HAVE A HEART | My Story – The Reasons Behind #HaveAHeart
Pushing the power of kindness – all it takes is a smile…
My mental health has had a good bashing over the years. I’ve suffered from post-natal-depression, panic attacks, addiction, anxiety and a serious lack of self-love and self-worth. And then, of course, there’s the meds and the side effects that come with them.
There have been times when I’ve literally not wanted to leave my house for days. Some days I struggled to get out of bed.
I still have ‘bad’ days, but they are less severe and I’ve identified my triggers – these include booze, stress at work, and the up there at no. 1 – the school playground.
Hitting rock bottom
My lowest and darkest point was five years ago when I became a victim of trolling days after giving birth to my little girl. I reached a devastating low due to high profile public criticism when a story about me was published across a number of national newspapers.
You can Google Daily Mail Lyndsey Thomas Tweets Birth if you are remotely interested – take it all with a pinch of salt though, and take note that they did not have my permission to publish that story. Also, if you do stumble across this utter bile, take time to peruse the loathsome opinions of me that dozens of nasty humans felt at liberty to post. Why are so many so mean? I’d just had a baby and these people were judging me and criticizing me. They knew nothing about me, or how the story came about, but they were so quick to vilify me.
If they’d have known that this was to contribute towards my Post Natal Depression and resulted in me locking myself away – not being able to leave the house in fear of being recognized, judged and talked about – would they have refrained from being so mean? Probably not. The fear ate me up for weeks. The shame I felt fed my anxiety and the embarrassment of it all fuelled my depression.
These people – many of them women and probably mums – were passing judgment on much more than the situation that I had put myself in – they were criticizing how I look, criticizing my parenting abilities, and commenting on my relationship with my husband.
Of course, I laughed and joked about it with friends, family, work colleagues and the like. But inside I wasn’t laughing, I was mortified by it all. Anxious, embarrassed and ashamed – this incident was the catalyst to my post-natal depression and the start of a dark time for me.
Everybody needs good neighbours – especially if you suffer depression and anxiety
Six months after this incident we relocated from London back to Yorkshire and my PND peaked around this time. I’m not good with change – change also fuels my anxiety – just a small change to my daily schedule impacts on my mental health, so moving 200 miles to a small village in Yorkshire after 17 years in the smoke was always going to have its consequences.
I also had idyllic, preconceived ideas about how life would be for us all back in Yorkshire. Hopes of my children playing happily with our neighbours’ children. Friendly chats over the fence and impromptu glasses of wine in our garden or theirs on a summers eve. It didn’t turn out like that. For the most part, the majority of our neighbours struggle to give me a smile and try their best to avoid me, mainly because we moved in, renovated our house, then sold some land – our land – and built another house on their street, which caused some disruption I admit.
It’s like water off a duck’s back to my husband. He can ignore the pettiness of it all and gets on with life. But for me, someone who needs to be liked, the environment in which we live in, and the hostility that our neighbours show to us also fuels my depression and anxiety to the point whereby if I see one of them now, I’ll now do my best to avoid them because I’m really uncomfortable with a cold-shoulder – it’s yet more fuel for my anxious fire.
I’ve always needed to be liked. This stems from my childhood when I was bullied at school for having severe eczema. I spent the best part of five years wishing I was invisible. And then, when I reached my early teens, it just cleared up, and people started to like me, and that feeling was wonderful. I no longer wanted to hide, I wanted to be the person who everyone liked. I developed this people-pleasing mentality. I developed a desire to make people happy. I liked and craved the adrenaline and the buzz that I got when I made people happy. Of course I know now that people-pleasing stems from a much deeper problem. My eagerness to please and to be liked stems from some serious self-worth issues.
So when we moved to a tiny little village in Yorkshire, of course, I wanted to be liked. Ted got into the little village primary school and I was excited (and anxious) at the prospect of making new mummy friends. It didn’t occur to me that people might not care for me – that I might not be everyone’s cup of tea. My wit, sarcasm and loud-ladette approach to everything had been, for the most part, why people warmed to me, but that wasn’t to be the case in the school playground.
