What Resilience in Mental Health means to me

My understanding of what it means to be resilient has changed over time. In the past, I used to think that being resilient meant enduring hardships stoically, without needing help, without showing weakness. I think this perspective came from my observations of my grandma, who endured years of intense physical pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, without complaint, without needing anyone’s help. When I started struggling with my mental health, in an effort to be ‘resilient’, to not make people worry, I hid my sufferings from my loved ones, putting on a brave front, pretending that things were all okay. I thought that it was weak to show my negative emotions, so I wore a façade of cheerfulness, even when things inside were swirling in tides of darkness. At that time, I was facing difficulties at work caused by my state of mental health. Not daring to confide in my supervisor, I just kept trying harder to resolve things with my own effort. I kept pushing myself to keep going in the same direction, even when I was already burnt out.

Unfortunately, this took a toll on me. Mentally, emotionally, even physically. I was so tired, attempting to stand on my own two feet, when those feet were already sorely needing rest. I was falling down a deep dark hole.

Falling Down a Deep Dark Hole

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Over time, I’ve learned that my old perspectives of resilience were not that helpful to me. Instead, what helped includes the following:

Asking for help

An important step in my recovery journey was reaching out for help, be it professional, or from close family or friends. It took a lot of courage to overcome the self-stigma, and the initial feeling of weirdness. But it was a necessary step, and the support that this provided gave me the strength to sustain through the difficult moments.

Asking for Help

(Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash)

Connecting to people

In the depths of the darkness, every cell of me wanted to isolate myself. I still feel like this at times when things go downhill. But I am trying to remember that the voice that screams at me to isolate myself is actually lying. Instead, connection heals. In my own time, I started to learn to open up to people that I trust, sharing what I was comfortable with. Something else that helped was peer support. I was lucky to have met peers, fellow compatriots who are also living with mental health conditions. Just the knowledge that there are others like me who are perhaps struggling, but also bravely fighting their own battles – that helps. Their courage is a source of inspiration. Our genuine conversations give connection and a sense that you are not alone.

Self-care & self-compassion

It has been a process, learning about my unique needs and how to take care of myself. I am still learning. Unlike what i previously thought, self-care is not just about managing one’s basic activities of daily living and physical wellbeing. Finding ways to nourish oneself psychologically, emotionally and spiritually also counts. I find that when I take care of myself in these aspects, I feel more balanced (refer to Olga Phoenix for more about self-care!). Learning to be kind to myself, instead of beating myself up, has also been a process. Trying to talk to myself the same way I would talk to a good friend is not always easy, but when I am able to do it, it helps. Similarly, instead of judging myself for feeling negative emotions, it helps when I am able to open up and sit with my emotions, and learn to express them in a healthy way.

Self-Care and Self-Compassion


Acknowledging my own efforts

Living life with a mental health condition is not easy. Sometimes, it feels like a feat just to get out of bed in the morning, or to have a shower. A friend once shared that he comes up with a list of three things he is proud of himself for doing every day. It does not matter even if it is as small as getting out of bed. Learning to be proud of myself for taking baby steps helps. It’s like I am my own cheerleader.

Acknowledging My Own Efforts

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Noticing the wildflowers

Something else that helped was learning to notice the little beauties in life. Keeping a journal of little things to be grateful for helps to bring a bit of positivity into my day. I find that it also helps to revisit these journal entries whenever I need a little perking up.

Noticing the Wildflowers

(Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash)

Embracing the above has helped me as I navigate through tough times. Perhaps, these have been small acts of resilience. After all, resilience is about bouncing back from difficult circumstances. To reach out for help when we need to, to take a rest when we need to, instead of pushing ourselves against a dead-end. To embrace our vulnerabilities, and honour ourselves, instead of judging ourselves for our weaknesses. To have the courage to show up and try again at life, when things are at rock bottom. And perhaps it is also about finding ways to grow through our difficult experiences. Nobody wants to have a mental health condition, or any disorder for that matter. But perhaps, there can be meaning to be made out of all this. It’s an ongoing journey, and for walking on each day, I think we are all pretty resilient.

Authored by: Karen Tay. Karen is a simple person who enjoys hugging trees, art, reading, and being with old folks.

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