Tess Tainton is the Involvement Coordinator at Inspiring Change Manchester and Co-Chair for the Mental Health Action Group, part of the Manchester Homelessness Partnership. In this blog, she explores the Mental Health Awareness Week theme of Kindness.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is kindness. I’m writing this in reflection of my own mental health struggles while thinking about what kindness means.
Kindness is something that I find comes very easily to me when with others, but I’m terrible at being kind to myself. In the past, I’ve had a therapist tell me I’m a bully to myself and that I fight on behalf of anyone I witness getting a fraction of the horrible treatment I subject myself to on a near daily basis. It’s probably something we are all guilty of to different degrees – we treat others better than ourselves, because we put our own needs to the back of the queue, feeling selfish if we prioritise ourselves.
When I’m not feeling great, I’ll instinctively withhold the most basic of kindnesses from myself, telling myself I don’t deserve it. I’ll prevent myself from getting a drink when I’m thirsty because I’ve not completed a task; I’ll cancel something I’ve been looking forward to because I didn’t answer a text message; I’ll make myself do something I find upsetting because I got upset “unnecessarily” (I’ll essentially ‘give [myself] something to cry about’). Thanks to years of talking therapies I can usually pick up on when it’s happening and try counteract the negative behaviour which I’m instinctively drawn to.
I struggle to buy into the ‘inner child needs comfort’ stuff, although it does make sense to me, it just doesn’t resonate on a more practical day to day level. Instead I try to think about what I would do if it were someone else. I’d likely get them a drink, say not to cancel something positive, ask what good can come out of creating more pain.. then I’d say that it’s ok to make mistakes. Just typing those last few words made me want to cry because I still struggle to believe it to be true. A mistake is something that is wrong. Wrong things are bad. Bad things need to be punished. Logically I know it’s not that simple. There are shades of mistake, shades of wrong, shades of bad. Somethings I identify as mistakes aren’t even mistakes. Not hearing when someone speaks to me is just something which happens but in the past, I’ve gone away and verbally, and sometimes physically, beaten myself for similar things.
These days, I’m not so bad as all that. I often do recognise when I’m being unkind. I’m getting better at stopping myself when I try to destroy myself over anything and everything. I’m fortunate to have people, both in and out of work, who can recognise the signs of when I’m beating myself up, or trying to overcome it, and provide the kindness I struggle to give to myself. I’m learning not to roll my eyes at the phrase ‘love yourself’ and I’m working at the phrase ‘tolerate yourself’. Someday, I hope to not consider ‘like yourself’ an impossibility.
And I keep reflecting on the kindness I give to others without hesitation. I make myself recognise when I am kind. I grit my teeth through compliments and make myself hear them without contradiction. I try to praise myself each day for something I’ve done, said or thought. I try to view ‘mistakes’ as anecdotes – if they aren’t worthy of telling someone about, then they definitely aren’t worth thinking about. I remind myself of times I’ve felt peace inside myself and the positivity I see reflected in others around me as a result.
So maybe don’t think about kindness to others this week, think about kindness to yourself. And instead of doing something kind for yourself, let that ‘mistake’ go. Yes, that one. The one that you avoid thinking about. Because sometimes the greatest kindness we can give is to let something go.