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Know thyself finding freedom one step at a time

If someone I know says to me, “Pricey, I am fighting a battle with cancer!” I immediately respond with empathy. If I wake up with a bad headache I know it is my body telling me something, to take the foot off the peddle, slow down, get some water into me and rest. If I break a leg, I find myself in a hospital and the professionals there treat me, wrapping my leg in a cast and for the next six weeks or whatever, I hobble around on crutches while my body heals. All of this is normal and no one even blinks an eye.

Our physical health goes up and down. Some days we jump out of bed and with energy race into a day full of accomplishments. We garden, we go for a walk, we catch up with friends, we go to the gym: whatever. Other days we are not on top of our physical health, we have aches and pains, our joints are stiff, we have caught a cold, our sinuses are feeling like the 1812 Overture. Again, all of this is normal and no one even blinks an eye.

But crazily, we all appear to be surprised, even shocked and respond with some degree of shame if we dare to admit that our mental health is not strong. Just as it is ‘normal’ to have your ups and your downs in your physical health – no one runs on 9.75 out of ten constantly – it is ‘normal’ to have your good and your not so good days as regards your mental health.

Sometimes it is just our mood and life swings. There is nothing particular that has ‘got us a little down’ – we just “feel flat!” No one’s fault, certainly not your own. It is just life. Our mental health has its swings and runabouts just as does our physical health: that is normal, that is life.

Just as someone may have a significant physical challenge, they are diagnosed with cancer or their arteries are clogged and all of this will require perhaps surgery and changes in life style – so too can we have similar mental health challenges. You are clinically depressed. You have developed some degree of paranoia. You discover significant anxiety in crowds. At these times we seek professional help and so we should.

But for most of us and for most of the time our ups and downs of physical and mental health are just the normal ups and downs of our lives. Just as we accept that we can’t be 100% physically healthy all of the time – so too we can’t expect to be smiling and happy and enthusiastic and the ‘life of the party’ all of the time.

I have a mild anxiety disorder. I have grown so much over the last ten years and am now much more aware of it. It, like my physical health, is my constant companion, part of me. Importantly, I have learnt through experience, to identity the warning signs when my little friend is getting stronger. More importantly, I am learning what the causal factors are. So, most of the time, I catch myself, become aware that I am slightly more anxious and then respond – just as we would with any indication as regards physical health.

Just as no two people have the same physiology so too do no two people have the same ability or lack there of to handle different aspects of mental health. What stresses me out may not stress you. What causes you to tend towards depression may not have that effect upon me. You can’t nor should you compare apples and oranges.

It is vital that we are continually on the path of knowing ourselves better. But even this, hold it lightly – don’t over think or over focus on it – like all things in life – balance. But as we know ourselves more and more we will discover what causes some degree of mental ill-health FOR YOU and what brings back balance and good mental health. Here are the Damien Price top ten things that I use to keep myself mentally and emotionally well (again, remembering that all of us will naturally go slightly up and down with the rhythms of life)

  1. Physical Exercise – in my case going for a long walk.
  2. A hobby that you love. In my case this is gardening.
  3. Times of reflective silence – meditation, prayer. In my case my 40 minute ‘sit’ of a morning in the chapel.
  4. Life reflection – some journaling, becoming more aware of what is going on in my life that may be part of a causal factor for my anxiety.
  5. Have fun – you almost have to plan for some times when you can just switch off and have fun. In my case part of that is watching Spicks and Specks and Would I lie to you each night. Also, the ability to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously!
  6. Friendship – check in with friends. Go for that coffee, catch up with a friend to watch a movie etc

7. Support group – have a group, often quite small, of people who are ‘on the journey’ with you. In my case four other Brothers who live close by me are my support group and we catch up each week for a meal or prayer.

8. Purpose – what gets you out of bed of a morning? Find and cultivate a sense of purpose, something that gives your life rich meaning. Obviously for myself it is my Religious Life and my ministry directly or indirectly with young people.

9. Be vulnerable – it is OK, more than OK to say, “Help!” Be real, be honest, be true – and allow a significant other or significant others ‘in’ to your sacred story.

10. Be creative – do something different occasionally that takes you into your creative zone beyond the mundane: go camping, bake a cake, learn to knit – whatever.

These are my ten ‘go to’ responses when I sense I need to get balance back. You will have your own. If you get some time over the next week – find a quiet space, sit down and ask yourself, “Where and how do I find peace, joy, balance and meaning in my life?” “What works for me in keeping my mental health strong?”

1 thought on “Know thyself finding freedom one step at a time”

  1. Thanks Damien. Your blog is always a good read. Reassuring and helpful. I find time away from the smart phone and screens also helps restore mother balance in my mental health.

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