Amie Richardson: 5 actions that make you feel mentally stronger
It is dark. The air is gone. I look down at my arms, my veins burning – the blood travelling too fast. I want to scratch at my skin, my face, my legs, my head. I want to run – to get out of this room, this house, this town.
I want to sleep. To cover myself under layers and layers of blankets until I hear nothing and the world disappears.
The first time I understood what anxiety meant I was six months pregnant with Jasper. In the past, I had experienced dark times but these would pass with a sunny day, or a walk on the beach, or a great book.
Much of the darkness came from pressures of my own making – striving for perfect grades, for a perfect relationship, for love and approval from others whose expectations were even higher than my own.
But with my third pregnancy – following so soon after a miscarriage at 12 weeks – came an unending nervous energy, my body triggered into a fight or flight response which filled me with rage at my husband alongside a poisonous jealousy that infiltrated our close-knit whanau. The worst of it lasted through my pregnancy and into the first nine months of Jasper's life.
I fought hard against the blackness but the relentless terror I felt in seemingly normal, usually welcome, situations – a family dinner, a get together with friends – was not something I could just "snap out" of.
Research says mental wellbeing is improved by building these five actions into our daily lives – 'connect', 'give', 'take notice', 'keep learning' and 'be active'. The more these actions became part of my everyday life – whether it was caring for my boys or Wayne during his illness, sharing laughter with friends and family, taking a walk, seeing the sea, getting sleep – the stronger I felt.
On Tuesday, Aucklander Mike Heard begins a 24-hour Bungy Guinness World Record attempt off Auckland Harbour Bridge in support of the Mental Health Foundation. Mike's schtick is Bungy. Since his first jump, Bungy has made him feel empowered, stronger, focused. He's aiming for 200 jumps in 24 hours, which will break the record and, he hopes, raise cash for an organisation he believes in.
I'll be with him on the bridge as part of the PR team. Whether I'll jump alongside him is still up for debate, but Mike has reminded me of how every gesture – big or small – guided by those five actions brings a world of meaning to a life where we so often feel disconnected and alone.
WHERE TO GET HELP
The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:
* Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
* Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
* Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
* Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
* Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
* Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
* Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
* Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.