Nicholas is 26 and lives in Junee. Here he talks about how he practices self-care and uses boundaries when supporting others to maintain his mental health.
Nicholas maintains a busy life, and stresses the importance of balancing his commitments when trying to maintain his mental health “Good mental health, to me, is being able to do everything in my life, whether that be work, volunteer commitments, catching up with friends, maintaining exercise and achieving a balance with all of those things,” he says. “It does require ongoing work…It's always about maintaining that balance.”
When he was younger, Nicholas struggled with mental distress and self-harm. When he was in high school, his sexuality negatively impacted his mental health, but as he left school, “I started to realise that my sexuality is something to be proud of, it is part of me. It is something that I can't change, and really recognising and acknowledging that was a massive relief and a weight off my shoulders.”
Now, Nicholas can recognise just how much his sexuality has positively impacted his life and his mental health. “My sexuality has provided me with such a solid and strong social network and support network,” he says. “I have met so many incredible people as I felt more confident and comfortable and open about who I am, and really owning and being proud of that.”
Since his high school years, Nicholas has done a lot of work to improve his mental health. “Over the last few years, I have been in a really good place because I proactively engage with finding out what works for me, building the tools and strategies that I can utilise and draw upon when I am facing some challenges and going through a tough time.”
Nicholas maintains his mental health by maintaining that balance, practicing self-care, and reaching out to his friends. “The saying goes that a problem shared is a problem halved, and that's certainly true in my support network,” Nicholas says. “I feel so much better after telling someone what is going on for me, and being open and honest about that.”
Throughout this year, Nicholas has kept in touch with his friends via social media. As he only recently moved to Junee, the increased utilisation of technology use as a result of COVID-19 “has allowed me more opportunity to stay in touch and really use things like FaceTime to have conversations with people, because people are a bit more used to it than they previously have been.”
“One of the things that really helps me is receiving an unexpected message out of the blue from someone in my support network,” Nicholas adds. “It doesn't necessarily have to be anything groundbreaking, it can just be a meme or a simple, ‘I'm thinking of you,’ and it's just a friendly reminder that person is there, and I can reach out to them if I need to.”
When Nicholas supports others, he really pays attention to their individual needs. “Everyone is different, and we have to acknowledge that without forcing our views or thoughts on how they should receive support onto them.” Nicholas suggests listening and learning what strategies have worked for that person in the past, and helping “them to think about how to apply that to the current context and what they are experiencing.”
But Nicholas stresses the importance of looking after yourself while supporting someone. “Make sure that your cup is full. You can't pour from an empty glass and you can't top someone else's up unless yours is full, so you need to make sure that your balance is good, and you have the capacity to assist someone else.”
Nicholas makes sure his cup is full by ensuring he has maintained the right balance between all of his commitments, and taking time for himself and practicing self-care when that balance isn’t quite right.
“Self-care strategies are really dependent on the individual. For me, it's been a lot of hard work to really explore all the different options and finding what works best for me,” Nicholas says. He encourages others to try new things that they might not have thought of, and just find what works best. For example, Nicholas knew that exercise was a very helpful strategy for many people, but “Cardio is the devil, and I never got any satisfaction out of doing those forms of exercise,” he says. But he eventually found pole dancing and aerial sports, and now relishes the progress he’s making, and the endorphin release from the exercise.
In order to maintain the balance of all his commitments, Nicholas adopts some boundaries so that he can manage his commitments and relationships. “The boundaries that I implement really depend on the individual and our relationship, because everyone is different, and every relationship calls for different boundaries.”
Nicholas sets his phone to Do Not Disturb at 10:00 every night, which helps to “set a clear boundary that after 10:00, that's when I'm winding down and heading to bed.”
Nicholas provides support in his volunteer role, and makes sure he allocates time to perform that work. “For me, boundaries are really important, particularly the separation between my professional work and my volunteer work, and I really try and make sure that my volunteer role doesn't impact my professional context.”
Creating these boundaries, spending time practicing self-care, and talking to his friends, family and partner all help Nicholas to maintain his balance and ensure that he has the skills, strategies, and supports to overcome the challenges or “down moments” he faces.
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.