If there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel worse when I am low, it is comparing myself to others. It always feeds my anxiety, knocks my confidence and leaves me feeling frustrated with my situation. The problem is that it is so easy to find the information now.
Before the internet, you could have a fleeting thought about someone that you knew at school, wonder what they were doing and then not think of them again, but now, you can have that thought then type their name into Facebook or Instagram and have instant access to information that you really don’t need to know. You can also accidentally tag yourself in your ex-partners new girlfriends profile picture and then not be able to un-tag it so have to call your sister to get her to block the person and delete your account temporarily because for some reason it isn’t working on your stupid phone! (yes, I did that).
We seem to think that others are better off by seeing a snapshot of the best parts of their lives through social media, but the truth is that everyone goes through struggles. One tragic example is Mike Thalassitis from Love Island, by appearance he seemed to have the world at his feet but sadly was going through such difficulty, that he felt his only option was to take his own life.
I have met people from all over the world and what I have realised is that ultimately, we are all the same. We all have insecurities, we have all been hurt and we all just want to be happy. There is no point in comparing your ‘worst’ bits to someone else’s ‘best’ bits, because you will always come up short, even Beyonce has faults.
There will be times in life when you feel that everyone is ahead of you and times when you may feel that you are ahead of others, but all that’s up must come down and ultimately, comparison is just going to make you feel shitty. Those hard times, as much as you probably would prefer not to have them, they have their advantages. They build character, they make you more empathetic and they show you your strength. Maybe without them, we wouldn’t see how strong we are. I think you learn the most about yourself during these times.
So a few things that might be helpful to keep you on your own path and not trying to chase others…
Talk to someone who cares about you
That’s what they are there for and they would want to be there for you. No doubt, if the shoe was on the other foot, you would be there for them too. In the acute stages of depression, it can be hard to hear nice things about yourself, that doesn’t make you weird, it’s all part of the illness. When I became ill, my friends and family sent me messages to let me know how much I meant to them, at the time I either struggled to accept them or I would feel nothing. I knew at some point these messages would help to keep me going, so I copied them and saved them to the notes on my phone. Now, I read them if I need to get a bit of strength. If you are reading this and you know someone who is struggling, let them know how much they mean to you. If you are the person struggling, then reach out to someone so that they can be there for you. It's hard to let people in sometimes but I would say, that my relationships have been strengthened because I have let my loved ones see me through my worst days.
Everyone’s stress bucket is of a different size.
Just because someone seems to be able to take more stress on than you feel you can, this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you. We are all unique, that’s what is beautiful about us. Sometimes experiences in life may mean that our stress bucket is pretty full, so in these times be kind to yourself and take good care of you. This is the only way to prevent it from overflowing. Your thoughts aren’t facts and your mind doesn’t always want what's best for you, so if it is beating you up, it's not being kind.
Write it down
Sometimes this can really help, seeing it in black and white helps you to think about how you would respond to this thought if it was somebody else’s. I am pretty sure you wouldn’t fire more negative words at them and would have a much more compassionate approach. Practice that with yourself.
Notice your mood when scrolling through social media
If it is negatively affected, then spend less time on there. Very few people share their struggles which means that it can add to feelings of isolation. MIND has an app called 'Elefriends' which is specifically for people struggling with their mental health. There are moderators called Elephants that keep an eye on the content, to make sure there is nothing inappropriate. Another good resource is the 'Big White Wall' I came off social media altogether for the initial stages of illness and that was right for me.
Write one thing from every day that is positive
If you have more than one, write more than one. The more we take notice of the positive, the more we see it. I know that when you are struggling mentally, it can be hard to see the positives, even if you can just take notice of one thing out of each day that is good or OK. Some days it might be that you had 5 minutes where you were distracted by an activity or that someone showed you kindness, whereas other days you may have more to celebrate.
List all the nice things that people have said about you.
We all need to be our own cheerleader, as we are the ones that we spend the most time with. If you can’t think of any, then ask someone you love, why they love you. We are so quick to berate ourselves, sometimes we need some help to see us from another's perspective.
Find people who are experiencing or have experienced what you are going through.
Living with a mental health condition can feel really lonely but there are others going through similar to us that may be able to connect with our experience. In Dorset, there is a Recovery College which offers courses on all sorts of things, such as, Managing Anxiety, Mindful Living or being Mentally healthy. This won’t be available in every area but MIND and other charities may have similar groups. I found listening to Bryony Gordon’s podcast helpful from time to time, especially the episode with Mandy Stevens who is an experienced mental health nurse and an executive director in a London mental health trust and became an inpatient in a Psychiatric hospital. I found her honesty so inspiring and it helped to normalise my experience.
Meditate or do a relaxation audio
This may help you to get distance from your thoughts. I have said before that in the acute stages of illness, it can be a struggle to stay focused so start small, maybe even 30 seconds to begin with. Then, if you notice your mind wandering, that's ok, it’s what it likes to do. The more you train your mind to stay present, the easier it gets, but it takes time and you will have times when it is difficult. We are only human.
If the same thoughts are hitting you time and time again, then you can seek help.
There is no shame. I am currently seeing a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist for the third time and you learn so much about yourself in therapy. In most areas, you can self refer, but it is worth seeing your GP if you are struggling, waiting lists can be long, so you may need some help in the interim. I was seeing my GP every two weeks while waiting for therapy and it was a godsend. It can take a while to find a GP that suits you and the same with a therapist. I have had both good and bad experiences, but I am really happy with both now. If you don’t feel that you are connecting with yours then you can always change.