As someone very anxious on the inside but seemingly over-confident on the outside I can be hard to read. I’m loud, some might even say brash and overbearing, but this is my mask. Under that mask is a woman just wanting to be liked by all, and everyday interactions have a huge impact on my state of mind – most notably interactions at the school gates and in the school playground.
Why is it that women we have previously chatted with, maybe even shared a glass of wine with, one day decide to talk to us and the next refuse to acknowledge us?
Why is it that women who have kids in the same year avoid all eye contact and won’t raise their head and respond to a smile?
Now I realise I may be a bit too much for some – and I’m ok with that now – but come on ladies, all it takes is a smile!
Whilst I have been through many mental health struggles, a blank stare or dismissive glance at the school gates is actually the cut that goes the deepest for me. And I know I’m not alone.
All it takes is a smile…
I’ve penned lots on the subject of mental health over the last three years – I’ve written about my relationship with alcohol, my social anxiety, the complexities of a number of friendships, imposter syndrome and self-loathing – every one of these battles is made easier by one small act – the act of kindness from one human to another. The power of kindness is so mighty yes it takes little or no effort. Something as simple as a smile.
Just a smile can do it. A smile can make me feel like I’m not alone. A smile can positively shift my mindset on those mornings when I wake up and my mental health is under the weather. A smile means so much….so why is this so hard?
I’m sure more often than not it’s unintentional when other mums might choose not to interact with me in the playground – we are all busy mums racing around, heads in the clouds, thinking about the day ahead and not even aware of how are actions can impact others. And I know that unlike me, there are mums who are just fiercely shy. But what would it take to be just a little more aware of our actions and of other’s feelings? Whether it’s a blank stare in the playground or the urge to comment negatively on social media, every one of our actions effects someone in some way and all we need to be is just a little more aware.
Women make the most supportive friends – fiercely loyal, dependable and devoted. But women can also be the cause of so much heartache and I want to address this is in a small and subtle way. It’s time I used the power of my blog and of Girl About brand with purpose.
I’m on a mission! I want ladies across the country to stop for a split second and think – to consider the battles – however small – that someone else might be facing. And every battle is made that little bit easier when someone shoots you a smile. Push the power of kindness with just one smile and you will make someone’s day. And in return, someone will make yours. I promise.
HAVE A HEART!
This week is World Wellbeing Week and I have bought a huge box of yellow heart pins – hundreds of them. I want you to join me as I spread the power of kindness by gifting a yellow heart to a friend who would benefit from this kind gesture this week, on World Wellbeing Week. What’s more, I’m donating all profits to MIND. Purchase your set of hearts, wear yours on your sleeve as a sign of solidarity for female friendship and to show you are going to push the power of a kindness with a smile to everyone and anyone, and send heart no. 2 to a special friend.
My dream this week, and next week, and every week thereafter is to see yellow hearts and smiles in playgrounds all across the UK. So if you would like to support this campaign and do a little something to make a big impact on other women’s lives, please purchase your hearts and remember to smile.
Together we can help to improve mental health by pushing the power of kindness through the simple act of a smile.
Let’s make the playground a less hostile place.
If you liked and/or can relate to this post, you might also want to read a previous post I wrote – Living With Social Anxiety.
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
A year to the day and myself, my husband and our two children were midway through our 10th Wedding Anniversary trip of a lifetime to Sri Lanka and now this incredibly beautiful and captivating little country is in mourning.
Emma Stirk is a Business Success Coach and Legal strategist for small businesses, she left her corporate career as a high flying solicitor to set up her own business and has never looked back! Emma is passionate about empowering women to identify their purpose and goals, plan and strategise their next career or business move and create a positive, strong and confident mindset with high performance strategies to increase productivity and efficiency so you can work less, achieve more, and make burnout and overwhelm a thing of the past!
Jo Swann has 15 solid years of experience in Public Relations and runs award-winning Leeds-based PR Company – Chocolate PR after working in media, marketing and PR agencies. She has worked with companies of all sizes including the likes of Whistles, NSPCC, Marriot Hotels, Yo! Sushi to name just a few and won many awards along the way but her mission now is to help small businesses, and particularly female entrepreneurs harness the power of PR.