When you’re struggling with your mental health, the weight of your mind can feel overwhelming.
No matter how many times we’re told to view anxiety or depression just like a physical health problem, when you’re in the midst of a tough period, it can be hard to detach yourself and your identity from everything that’s going on in your head.
This is a problem author and mental health advocate Matt Haig knows all too well. Speaking on the first episode of Clemmie Telford’s new podcast But Why?, Haig discussed how he used to see himself through the lens of his depression – and why making a conscious decision to change that was such an important part of his recovery.
Explaining how he’s learnt to deal with bouts of depression, Haig said: “A thing that really helped me was seeing a separation between myself and it. I used to say ‘oh, I’m a depressive’ or ‘I’m a bit of a depressive’ and that is a very toxic way of looking at it, because your identity becomes the depression.”
Going on to speak about how he learnt to see his depression “as an experience” rather than a part of his identity, Haig highlighted how, despite its being a cliché, talking about his mental health in terms of the weather made a real difference to his overall perspective.
“I feel like it’s a really important way of seeing it,” he said. “Because if you’re in a hurricane, it’s not to belittle the power of the hurricane – that hurricane can be devastating, it can even be fatal, it can knock you to your feet, it can soak you to your skin and it can dominate your life.
“But you always know that if you’re in a hurricane, you’re not the hurricane – you’re the thing going through that hurricane.”
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Haig added: “With depression, because it’s in your mind you can think ‘well, this is me’ – but it’s you in a certain moment of time that is experiencing this thing.”
What Haig says makes a lot of sense. Seeing your mental health issues as something separate from you is important because it allows you to see your anxiety or depression for what it really is – a temporary experience which, with help, support and time, will come to an end.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.