By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing.
Today I’m talking about healing and how to manage it for better mental health — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 35 of Better Mental Health on YouTube — in this latest episode I’m talking about the importance of being authentic for better mental health (and how to do it).
Watch the episode below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 19 September, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 97, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about healing and I’ll be discussing what healing is (and what it isn’t), why a healthy attitude towards healing matters, and how to manage your healing in a healthy way.
Before I start, watch my latest Better Mental Health video on YouTube where I’m exploring how authenticity improves your mental health, and I’m sharing specific tips on how to be more true to yourself every day. The content I share on my YouTube channel is completely different to what I cover here in the podcast, so if you’re not watching my weekly videos then you’re missing out on more practical advice for better mental health! You can find links to my channel and the latest video in the episode description for this podcast, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you’ll see it on the front page (and take a moment to subscribe to my YouTube channel while you’re at it so you never miss an episode!).
And a quick reminder that you only have until the 24th of September 2021 to enter the giveaway I’m doing to celebrate the upcoming 100th episode of this podcast, which comes out on October 10. For more details head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/giveaway (and the link is also in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).
So, with all of that covered, on with this week’s episode about healing…
It’s kind-of funny that I chose to talk about healing for this episode, because not only have I been doing a lot of work focused on that very subject with my therapist every week for the past few months, but this month marks the 10th anniversary of when I had my breakdown back in 2011, which is what kicked off a series of massive changes in my life and it’s what brought me to the place I’m in today. I chose the topic months ago and didn’t think anything of it, but this week it’s been front-of-mind as I began to reflect on the healing journey that I’ve been on since then. Plus we had a death in the family on Mum’s side, so I’ve been in quite a reflective frame of mind for the last week or two and that means I’m actually quite excited to talk about healing this week! Actually, who am I kidding — I get excited to talk about any topic with you wonderful people every week and I remind myself every day how fortunate I am that my healing journey brought me to this place where I get to do work that I love, so consider yourself warned that there may be lots of warm-and-fuzzies this week mixed in with my usual directness!
So let’s get this show on the road and start by talking about…
What is healing (and what isn’t it)?
Healing is the process of becoming healthy again, or the process of making something or someone ‘sound’ (or becoming sound), in terms of ‘sound’ being an adjective meaning in good condition (and thanks to the Oxford Dictionary for that definition). I included the ‘sound’ or ‘good condition’ bit there because the word doesn’t try to promote some unattainable idea of perfection; instead, ‘sound’ is about being reliable, dependable, solid, stable, whole and strong.
And for me, I see healing as being a journey towards slowly becoming more solid and stable, as opposed to any type of magic cure, because here’s the thing: there are no magic cures in life and when it comes to our past, it’s about learning to live with it and living in spite of it that helps to propel us forward into our future. Whatever has happened to us in our past has happened, and that will never change, so recognising that healing is less about your challenges magically disappearing overnight and more about learning how to make your peace with the past is one of the most fundamental steps on the journey towards healing and, ultimately, peace of mind. I talked about the past in Episode 94 and I’d like you to consider this episode to be an extension of that one (so if you haven’t already listened to it, I’d suggest doing so then coming back to this one) because in that episode I talked about making your peace with the past, and this week I’m taking that forward to its next step and looking at how to turn that into greater and more thoughtful healing.
Because the thing about healing is that it’s not something we just do once and then we’re done; healing is a lifelong process that takes commitment and conscious effort every single day… and at the same time, it’s not a linear path to recovery or nirvana (and I’m talking there about the Buddhist notion of transcending suffering, as opposed to the Smells Like Teen Spirit type of Nirvana!); healing is messy and complicated and very often it looks less like a straight line and instead it more closely resembles one of those hardcore rollercoasters with so many twists and turns that you want to hope you didn’t eat for four hours before you got on it! Actually, here’s a slightly more niche reference: one of my favourite shows of recent years was The Good Place, and healing can be very much like the Jeremy Bearimy concept of time that’s used in that show (if you’ve never seen it, just picture a rollercoaster on acid). When you see healing for what it is — a journey, rather than a destination — it helps you to be more pragmatic and realistic about your expectations, which then allows you to make the most of the journey and even to enjoy the scenery along the way.
Which leads me to the next part of today’s episode…
Why a healthy attitude towards healing matters
And here I’m going to take the journey analogy and run with it, although I promise I’m going to try extra-hard not to turn this into something that sounds like it should be on a printed poster from a discount store!
