How Practicing Self Compassion Helped Me Improve My Mental Health

How being kind to oneself creates opportunities for personal growth and improved mental health

It was 1980, on Valentine’s Day, that I became diagnosed as a juvenile diabetic type 1. I was only 5 years old. It was a life-altering diagnosis and the end of my childhood innocence. I had to learn how to give my own shots of insulin and deal with both high and low blood sugar difficulties. 

Low blood sugar reactions, happen when there is not enough sugar in the bloodstream because of too much insulin given. They cause me to become confused and shaky and it is a life-threatening situation if juice or sugar is not given immediately. High blood sugars, on the other hand, are equally bad and over time can cause amputations of limbs, kidney issues, or even blindness.

My parents, at the time of diagnosis, thought that I needed to do a sport so that I would not lose my limbs to diabetic complications. My dad signed me up to learn to skate at Kerrisdale Arena and it is where my love of skating started. It wasn’t long before I was wrapped up heavily in the competitive figure skating circle of life.

I practiced for hours and fell many times in an attempt to land new jumps so I could compete at a high level of skating. 

Figure skating, being a subjective sport, relies on judges to determine the rankings of the competitors. I believe that over time as a result of my disordered thinking of being judged continuously and my desperation of trying to advance in my ranking, I looked at myself to try to fix my faults to gain the competitive edge.

Unfortunately, all I accomplished was that I learned to be too self-critical. I thought the judges would look at how you behaved, what you wore, facial expressions, and how your body looked and they were all factors in how one would place in rankings. I dwelt on my negative attributes daily and gave myself constant self-criticism.

According to Dr. Aaron T.Beck, from the University of Pennsylvania, the creator of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, depression can be caused by negative thinking. Therefore, spending a lot of time in a state of negative self-reflection as I did can and did lead to an altered state of mood

To make matters worse severe depression, if not treated over time, can cause a shift into psychosis which makes a person unable to tell what is real and not real while in that state. 

This is exactly what happened to me. I got sick with psychosis in 2006 after suffering unknowingly from depression for many years. At the time leading up to the diagnosis and after already completing my university degree in communications,I was in a school that was training me for medical transcription and I was under a lot of stress which put further strain on my brain.

This mental illness devastated me because of many factors. Not only was I humiliated to have a mental illness because of the stigma around mental health issues but I also felt unlovable and rejected by society. 

Psychosis is a serious mental illness and is treatable with proper medication and the medication brings the sufferer back into reality. 

As long as the medication is taken at the appropriate dosage the state of being disconnected from society is rectified. 

However, all you hear in the news are stories of people who are violent with mental illness, and violence in mental illness is actually quite rare. Stigma remains.

I was brought under the careful watch of a psychiatrist and with this medication and talk therapy(cognitive behavioral therapy)I was told and shown that I was actually very hard on myself. This was the turning point.

I needed to change and changing is very hard to do. It takes practice. I started to look at myself as imperfect beauty. I am beautiful because of the flaws that I have. Not ugly because of my flaws. After retraining my brain to think in this manner, by writing in my journal daily, I found that relationships were easier to maintain and my confidence in myself grew. 

I also found that allowing myself to make mistakes frequently without judging myself helped as well.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that my mood was improving. My mood was further helped with an antidepressant but the real benefit is from the positive self-compassion I have for myself now.

practicing self compassion improves mental health
image source: tinybuddha
Vivien Hannos, born June 1975, has a Bachelors Degree in Communications and Culture from the University of Calgary.

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