By Andrew Woods
Two years ago, I volunteered at a conference put on by a national mental health organisation. The speakers at this conference were distinguished, successful and insightful – all the things I was not. They also all had powerful stories.
The keynote speaker was a former attorney general who had struggled for a long time with alcoholism. What I took away from his story at the time was – nothing. His story was insightful, interesting and hope inspiring, and yet I couldn’t see the obvious – that his story was like mine. I was under the influence, an addict and unwell. Yet nothing resonated with me.
When the attorney general had finished speaking, I approached him. Every muddled instinct of mine told me not to. Regardless, I told him a bit about myself. His response took me by surprise. “You need to be extra generous to yourself,” he told me.
I had no clue what he meant.
At the time, I was becoming a burden to those close to me. My supervisors at work were struggling to keep up with my frequent, long and babbling emails. I’m sure they were beginning to see me as an unhealthy influence on the rest of the staff. I had zero insight. I was delusional, manic and addicted to prescription medications.
The staff were the only community I had. They were also the only people in my life who unconditionally accepted me, despite my long history of mental health challenges. So I clung to them long after I left the organisation.
“Be extra generous to yourself”
I would often think about what the attorney general had told me: “You need to be extra generous to yourself.”
When insight returned, after many medication adjustments and prolonged withdrawals, I began visiting a local Clubhouse. This was a place I could go both to find support and to participate in social gatherings and events. I’d been hesitant to visit until then. I was holier-than-thou towards others who live with mental health challenges. I thought I was different. I thought I was better than the rest.
Going to my first dinner at the Clubhouse was nerve-wracking. I was shaky and anxious. Walking through the doors, I didn’t know what to expect. To my surprise, though, I was greeted warmly. I ate with the members, chatted and then left with a smile on my face. I didn’t feel judged. I felt accepted.
“You need to be extra generous to yourself.”
Community is incredibly important to me. They say a close-knit social circle is the biggest determinant of mental wellbeing. I had no innermost circle and, as a result, I was miserable for a long time. I was in pain.
When part of a community, I try to pay it forward. I volunteer – educating people on mood disorders and addiction. I take part in and contribute to support groups. I run a mental health blog. I try to visit the Clubhouse a couple of times a week and I’m beginning to build a social network of people I can relate to.
Be kind to yourself
Every recovery story is ongoing. I believe recovery is all about the journey rather than in reaching point B. When I stumble and fall, I get back up. When I take a step backwards, I bounce back with two steps forward. I must remember that I’ve come a long way and I deserve a great deal of credit for that.
Things are different nowadays …
Nowadays, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.
Nowadays, I’m kind to myself.
I’m extra generous to myself.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here