Healing is a journey that goes on indefinitely, and just because you’ve done the work that doesn’t mean that things from your past won’t pop up and bite you in the backside when you least expect it, at least from time to time (not the case for everyone, but common nonetheless so if it has happened to you — or is happening — then know that it’s all part of the journey!). For example, as I mentioned at the start of the episode we lost a family member last week and I found myself dealing with a whole bunch of emotions, not just about her loss but also what it meant for other members of my family, and add to that the challenges involved in deciding how to deal with it in terms of my mother and her dementia. It all became a bit much and I found myself talking about it in detail with my therapist the other day because I just needed that space to process through everything and also to remind myself that it’s OK to have complex and difficult emotions around these kind of family issues, and it doesn’t diminish the progress I’ve made in terms of my healing.
I said at the end of last week’s episode that I’m not particularly convinced that we ever fully ‘recover’ from past trauma or mental health challenges, and the reason why I say that is because to me the word ‘recovery’ suggests returning to some idealised state, and regular listeners will be well aware of my view that it is impossible to go backwards. Whatever has or hasn’t happened in your life cannot be undone or amended, and so therefore it will forever change you. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because from even the darkest times we can find opportunities to let in the light in order to grow.
A lot of this is broadly connected to the content I covered back in Episode 27, about recovery, and I mention it because the idea of recovery is a fairly common one that we use in mental health terms as well as in society in general; think about statements in the news media about ‘economic recovery’ and you’ll have a fair idea of what I’m talking about. I very much consider ‘recovery’ to be more short-term in focus, in terms of seeking to reduce or stop specific symptoms, whereas I see ‘healing’ as a longer-term proposition, in the sense of being able to take the time and space you need to mentally sift through everything and process it in a healthy way that helps you to learn what you need to learn, change what you need to change, and move forward.
And I guess I should probably take a moment here and just clarify that there are a couple of different thoughts about the concept of ‘recovery’ which I should probably cover to help explain why I’m talking about recovery versus healing; let me share a quote from the UK organisation Rethink Mental Illness, which is:
“There is no widely accepted definition of recovery [and it] means different things to different people. For some people recovery means aiming to be symptom free. For others it might mean managing your [condition] well to be able to live a meaningful life. Recovery can be a short-term or long-term thing… Some doctors and health professionals think of recovery as no longer having mental health symptoms [referred to as clinical recovery], [whereas] personal recovery can mean that you are able to live a meaningful life [and focus on] what is important to you.”Source: https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/living-with-mental-illness/treatment-and-support/recovery/
And the link for that is in the transcript. So, when we’re talking about the idea of recovery in general, and how it relates to healing, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of our focus is generally more on the clinical recovery side in terms of treating and reducing or eradicating specific symptoms. However, as I have said many times on this podcast, addressing the symptoms does not actually treat the root cause — and when you don’t deal with the source of issues, they have a tendency to come back time and time again. So having a focus on ‘healing’ is, in my opinion, a healthier way to approach things because it involves dealing with the root cause of issues and processing them in order to move forward.
And I guess at this point you might be thinking, “well that’s great… but how do you do that?” — and if so then I’m glad you asked, because that leads me into the how-to part of this episode! So, let’s talk about…
How to manage your healing for the sake of your mental health
So I have a lot of different ideas for you to consider and while they’re all interrelated, you might find that some feel like a better fit for you than others… so choose a few that feel right to you, try them for a while and then over time you might like to add some more of these into your self-management plan (oh, and that’s a bit of how-to advice there: create a self-management plan, because failing to plan is planning to fail… it doesn’t have to be enormously intricate, but having some sort of planned-out approach will help you to remember what you’re doing and, more importantly, why you’re doing it).
