The same is true of mental health coping strategies. A good coping strategy means we can all better manage our day-to-day struggles without constant input from mental health professionals who play a major role at the beginning of our illness.
I'm one of the lucky ones. Mental illness enslaved me in the late 1990s. But I fought back. Strongly and fiercely. Not only against the curse of the illness itself, but against the curse of the stigma it uses to plague its victims.
Having now built a successful new life from the ruins of my old one, I can honestly say I owe it all to coping strategies. Nowadays, I don't generally need to consciously employ them, because they've become second nature to me.
But it was all so different when I was first diagnosed, initially with stress and depression, and then a period of temporary psychosis which saw me sectioned for 28 days under the UK Mental Health Act.
For around a year I had no idea what was happening to me, and soldiered on, as I suspect a great many of us do. Eventually my mind reached overload point, and during a ten week spell in the Woodbourne Priory hospital I was sectioned, and a nurse assigned to be constantly by my side for around four weeks.
My life was at rock bottom. My family thought I'd never work again. In fact, at one point they thought I might never leave hospital.
But eventually those dark days turned towards dawn and the light began to shine on me. Thanks to the love of my family and the dedication of superb mental health professionals, I learned how to create effective coping strategies and actually changed my whole outlook on life. Before my diagnosis I was an overly ambitious perfectionist, keen to please everyone and get everything absolutely spot on. That, coupled with the fact that three people who were very close to me died within a few months of each other, drove me over the edge.
During my treatment it was found I had repressed bad memories from my childhood. It was also discovered I had an inferiority complex. With all that out in the open I was on the way to recovery. And once I was discharged, my coping strategy became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and for the last few years have worked as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and have my own column in a local monthly magazine.
To me, coping strategies are highly personal, and you need one for every situation that can cause difficulty. For example, I realised that if I were to continue seeking perfection in my work and myself, I was destined to fail, and in all probability would face an even longer spell as a hospital in-patient. So my coping strategy for that was to accept compromise, both from myself and other people.
Whenever a deadline approaches I ask myself what is the worst that can happen if I don't meet it? Occasionally I need to burn the midnight oil, but in the olden days it was a daily occurrence. Now when I miss deadlines no-one worries. Least of all me.
I've now learned how to handle the stigma from some quarters facing anyone with mental health issues. Social media is a double-edged sword for this, and, in my op[inion, requires its own coping strategy. On the one hand social media is a positive, empowering tool, connecting us with others who can support us through the difficult times, and where we can support and encourage others. On the other hand, it can be used as a medium of evil and vileness, with people posting less than helpful comments.
So another coping strategy quickly came about - to simply ignore the attacks on me. Simple, but effective.
And that's the secret, not only of handling how the stigma is perpetrated by the darker side of social media, but coping with stigma in the real world, too. You can't make everyone be kind. You can't turn everyone into a decent human being. So don't try too hard to do that. Instead, enjoy the successes you have, and enjoy your family, friends, and online supporters. And ignore those who give you grief.
So, while I have numerous coping strategies for individual aspects which have become an integral part of my psyche now, I have one overall philosophy: today I'm very much my own person, going barefoot most of the time, which I find is a powerful influence on my mental well-being. The physical connection in this way with the planet that supports me, gives me inner peace.
The fact that my bare feet are constantly connected with the ground, drawing in the powerful energy from the Earth, is one of those original coping strategies devised before I was released from the Woodbourne in 1997.
So, let's take a look at it.
Most exercises involving mental concentration are done barefoot - yoga, martial arts, tai chi, etc. Not that I do any of those, but I've discovered that walking barefoot has massive health benefits...both mental and physical.
We've all heard of reflexology. This involved freeing accumulated energy which, when not slowed to flow naturally, causes many types of diseases and ailments. Going barefoot on all terrains is a natural process of stimulating parts of the sole of the foot which are connected to our organs and other parts of the body.
Abandoning shoes in almost all situations stimulates my blood circulation; helps my body eliminate a fair amount of fats and toxins; prevents varicose veins; and improves my posture and balance. Many podiatrists and sections of the medical profession now recognise the enormous health benefits of going barefoot when it comes to fighting sleep disturbance, muscle and joint pain, asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, stress, heart rate variability, and immune system activity and response.
But to me, as well as these physical benefits which I believe have kept me young and fit, belying my 63 years, going barefoot has had an enormous impact on my mental and spiritual well-being.
When you're barefoot, whether it be on urban streets or woodland, you become so much more aware of your surroundings. You are at one with the terrain, not just a spectator. Focusing on your steps and not your problems, clears your mind, putting you at ease, considerably reducing stress and tension.
