Last Saturday it was World Mental Health Day. I was in rural France attending the wedding of a beautiful friend. The imagery and significance of a wedding on this day, was not lost on me. Faithfulness and commitment are two powerful weapons in the war against mental illness.
A wedding is the celebration of two people bravely making a lifelong commitment to each other. There are no guarantees they do not know what is ahead, this is brave. They are inspired by their love for each other. They know that whatever lies ahead will be faced with greater ease together than on their own. They vow to do the right thing by each other. To be nice even when they don’t feel like it. They vow to empathise and comfort each other when rich or poor, sick or healthy. To be true to each other. To respect each other. To endure together.
There is a wedding party because the couple does not want to do this alone. They want to share their happiness but also the commitment. The community gathers and celebrates together, uniting to support them in their life ahead. To share with them in the highs and the lows.
I attended with my family. With my husband Sam and our children, Lilla and Jac. In my hair I wore the hairpins I wore at our own wedding. These hairpins remind me that this new wedding story for Tania and Timothée, is also my story. I’ll happily share this with you. It is one of forgiveness, hope, love and adventure but there is another story that led to this one, which I’d also like to share.
This story is the prologue to my wedding. It is of a marriage that did not end with ‘happily ever after’. It is a side that is often not talked about, but I am happy to talk and to share. My past is not my focus, I prefer to look forward to what is now and what is ahead. I prefer to think of the blessing and joy that can be found in today. But first, before I was able to do that, I had to pause, I needed to heal.
My first marriage ended and was followed by a mental breakdown. as I struggled to carry shame and guilt. My heart was overwhelmed with sadness and grief. I was the one to walk away from that marriage. I had broken that commitment. I was burdened by guilt of letting my ex-husband down but also our friends and family too. Disappointment and unmet expectations crippled me. I felt I had let everyone down. I wished things were different, but they weren’t and no matter how much I wished, I couldn’t change that.
I went to see my GP and shared how I was feeling. I was signed off work with stress. Someone warned me that to take sick leave due to my mental health was committing career suicide, but I knew I had no choice. I was working as a NHS mental health employment specialist at the time, with people who were severely unwell. I knew the signs. I knew I was on a slippery slope and that if I didn’t ask for help I wouldn’t stop sliding.
Around this time I started to go to Church. A dear friend walked with me. I was signed off long-term sick and had 6 weeks off in total. This time was like open heart surgery for me. With the help of my friend there were 8 things I was able to choose as new heart habits for me to heal and move forward;
Be brave; to face my shame, my guilt, my fears and stop hiding from them.
Be inspired; gain strength from my sadness and learn from my mistakes.
Be at ease; accept my situation but learn from it for a better future.
Be nice; make things right within myself and with others.
Be empathetic; allow time for rest and retreat.
Be true; pursue everyday what’s most personally important.
Be respectful; strive to become a positive influence in every interaction.
Be enduring; accept that things are going to be hard.
After these 6 weeks the return to work was difficult but possible and beneficial. 10 years later and these heart habits are still a work in progress for me. They are not easy. They are an Octagonal Mindset. Everyday I have to choose them. I still face my difficulties, I still have times when I feel overwhelmed, stressed, depressed and anxious but I don’t stay there. I choose an Octagonal Mindset.
Married, unmarried, single, divorced, young or old this could be your story too. Everyday you too can choose an Octagonal Mindset. You can choose to be Brave, Inspired, at Ease, Nice, Empathetic, True, Respectful and Enduring with the world around you (BIEN-ÊTRE). Bien-être means well-being in French. Every day you too can choose well-being. Sometimes you will feel it, sometimes you won’t. But the choice and decision to improve and positively influence your mental well-being and the well-being of those around you, is yours.
We are in the middle of a mental health crisis. We can not cure all mental illness but our hope is that our work to teach, train and coach an Octagonal Mindset will provide strength to the weary and healing for the broken hearted. If you would like to make a difference please share this post. You do not know who may read it and receive desperately needed encouragement today.
If you’d like to know more and cultivate greater well-being in your life and those you're able to influence please see www.70x7ltd.com for contact details, resources and online community events.
(Thanks to Timothée and Tania for the honour and privilege of sharing in their happiness and for the permission to share these beautiful moments captured on their wedding day).