Like many others, I have had a long history with mental health services. I’ve spoken to councillors and therapists for years on end, desperately seeking help for problems I couldn’t begin to understand. Feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere under the pressure of cramming my problems in an hour timespan, I began to become disenfranchised with seeking help.
Life comes at you from different angles, and within a blink, you can lose your family, friends, and all the things you deeply care about. When confiding in someone else about your mental health problems, the age-old remark “you should get help” appears, when you already find little motivation to go to a therapist, time after time walking away still finding these issues brooding over you.
I consider writing to be a passion and talent of mine, so naturally, the idea of maintaining a diary to cure my ailments was as obvious as bread and butter. But I found writing a diary to be ineffective — not because I thought I couldn’t write, but surprisingly the opposite.
My perfectionist tendencies arose to ensure every word was perfectly articulated, and all minor details erased, as my emotional repression clung tightly to stop those worries spilling on paper.
Because I primarily used writing to express ideas or write assignments for college, it leads me to become acutely aware of which parts of my diary entries were verbose, or what sentences I could substitute for a better phrasing, that if anything, it remained the worst means for me to find true catharsis.
An evening in desperation, I found myself withered and torn in an emotional wreck and felt there was nobody else I could turn to. I knew I had something I needed to get off my chest, and without really thinking, I opened Photo Booth on my laptop.
I didn’t really have a plan, but as I hit record and felt my mouth ramble, I soon realised I didn’t need to.
Eventually, it became a habit to speak to myself every week, checking in what I had to say about my issues, my emotional state of mind at the time, and appreciating the confidence within myself. More interestingly, I looked back on my previous entries and approached problems I was caught up with at the time with a new-founded clarity, as my newer entries would comment on earlier mindsets. Unassumingly, I had built a healthy dialogue with myself, which was unusual for my characteristic emotional repression I couldn’t seem to completely shake off.
I began to search deeper within myself, and found that by loosely following a method with these vlogs, my confidence soared to new heights, I understood the multiple facets of my personality and learned some flaws in my thinking.
I didn’t follow a strict procedure, as I wanted to shake off some of that perfectionism that got in the way of expressing my problems on paper. But it looked something like this:
1. Begin with recent achievements and things that made me happy.
In the beginning, I approached these vlogs with a lot of uncertainty and misery. After all, those were the reasons I started doing this in the first place. But I still managed to try and find a positive point or two about something I was grateful for in my life. Whether that was something I had achieved, or generally delighting in life’s little pleasures, expressing gratitude during difficult times reframed my mindset to be more neutral so I wasn’t lost in obsession in holding onto difficult emotions.
For example, after regularly exercising, I was able to see my body grow away from malnourishment, and many times I would admire the way I looked, finding a greater sense of body confidence from within. It was genuine, as I could speak to myself without topless, and familiarise myself with seeing my body regularly.
2. Externalise my current mindset without any filter.
Looking at myself head-on, and discussing my problems out loud encouraged me to end this tireless tendency to ruminate hours on end. I found freedom in being able to discuss what I wanted, when I wanted, and find no labour within it. No longer did I have to worry about whether I was burdening someone, or whether something I was saying might be too personal or embarrassing. There was no time limit, nor precedent — only to concretely acknowledge what I was feeling.
Occasionally, I would record myself when I was happy, and not much was bothering me at all. This would be equally as important as approaching the camera with something I needed to vent about, as it would serve as a reminder that despite feeling depressed, I was able to taste glimpses of sunshine.
3. Critically discussing previous entries, and what had changed since.
After each vlog, I found a fresh perspective about my past situations, and I was able to clearly assess my state of mind. Sometimes I would approach an entry after an argument or enraged about my current predicament, but recording my next vlog granted me the ability to comment on my situation like a close friend would — calm-headed, neutral, and with constructive criticism.
I was able to maintain the closest I possibly could to a genuine conversation with myself. Moreover, it contributed to a greater sense of understanding into how I react to different situations, and the range of emotions I thought I was unable to feel until I was seeing myself literally expressing them.
Doing this for a year or so brought me out of heavy times. I managed to process a heartbreak when I felt I might be bothering too many people by endlessly talking about it, I was able to motivate myself further to climb out of my depression by setting myself small tasks every day, and most importantly, I learned things about myself I once deemed impossible:
I gained the ability to identify the multiple facets of my personality, on the contrary to how my depression made me assume I was ‘permanently down’.
Recording my own video diary and building a dialogue with myself exemplified true independence, in the sense that I did not rely on anyone else other than my own resources. This was empowering and contributed towards a sense that I am not as helpless as I thought.
Most importantly, I found that despite feeling all of the above, I learned that much of my problems were unlikely to change in the course of my life. Eventually, I suppose I came to a state of genuine acceptance about my situations, and the point of venting was not at all to change but to accept them.
When I have discussions about the benefits of therapy, I now tell people about this little experiment I had with myself, and they often consider it to be a novel idea worth trying. So I hope one can learn how to adapt my journey into something that suits their own preferences.
The reality remains that therapy can be daunting. Despite having full confidence in a therapist, knowing you are speaking to a professional who is experienced in discussing vulnerable issues with you, there is still a tendency to freeze up. Especially with those who have anxiety. Conquering the thought of going to the first therapy session can be so taxing it overcomes the willingness for one to solve their problems, which is perhaps the most sorrowful outcome of all.
Of course, self-therapy isn’t without trepidation either. Listening, looking, and speaking to yourself can be a difficult thing to do, especially when seeking solace for real vulnerable problems. But I found the longer I stuck with it, the more I managed to truly benefit from it.
If the idea of holding a video diary sounds like a forbidden territory to you, it might indicate that you are in greater need of building a healthier relationship with yourself. So during this lockdown, maybe recording yourself for a few minutes could make all the difference.