It means that with every step I take my thought process becomes more focused on the path I'm treading. Consciously I steer clear of stones, thorns, glass, and yes...dog poo, too! When that happens all negative thoughts vanish, and I'm able to focus solely on walking.
While it works for me, making me much calmer and largely stress-free, I'm not saying being barefoot all the time is right for everyone. You need to find your own way...your own coping strategies. But for me, having bare feet has changed my world.
My Experience Of Being Sectioned
As I mentioned, I was sectioned for 28 days during my spell at the Woodbourne Priory in 1997.
In many ways it was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand frightening and overwhelming, but on the other warm and comforting - forming protection against the outside world.
My counsellor had originally admitted me to the Woodbourne Priory private psychiatric clinic as a voluntary patient for stress and depression bright on by my intolerable workload as I climbed the corporate ladder and the deaths of two people who were close to me.
One of those two people was my Mother-In-Law, who suffered a lingering, painful death from cancer.
Almost immediately my Father-In-Law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was constantly hoping, and telling people of my wishes, that he could die swiftly and painlessly to avoid the horrific ending his wife had suffered.
Completely unexpectedly, he did, about three weeks into my time in the Priory. Instantly, voices in my head told me I was to blame for his death. The voices were explicit as to how I must "atone for my sin." I had to slash my right cheek from the side of my eye to my chin, and then slash both my wrists. But I also had to take someone with me, and I must star selecting a fellow patient.
My last memory for about a fortnight was running from the Priory and finding a hairdressing salon on the road into Birmingham, where I demanded a pair of scissors to fulfil what the voices were instructing me.
Apparently - although I have no recollection of this; it's all what I was told afterwards - the police had already been alerted to the fact that I'd been seen running down the drive, and when the hairdresser called them, they were on the scene in minutes, taking me back to the clinic.
I was duly sectioned for 28 days. But because of the severity of my condition and my increasingly bizarre behaviour I was also "specialed," meaning s nurse was assigned to never be more than a few feet from me, around the clock.
To this day I have no memory of those first 14 days or so of being sectioned. When the fog did start to lift I demanded to be taken home immediately. The doctors had to explain again about me being sectioned and what it meant, as I could not remember having been told.
The fact that I was a prisoner sank in quickly. Actually, worse than a prisoner. Prisoners have right. My rights had apparently been stripped from me. I was detained against my will, forcibly drugged with lithium, so powerful that blood tests were taken every couple of days to ensure it wasn't harming me physically. Going to the toilet and taking a bath had to be done in full view of my "special" nurse, sometimes male, sometimes female.
The voices were still there, but the lithium was dulling them. However, I was constantly asking the nurse to get me a pair of scissors, explaining that the only way I could be redeemed was to obey them. I attempted to escape several times, the most successful being when I persuaded a hapless bank nurse to let me go into the grounds. Even though I was in pyjamas and barefoot I was able to outrun her. But it wasn't long before the police returned me to the Priory, this time in handcuffs as if I were a criminal.
Daily sessions were held with a senior psychiatrist, and gradually the voices were held in check. I'll always remember another patient saying I was returning to the real world. During this second half of my enforced incarceration I began to accept what was happening to me, and indeed to welcome it.
No longer was I rebelling against my jailors (and, make no mistake, that's exactly how I viewed them) - instead I metaphorically embraced them with open arms. Locked away inside the Priory I was warm, snug and safe from the outside world. They were giving me weapons to fight the voices, the armoury to overthrow the waves of bad, negative thoughts that had been invading my mind for so long.
No longer did I wake up every morning and immediately curl up in a ball, cursing the fact that I was alive. I woke up looking forward to what the day would bring and taking another small, tottering step towards getting my life back.
And all this was due to the fact that I'd been sectioned. The section ended after 28 days, but I remained specialed for a further fortnight. In total I was in the clinic for around ten weeks before being discharged into a care-in-the-community programme. Apart from one minor relapse the coping strategies I learned during that time have been successful, and I'm grateful to have been able to rebuild my life with new, stronger, firmer foundations.
I can still hear the gentle, soothing music during the relaxation sessions, still hear the clink of the croquet balls as we played on the front lawn, still relish the comradery of my fellow patient as we struggled together against the same foe. It was a time of my life that I'll actually cherish forever, as it marked the beginning of the spiritual, caring person I am today.
I have a vibrant Twitter account: https://twitter.com/AuthorSJB which I use to support and encourage others...not just with their mental issues, but in all endeavours. I live my life by the wonderful ethos of Desiderata, which I first discovered as a teenager, but became even more relevant during my recovery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNq_DTmVCWs as well as the words of the titular character from my favourite TV programme, Doctor Who: "Never be cruel. Never be cowardly. Remember, hate is always foolish, love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind."