need to be loved and looked after with tenderness and consistency, if I am to reach my full potential as a human being. We all do. As we grow older it’s left to us to fill the role of parent or carer ourselves, and that’s where things can start to go wrong, especially if you have a propensity for mental illness, and even more especially if you’re not aware of it.
The woman who founded the publishing company that ran that summit is called Louise Hay. She is famous for writing a book called ‘You can heal your life.’ When I read more about her I discovered that one of her most famous suggestions (she passed away a few years ago) was to stand in front of the mirror each morning, look into your own eyes and tell yourself “I love you.” Whether you think that idea is unnecessary, plain stupid or completely impossible says a great deal about the relationship you have with yourself, and probably the state of your mental health too. You won’t be surprised to learn that back then I fell firmly into the latter category.
As I reflect on all of this now I sit at my desk, and every time I glance up I look into the faces of my beloved ten year old twin nieces, whose photograph sits encouragingly in my eyeline. It was really them, assisted by an exercise recommended by the wonderful Oprah Winfrey, who helped me to discover the path that would lead me back to my truest self. On one of her Super Soul Sunday podcasts, which I recommend to everyone, Oprah suggests the following: Imagine that you are looking into a window and watching yourself as a small child. What do you see? I saw my nieces, parts of both of them. I asked myself: if these two beautiful human beings remind me of me, and if I love them as deeply and unconditionally as I do, why on earth aren’t I able to do the same for myself? Slowly, things began to shift.
I can’t understate the importance in my healing of spending time with my nieces and being reminded by them of what lights me up inside, and who I truly am. If you have children in your life, you have probably experienced this too. I hope so, for your sake, because it feels wonderful.
It was on December 30th 2017 that I wrote my first letter to myself, from myself. New Year has historically been a difficult time for me, as it is for many people, and I wanted to do something to help myself safely through it. I wrote a supportive, kind, loving page from the little girl I was beginning to reconnect with. Her words were wise, calm, hopeful and matter of fact, and they reminded me of all of the wonderful things I had achieved and still had to look forward to. That letter, re read so many times since, was the start of a daily ritual that now helps me in so many ways. Journalling has become a key part of the white section of my balancing colour system. I realise as I write this that my system is actually as much a blueprint for looking after children as it is for helping people to manage their mental health. A loving carer would never let a child neglect any of my focus areas.
Mornings can be tough for me. Regardless of the mood I enter sleep in, I often wake from it in a grey place. In my London days I had to get going fast for work, but since diagnosis I hadn’t have that motivation. For years I started my days with yoga, but I never woke up looking forward to that, I prefer to practice later in the day. Writing is different. Knowing that it’s the first thing I’ll do each morning actually makes me want to get out of bed, and that’s been a revelation. I suppose my mind needs exercising first thing more than my body does. To begin with I would write to my ‘inner child’ one day, and she would write back the next. In time a less structured flow has emerged, and now I write more of a traditional journal: thoughts, feelings, encouragement, to do lists. This daily time with myself has become the foundation that I build my days upon. When I wake up with a head full of fear and negativity, my daily writing helps me to turn my mindset around, at least enough to move into the morning. Habit has led me to understand that, as Hay said, I really can heal my life, one day at a time. As I feel increasingly healthy, I need to write less. Just knowing that this marvellous medicine exists within my virtual first aid kit is so reassuring.
Like me, you may have been born with a genetic propensity to mental ill health, but environmental factors very possibly triggered the symptoms of it. Imagine if a child you really love started to show signs of mental illness. Would you shrug and tell them to deal with it or would you do everything you could, day after day, to try to help them? You deserve the same love and care that you would show to them. Deep down you, like me, are a human being capable of so much joy. You just have to remind yourself where to look for it, and keep yourself company on your journey of (re) discovery.