If you were to go on my Instagram, the first thing you would see is a garden variety of basic bish posts; from photos of my travels accompanied by punny captions, to flower crown selfies of my friends and I drinking prosecco. It would appear that I am just one of many who is #livingtheirbestlife.
Why do I do it? Sometimes, I simply want to immortalise memories of the good times using the preservative magic of social media. Other times, it’s because I didn’t spend an hour doing makeup for nothing ALRIGHT?! But often, I’m guilty of doing what so many of us do – using social media as a self-PR tool to show only the good and none of the bad.
It’s not that I’m not genuinely happy in these pictures – most of the time I am. It’s just that some days, I have to work quite hard to be happy. And then there are other days where “happy” is out of the question – just making it through the day would be great. So whilst I’m not exactly going to post pictures of me at 7 am on a Monday morning staring at the ceiling and contemplating my very existence, I am going to be more honest about how I keep my head above water – because life can feel sh*tty sometimes, and I can’t just put a Clarendon filter on it and pretend like it’s not.
1. I know my triggers
It’s weird how something so tiny and seemingly innocent can trigger an avalanche of negative feelings – be it a depressing plot line on a TV show which is too close to home, or somebody you follow on social media who seems to have it so much better than you.
I try to stay aware of my triggers and mindful of how I internally react, for instance, when that girl at school who had it all posts another picture of her honeymoon in the Maldives. During a particularly turbulent time, I used an app called Daylio. This app tracks your mood and activities, and identifies any correlations between the two. Using Daylio, I was able to do less of the stuff that wasn’t conducive to my mental health, and more of what made me happy – which takes me to my next point.
2. I exercise for sanity, not vanity
Ok, so maybe a little bit vanity, but mostly I will go to the gym for the sake of my mental health.
From the Daylio app, I found that my mood was far better when I did exercise in the morning, as opposed to the evening. I also found trying out new exercises was having a positive impact. I know gym memberships can be pricey, but the Move GB app is £1 a week and you can go to as many different classes you want.
If I’m feeling particularly low or anxious, it’s a real struggle and I have to remind myself how I will feel when I’m done. Even if it’s just 30 minutes, it’s better than nothing. I’ve never once gone to the gym and felt worse for it, only better.
3. I don’t always have to be “on”
My sister once said to me: “Nathalie, you don’t always have to be on”, and I’ve never forgotten it.
For a long time, people only ever saw me when I was feeling outgoing and excitable, because I hid away when I was feeling anything less. But since I’ve started being more open about my mental health, especially with those closest to me, I’ve felt less of a pressure to constantly be “on”.
Thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’m coming to realise that even on an “off” day I am still worthy of company and compassion. There’s no need to struggle on my own.
4. I keep my brain busy
When I’m anxious, I also don’t really feel like doing anything productive, but I’ve learnt that these are the times when it’s most crucial to busy my brain. I’ve found that if I can focus my mental energy on an actual real-life task, I’m less inclined to use this energy worrying about imaginary scenarios.
I’m going to hit you with a little truth bomb now – when I started writing this, I felt really really anxious. Then I decided to pause my worries for an 30 minutes and at least try to start writing this blog post. That was three hours ago…
5. I take medication
Lastly, I take my meds. Same dosage, same time, every day. I take them along with Vitamin B tablets and fish oils. I don’t know how much good they’re doing, all I know is that I feel better than I did.
I used to hide the fact that I was on the anti-anxiety medication – Sertraline. If I was dating someone, I would keep it a secret. If friends came over, I would make sure the packaging was nowhere in sight. And when picking up a prescription in the chemist I would pray that the pharmacist wouldn’t mention the name of the drug out loud.
But now I’ve come to accept that there is a chemical imbalance in my brain, plus I’ve had some bad sh*t happen in my life – so maybe I need a bit more help than most in order to feel happy. They aren’t a magic cure-all elixir, and I have to make sure I do all of the above, plus see a therapist from time-to-time if I want to keep my head above water. But going on the medication in the first place took me out of the hole I was in and gave me the strength to start making some more positive changes. Obviously, medication isn’t the answer for everyone, but if your quality of life is being affected by your mental health, go to the doctors now and get their advice.
It might feel like everyone around you is #livingtheirbestlife, but you don’t know their reality, you only know yours. And if you are kind, patient and true to yourself within your reality, then that is the ultimate definition of living your best life.