“Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.”
Roy T. Bennett,
Roy T. Bennett,
For the first time since they began hosting Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) twenty years ago, the Mental Health Foundation made the decision to change this year’s topic in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Originally, the theme was set to be ‘sleep’ but it has now been changed to ‘kindness’ with the Foundation’s Chief Executive saying that “now more than ever, we need to re-discover kindness in our daily lives.”
Originally, for the ‘sleep’ topic, I’d planned to feature a questionnaire with a number of different people every day for the entire week and although the change in theme meant having to scrap my brainstorming and ideas, I was pleased with the decision to focus on ‘kindness.’ I mean, in all honesty, I think it would have been a bit ridiculous if the Foundation hadn’t responded to the Pandemic which is having a horrific impact on a lot of people’s mental health. There’s always the possibility of three different attitudes with negative things; you can either block them out and pretend they aren’t happening, or you can accept them as real and put all your attention and focus on them, or – finally – you could find the balance and recognize the negative whilst also refusing to forget about the positives in life. I think that in their decision to change the theme, the Foundation got the balance right and acknowledged the impact the Virus is having whilst also putting focus on something positive.
With kindness being defined as ‘the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate;’ I think it’s easy to establish that it’s definitely a quality that has come to light in the wake of the Coronavirus and the lockdown. Initially, I think there was a lot of fear and panic and it brought out some disastrous qualities in people in causing them to bulk buy and stockpile a number of essential items in supermarkets and shops. It seems as though, in time, people have learnt – or at least realized – that everyone is ‘in this together.’ We may not all be going through the exact same thing but we definitely have a lot more in common than we did before lockdown, because a lot of people are struggling in a similar way and with the same aspects of the lockdown guidelines. Discovering our similarities has brought out empathy in a lot of people and I think that’s been a huge motivation in the kind acts that everyone has been doing; which vary from companies providing discount and freebies to NHS staff, to people offering to do a vulnerable person’s food shopping for them.
Being classed as a vulnerable person has made it a little bit hard to do anything kind for someone else but I was desperate to help in some way so I signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder for the new Check-In and Chat service. It means that a person can be referred or can self-refer to the service and the Volunteers in the area receive an alert that someone needs help and support and you’re given the person’s number to make contact with them and provide a listening ear for their struggles. The Responder programme offers other services too; for more information and to get help just ring: 0808 196 3646
My second good deed has been sending little gifts to my friends, my God Children, and my colleagues at Cats Protection Tyneside Adoption Centre. I love that I’m not the only one doing this because on more than one occasion, I’ve been labelled materialistic and I used to hate it! Now though, I’ve learnt there’s nothing wrong with storing some importance in material things, so long as you don’t hold them above anything else like your loved ones. I think that gift-giving is important because it tells people that it’s acceptable for your mental – and in some cases physical – health to benefit from material things and encourages them to build on this. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on something; it’s the thought and the gesture and the effort that matters. Showing that you’re thinking about the person and that you care about their happiness will mean more than how much you’re spent on them!
Now, does anyone remember that episode of Friends where they talk about selfless good deeds? One of the characters is certain that there’s no such thing as a selfless act because all good deeds make you feel good about yourself, so how can they be selfless? I think it’s ok to feel good about doing something nice for someone else so long as you aren’t doing it because you expect something in return!
The other form of kindness is towards yourself – something which is much more practical given the current lockdown protocol! Personally, I’ve always struggled to show kindness to myself and I think it stems from the abuse I experienced when I was 15. With my abuser continuously refusing to accept responsibility for what he was doing, and me desperate for an explanation and a reason why it was happening, I began blaming myself – something which, unfortunately, is often the case for abuse survivors. I think that the self-blame I experienced was also in response to the fact that without my abuser taking any responsibility, it meant that retribution wasn’t possible. I didn’t know who to take my anger out on – and I had a hell of a lot of anger – and it was so straightforward to put it on myself; to hurt myself and to punish myself.
It took a lot of hours in therapy to persuade me that I hadn’t deserved the rape and abuse and that even though my abuser refuses to admit to his guilt, he is still responsible and deserves the consequences for it. Initially, I knew this was the ‘right’ attitude to have – I knew it was the truth, but it was still hard to accept because part of me couldn’t stand knowing who deserved the punishment and yet realizing that he probably will never experience it. There was almost a bit of me that thought ‘I’d rather hurt myself than deal with knowing that he won’t pay the price for everything he did.’ Lots of people have reassured me that karma exists and that justice will be served and whilst I really, really hope that’s the case; I think that the best thing to do is learn to accept that it might not happen. That he might plead his innocence right up until he’s in a grave! ‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’ and all that!
Once I’d learnt that the abuse hadn’t been my fault, I found it a whole lot easier to show kindness to myself, and when I was taught the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skill of self-soothe, I learnt to put it into practice fairly quickly. I find showing myself some kindness when I’m struggling with my mental health really beneficial because it reminds me that I deserve some happiness and safety, and sometimes the actual action of self-soothing can also be a distraction from suicidal thoughts or thoughts to self-harm. It can provide me with the time to concentrate on something other than those thoughts so that by the time I’ve finished the act of kindness, those thoughts and feelings have either gone or are at least a lot more manageable.
I’ve also learnt how essential it is to show myself kindness when I have self-harmed because it is otherwise so easy to be overly critical of myself. I have this app on my phone which records how many days it has been since I last self-harmed and sometimes it’s really motivational because – being a perfectionist – I don’t want that number to go back to 0. It can also be debilitating because I can end up feeling like a bit of a failure, as though I’ve ruined all my hard work and that it was all for nothing. After attending A&E for a self-harm cut, a Doctor once told me not to be too harsh on myself and that whilst yes, I was responsible for what I’d done, it wasn’t the end of the world. Sometimes though, I think that maybe it’s a good thing that I criticise myself after doing something like that because it can be a deterrent from self-harming to think that if I did, it’s going to leave me feeling so pathetic and worthless.
My instinct for MHAW was to do one kind act every day for the week and blog about them but with the lockdown protocol barely budging, that seems to be impractical. So, I figured that every day for the rest of the week, there’ll be a post on an act of self-kindness to hopefully motivate people into being more kind to themselves and to provide inspiration for what they could do to do this… here’s what the week looks like:
Day Two: Reading – my favourite books on kindness
Day Three: Spending time with others
Day Four: Movies – my top movies about kindness
Day Five: Acts of Self-Care
Day Six: Building on passions and hobbies
Day Seven: A Round-Up of the entire week - every day I’ll also be vlogging the things that I’m doing for myself and on Sunday (May 24th) I’ll be posting all the videos right here on I’m NOT Disordered!