When I was little, my dad would always say “don’t put your coat on now! Wait until you’re outside and then you’ll feel the benefit of it.” I would stare up at his face, from what felt like a mile away, and think “Why would I wait until I’m cold to put my coat on?”
Eventually, my sisters or my mum would me my coat out on the patio and shove my little arms in to my bright turquoise puffer coat, and zip me up. Sometimes they would catch my chin in the zip, and this quick twist of pain would quickly lead to a tight embrace. Upon release I would waddle out into the world firmly protected and cosy.
Sometimes my winnie the pooh hat would be shoved onto my head and would come so low that my eyes had a constant view of a bright pink horizon, and when it was removed my hair would stick up like the fluff of a baby pigeon.
But, nonetheless, I was safe from Jack Frost, and ready to face the world with my small army of love.
But still, the question remained: “Why would I wait until I was cold to put my coat on?”
It was a question that as we would get older, we would often bicker with my dad about before we would go on long walks through the countryside. Marching our way through the day with our hats on our heads and our big jackets on.
I’ve been thinking recently a lot about it. I think that sentiment is something I live by, whether I realize it or not.
Don’t take a break unless you really, really need it.
Don’t start a job unless you can absolutely finish it.
Don’t start something unless you can do it really, really well.
Don’t take paracetamol, unless you really, really need it.
Don’t ask for help unless you really, really need it.
What I am trying to say, in a very convoluted way: it doesn’t matter how many times “really” appears. Imagine if you just put your jacket on before you went outside. You would be toasty and warm. Yes, your face might sting in the cold wind, but you wouldn’t have to feel that anywhere else on your body.
Do we really need to feel the benefit of something? Or can we just be glad we didn’t get to a place where we really, really needed it?
Mental health is one where this specifically applies to me. I am ashamed to say that I still have a stigma surrounding my mental health. Which is crazy because if anyone comes to me, the first thing I say is calmly, politely, but firmly: “You are valid, you are doing so well.”
Yet when it is me, in my dark moments I tell myself not to reach out. Who would want to hear it? I will lower someone’s mood. I will make people worry. I will stress someone out.
I am valid, and I am doing so well. Saying that to myself, my eyes are already smarting.
So what is the metaphorical mental health coat that we put on before we enter into the cold? This is my priority list.
- Counselling: someone who is objective, neutral and is trained for any of your worst (and best!) thoughts.
- Journaling: A safe space where you can say anything you like.
- Taking yourself out of a situation: although it is hard returning, and please do this at a safe time of day.
- Your support network: The hardest part for me is acknowledging when someone who was such a huge part of my life is no longer here to support me. In my dark moments, I love to use that as a negative, but I can see that this loss has made way for lots of new people who actually know what to say, how to treat me and are always on my side. Support networks are open to change. Think of it more as a football team with the players on the side lines who get subbed in (sorry to football fans, I as you can tell, do not sport). Someone leaving you does not mean you are less than or not deserving support. It’s so easy to focus on what you don’t have; write a list of every person you can call.
- Hobbies: it is so hard to find motivation sometimes. But we all know that painting a painting that is just a black hole of browns and greys is a lot better than feeling like a black hole of browns and greys. Hobbies can be as big or as small as you want them to be. It can just help you to reconnect to yourself when you are spiralling.
If you have any other things to add to our mental health coat, I would love to hear it.
So, beautiful, beautiful friends, let us put on our jacket and prepare for the day. If you forget and have to run inside, like my dad said, you will still feel the benefits. But let us put it on before it gets to that point.
Sending you so much love. Never forget how exceptional you are. I see it. I hope you see it.
You are deserving of everything you want, and so much more than you even realize.
Photo: child me in my coat and scarf.