So, let’s get into the rest of the how-to advice beginning with…
Know that healing begins with acceptance — because when we resist the truth of the things that we’re dealing with, either physically or emotionally (or both), we cause ourselves pain and suffering. Things are what they are and you can either fight that fact (which is futile, because it won’t change anything) or you can turn your focus to acceptance, which is where peace of mind can be found. The thing about acceptance is that when we accept where we are in life right now, we’re better able to make choices that are grounded in truth as opposed to wishful thinking. And as I said back in Episode 36, about acceptance, just because you accept that something is what it is that does not mean that you’re saying it’s right or OK or that you’re endorsing it; it simply means that you are choosing to focus on reality as opposed to resistance. And that matters, because it’s a huge part of my next point which is…
Reflect — and I talk about reflection a lot here on the podcast, because it’s part of that whole piece I discuss a lot about looking at the past in an objective and non-judgemental way so that you can learn from it. One of my favourite sayings is the Henry Ford one that goes, “The greatest thing in life is experience. Even mistakes have value.” I love that quote because it’s a reminder to treat every single thing that happens as a learning opportunity — the good, the bad and the ugly — because when you do that, you realise that no matter what has or hasn’t happened in the past or the present, you are the one who is in control of what you choose to do next. I’m going to come back to that control piece in a few minutes (since I talk about it in most episodes) but in terms of reflection what I’m saying here is to take some time to reflect on your journey and look for the lessons your experiences have to offer you, and reflect on how they have led you to wherever you are today. You may find Episode 12, which was all about reflection, to be helpful here. So that leads to my next point, which is…
Do the work — and by this I mean actually putting in the time, effort and perseverance that is necessary to make your healing a priority every single day. If that sounds like hard work… well, it is! And I’m sorry to break this to you, but there are no days off when it comes to this stuff and if you let your guard down for too long or let yourself slide into unhealthy habits, then you can often quickly slide backwards into the stomach-churning part of the rollercoaster ride of healing. Some days will be good, some days will be crap, some days will be great, some days will be average… but if you do the work every day, the good days will slowly outweigh the crappy days. Speaking of, my next point is…
Know that there are no quick fixes — because there aren’t. You can’t just read an inspirational quote or listen to a single podcast episode and be magically cured, just as you cannot pop a pill and have all of your troubles vanish overnight. A few weeks ago on my YouTube channel, Better Mental Health, I did a video about why antidepressants are not the answer (and it’s linked in the transcript or you can find it at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/youtube) and the reason why I said that is because I think we’ve reached a point where it feels easier to pop a pill and have that ‘cure’ us, but the reality is that it doesn’t cure you, it just treats some of the symptoms. And what did I say earlier in this episode about symptom versus cause? When you just treat the symptoms, you ignore the root cause and that often means that whatever it is will hang around and haunt you until you eventually deal with it. Now, all of that might sound a bit ironic for me to say, considering that medications like antidepressants actually saved my life, however it wasn’t until I finally started doing the work to deal with all the deep-down stuff I had been avoiding that I started to see any real, significant improvement in my situation. Which leads to my next point…
Embrace the journey — and this is about taking that last point plus the acceptance thing I discussed before and really leaning into it in terms of taking your time and choosing to make the most of each step in the healing process. I like to do this through daily reflection and gratitude practice, and also taking time on a regular basis to reflect on how far I’ve come because that shows me just how much progress I’ve made and it highlights how much I’ve grown along the way. Speaking of growth, my next point is…
Look for the opportunities to grow — because reflecting on things and processing it in order to make your peace with it is one thing, but then the question becomes: OK, so now what? How do you take what you’ve experienced and use it to your benefit, even if it was unpleasant or horrendous? There’s a reason why I share so much of my own journey in my work: because it’s about turning negative stuff into positives by using what I’ve experienced to help others. I’m not saying you have to do it the same way I’m doing it, but think about how you can use your experiences to push you forward and to help you take steps to be the best version of yourself possible. One simple-but-complicated way to do that is my next point…
Focus on what is within your direct control — and I think this piece of advice is almost a mantra at this point here on Let’s Talk About Mental Health, because it’s one of the things that I say nearly every episode! It’s an important piece of advice for pretty much every aspect of life and your wellbeing, and it’s even more important in the context of healing because when you focus on trying to control things that you cannot — like external situations, world events or what other people choose to do or say — well… you just make life more difficult for yourself, because all you can control is yourself and what you choose to do and say. And that leads to my next point…
Focus on one day at a time — because all you can control is what you do and say today. I am always a firm believer in planning for the future, but that requires a degree of flexibility because we can never fully predict what will or won’t happen tomorrow. When it comes to your journey of healing, don’t allow yourself to worry about whether or not you’ll be OK in six months’ time or six years… just focus on today, because the future is unpredictable and worrying about it isn’t going to change what will or won’t happen — all you can do is focus on what you choose to do and say here in the present, and let the future unfold as it may. I talked about being present in Episode 83 and I covered worry in Episode 95, so check those out for more on the subject.
So, with that last point in mind, I’m going to share three rapid-fire suggestions on how to focus more on one day at a time, starting with:
- Keep a mood journal — and this is about tracking how you’re feeling (broadly-speaking) each day and also making a couple of notes about what contributed to your main mood. For example, if you felt low… what happened? What did you experience? What were you thinking about? What went on around you and how did it influence your feelings? Doing this helps you to practice daily reflection and it also gives you something to refer back to later so you can see trends and patterns to help you know yourself better.
