Amber is a non-binary, bi+ human who organises with the Sydney Bi+ Network. Here, they discuss the importance of some of their self-care strategies, especially when they’re supporting other people.
On days when they might be struggling with their mental health, Amber feels disconnected and isolated, and as though the experience of distress “takes away my spark.” But at the same time, “because of the experiences I've had with my mental health, I've learned tonnes of skills around resiliency and how to find that light in the dark and reach out to other people who I know might be struggling too,” they said. “So it's fostered a lot of compassion, and given me an ability to look out for others and check in with other people in a way that I don't know I would have if I hadn't experienced those things myself.”
Good mental health, for Amber, is about connection and “engaging with what’s happening around me. It's about feeling comfortable and confident to chat with other people, to make connections with other people and to engage with the world.”
Having a lived experience of mental distress means that, although people experience distress in different ways, Amber can often relate to what others in their life might be going through. That shared experience “provides a point of connection and sometimes a sense of trust when you don't have to explain your mental health… you can just be there because you know that someone just needs support,” they said.
But for Amber, it’s important to be able to look after yourself and your own mental health in those situations as well. “There are two phrases that I've heard that really resonate with me when it comes to self-care and supporting others. The first is that ‘you can't pour from an empty cup’ and the second is ‘don't light yourself on fire to keep others warm,’” Amber says. “Those resonate with me quite a lot, because I think if I’m not taking care of myself, how can I support other people? If I am unwell and if I am doing so much that I can't even take care of myself, then I'm not being helpful to other people.”
“Self-care is all about making a commitment to myself to meet my own needs. So whether that's emotional, spiritual, or physical. And I would say that for me, self-care isn't necessarily about going out and buying lots of things or participating in self-care social media trends. It's about having an honest conversation with myself about what I actually need. So it might not be glamourous, or it might not look that exciting, but self-care is about supporting myself and doing what I need to do so that I could move through the world in a safer or better way.”
Amber practices self-care primarily by taking their “medication every single day, staying hydrated, and checking in with a mental health professional once a week.” When supporting others, Amber also recognises the importance of boundaries for their own self-care. “I didn't learn that until it was a little bit too late – I hadn't put boundaries in place around a few things and I found myself so tired and so overwhelmed all the time.” Amber spoke to a mental health professional about this, who helped them realise that they might need to implement some boundaries, and that “made a huge difference for me.”
In one situation, Amber was helping a friend through a really difficult time in their life, and they didn’t really have anywhere else to go. “So I found myself on the phone with them almost every single night when I got home from work,” Amber says. “And while I absolutely loved checking in with that friend and making sure that they work okay, what occurred to me was they actually needed a mental health professional to check in. And I couldn't play that role. I didn't have that background. It was not appropriate for me to be doing that.”
“But I also wasn't taking care of myself. It was affecting my relationships with other people, it was affecting my ability to decompress after work. It was affecting my ability to just have fun and read a book or play with my dog after work.” In this situation, Amber then discussed with their friend about checking in once a week. They booked the catch ups into their calendars, and adhered to it. “That was really, really helpful. And I think it was helpful for them too, honestly,” Amber says, as it helped them manage their expectations of each other, and helped Amber’s friend expand their own support network.
Some of Amber’s other boundaries involve getting off social media at a certain time every night, and letting people know that they won’t be responding to messages at this time because they need time for themself. “It's really hard to do, but I know that boundaries are good for me.” Amber acknowledges that boundaries can be difficult, but “they help us understand what to expect from each other. And they also help us to create opportunities to decompress. It's really, really difficult to be on all the time,” they said. “Creating some boundaries can provide a way for you to rest. Rest is really important.”
If you need more information about supporting friends or loved ones, find out more here: acon.org.au/withyou
ACON provides confidential counselling to people in our communities seeking support in relation to their mental health and wellbeing. Contact ACON on (02) 9206 2000 or 1800 063 060 or visit the ACON Mental Health page.