My mental health journey has taken a significant turn for the better — but that didn’t happen until I learned to have a more positive relationship with the most important person in my life. The friends, family, and community I surround myself with are vital to my physical, mental, and social health. For years, I’d been suffering the effects of being too socially isolated. Part of recovery, for me, was joining and contributing to a like-minded community.
But there is one relationship that needed to be healed first — one relationship that was holding me back from truly finding joy, and from enhancing my life with the people I surrounded myself with. That one relationship impacted how I coped with stress, interacted with loved ones, and performed in my career. Healing that one relationship is what allowed me to be supported by my community.
The single most important relationship for my mental health was the one I have with myself. Until I healed that relationship, I could not move forward. And I would not be able to benefit from the positive influences around me.
Who you surround yourself with
I need to back up a bit first. The people you surround yourself with impact your mental health, absolutely. On a basic level, they’re what allows us to see that things can be different — that life can be different. They’re also a reflection of how we see ourselves. Surrounding ourselves with negative people who don’t value us can be a sign that we don’t value ourselves.
There were many people who made a difference in my mental health: my parents who supported me, my flatmate who stood by me, my friend who made an appointment for me when I couldn’t do it for myself, a loving husband who accepts me for who I am, yet still challenges me to be the best version of myself, and friends who I sometimes look at and wonder how they could possibly still be here all these years later.
These are the people who helped me through challenging times. While I have a different relationship with each of them, there is one common thread. They stood by me, even when things were tough — even when I was probably not the best influence on their lives.
Nurturing a positive relationship is a two way street
The understanding that positivity in relationships had to be a two way street was a turning point for me. I was looking to others to pull me up, to be a positive influence in my life, and to support me through the ups and downs. But what about them? I was there to support them too. But was I a positive influence in their life? Was I helping them rise up, or was I dragging them down? What sort of impact was I having in their mental health?
The realization that I was the one that needed to change
I knew I could be there for my friends. And they knew I supported them. But was that support valuable if I had such a negative relationship with myself? It was a hard reality to accept. And when I did, it made me even more grateful for the fact they’d stood by me. What if they had followed this advice to surround themselves with people who supported their emotional well-being? I might not have remained in their lives. I might have been what was removed.
How I healed my relationship with myself
How I recovered from mental illness is a long story, which I address in part here and here. Healing the relationship with myself was (and continues to be) an ongoing journey. And for all its complexities, it comes down to something pretty simple. I needed to start caring about myself more — not me in the context of community, social, family, or career, but me in the context of who I am to myself.
For me it was about learning how to value myself and care for myself in a way that actually supported my health: my physical, mental, and social health. I had to learn how to nourish my body with food and exercise. So I could feel my best, and think my best. That was my start. It allowed me to address the other essential components of caring for myself: sleep, stress, social connection, and simplicity.
Getting there was a process. There are a lot of self care strategies that I had to learn. I used Microsteps, starting with small low barrier changes and creating habits. But there’s one self-care strategy that had the greatest impact on me. It was what allowed me to focus on nutrition and exercise, and opened the door to addressing sleep, stress, social connections, and simplicity.
The one specific self-care strategy I used first
One self-care strategy changed my relationship with myself. It was the first step, that once I built on it, allowed me to have a more positive relationship with others.
It was when I learned how to stop having a victim mindset towards my mental health — that the power to change my life was mine, and not the responsibility of the people around me. Once I believed that truth and owned it, I was empowered to make positive changes for myself.
Improving my relationship with myself allowed me to have better relationships with others, to be the one that makes a difference for friends and family, and to be the person that best supports me. It’s my relationship with myself that’s the single most impactful relationship for my mental health.
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