- Next, come up with a daily routine that works for you — and this is about having a clear structure that fits in with your preferences and what you are trying to achieve. I recommend investing time daily in all areas of your wellbeing — physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial — which might sound like a lot, but really it’s about just having a few minutes for each aspect of your wellbeing every single day so that you’re making your overall wellbeing a priority.
- Next, know your triggers and manage them — and I covered triggers back in Episode 91, so check that out, and this is about being proactive in terms of the situations or people that you can find triggering, and having a plan to manage them. Obviously it’s more in-depth than that, so check out the Triggers episode for a more detailed discussion.
OK, so with those bits of advice for daily approaches covered, let me share a few more broad suggestions, such as…
Set goals and work towards achieving them — because when we have goals it helps to keep our eyes focused on hope, and when our hopes and dreams are slowly realised it can go a long way in terms of helping us to heal. I’m not saying you need to have massive goals (and I do suggest they should ideally be realistic and attainable; becoming an astronaut at the age of 83 might be a bit tough to achieve!), but have a handful of things you’re working towards and break each goal down into bite-size chunks that you can make progress on each day or week. Any forward-momentum in terms of the things you want to achieve in your life will make you feel more positive about yourself, and positive energy creates more positive energy! So, my next point is…
Focus on maintaining positive relationships and letting go of negative ones — and you’re quite welcome to change the word ‘positive’ for ‘healthy’ here, because this is about healthy relationships in your life. You do that by setting and maintaining boundaries (which I talked about in Episode 53) and by dealing with conflict in a healthy way (and I covered conflict in Episode 88). I’m a firm believer in giving people an opportunity to meet you halfway in terms of your needs and theirs, but when people take from the relationship without giving in return, that’s when you can find yourself dealing with toxic and damaging situations… so make your healing and wellbeing an absolute priority, and walk away from situations and people that are detrimental to your healing.
Know that healing is messy and that’s OK — you might find that some days you feel on top of the world, and other days you might be beating yourself up over things you did or didn’t do in the past… some days you might feel like you’ve come so far, and then other days you might feel like you’re starting from scratch yet again. Healing is terrifying because it pushes us way out of our comfort zone and forces us to grow, and growth can be painful; it’s not uncommon that relationships will change and some of them might even cease, and even though that will probably hurt, it’s OK. Doing what is right for you isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do it… it just means that you keep taking things one day at a time, one step at a time, and you stay on course towards your healing with kindness and compassion towards others and, just as importantly, towards yourself. OK, so my next point is…
Know the signs that you’re having a challenging time — and this is about monitoring your mood regularly (which I suggested before that you do daily) so that if you can see yourself slipping into old habits or patterns, you can be aware of it and intervene early. The whole point of ‘one day at a time’ is that every day is a fresh start, so focus on this moment and keep taking small steps forward every day. And that leads to my next point…
Ask for help if you need it — because it takes a village, people! In other words, sometimes you need help to make progress and that’s OK; healthy relationships are about a balance of give and take, and that means sometimes you need to receive love and support; so when you need it, ask for it! You don’t have to go through challenges alone and nor should you, which conveniently leads me to my final point before I wrap up today…
Work with a professional — and this is my usual final point for most episodes because the people we care about are (hopefully) wonderful for emotional support and love, but not so much when it comes to objective guidance and helping us to explore the more challenging aspects of our situation. If your healing journey is proving to be a bit of a struggle then find someone you feel comfortable with, like a therapist or counsellor, and work with them to address the root cause (or causes) of your situation in a healthy way so that you can make progress step by step.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to healing and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Healing isn’t some perfect destination that we can rush towards, because it is a lifelong journey that requires us to accept that our past is always with us and that it is has shaped who we are today. Rather than letting that fact cause you sadness, choose to see it as an opportunity for growth by letting your focus be on embracing your healing journey one day at a time. When you choose to focus on the opportunities being presented to you, you create hope — and hope is the fuel that makes life worth living.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:
“We repeat what we don’t repair.”Unknown
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about perfectionism. Now, considering that I say that perfect doesn’t exist quite a lot in this show, I am somewhat of a perfectionist myself and it takes a lot of work to manage — but hey, that’s OK, because nobody is perfect! So since I’ve had to work so hard to find the right balance in terms of my perfectionist tendencies, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of what I’ve learned along the way — so, next week I’ll be talking about what perfectionism is, why understanding it is important, and how to manage perfectionism in a healthy way.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 26th of September. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode of Better Mental Health on YouTube or IGTV, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for podcast transcripts and my weekly newsletter. You’ll also find the link in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re listening to me on.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.