Modelling Through Tough Times and Trauma: Mental Health Awareness Week

So, it’s been very quiet on Modeltypeface of late. It’s been a constant source of underlying guilt, but definitely something I had to do. Not only did I break up with Theo, my boyfriend and best friend of 6 years, but a couple of weeks later my dear Gran died suddenly.

Throughout all of this, I’ve been enjoying the sort of busy modelling life, with big new clients and fun experiences, that I’ve been wanting for ages. It’s definitely been a great run since last summer. It meant that I didn’t have proper time for writing and when I did sit down to do it, it was like wading through mud in my brain. I lacked the motivation, the inspiration and the determination to sit down and get through it.

Over the last few days, my brain has been bubbling away with ideas and today I woke up and couldn’t wait to sit at my laptop and get tapping. As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d speak a bit about my own experiences and observations over the last few weeks and hopefully help anyone else going through anything similar.

Don’t Belittle Your Feelings

Breaking up with a partner is, of course, something most of us go through but that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s huge. It’s a grief in itself because I’m mourning the loss of my best friend and constant companion, the guy I would ring up with every small achievement, who I’d send pictures of absurd things only he’d get. This disappeared overnight.

My Gran was 97, and as so many people have told me, “That’s pretty good innings,” but seriously – I don’t really care, all I care about is missing her. I found myself pre-empting others so I wouldn’t have to hear the ‘innings’ bit by saying, “Well she was 97 so it wasn’t a surprise,” etc when that’s not really true, I hadn’t truly imagined life without her.

So don’t trivialise (or let others trivialise) how you’re feeling, Allow and explore those feelings and try to experience them fully rather than dulling them with booze, partying or dismissal because they’re part of life and you can learn and grow and get stronger from them. You need quiet time to process as well as reaching out to those you can rely on for good chats and understanding words – everyone wants to help, they’re just not always sure how – so you sometimes need to tell them.

Work

Personally, I found work gave me focus. After I broke up with Theo, I genuinely couldn’t eat, which was a first for me, and kept going to bed at silly times like 3am and barely resting. When I got the Debenhams job, I was determined to get myself back into a good routine and health, and when I was on the shoot I put myself out of the heartbreak zone and into the pro model zone, which in turn helped me feel stronger.

However, if you feel like you can’t work, that’s fine too. Just tell your agency/employer. The worst thing to do is to try and battle through when you can barely stand or talk – as well as feeling terrible on the job, you’ll lose clients as well which could send you into more of a tailspin.

A good example of this is my writing. It’s undoubtedly taken a back seat. But I knew I wouldn’t be writing anything very good, as well as wasting time I could spend giving myself space and being kind to myself. It’s been healing time and I have no regrets.

Health

This leads on from the last point. It’s vital that, even if you don’t want to, you look after yourself. I never stopped going to my dance classes because, even though I was far too unfocused to pick up the routines, they gave me that energy and sense of community, as well as some endorphins.

Once I was out of ‘The Vortex’, which is what I call the two weeks after my break up, I saw making healthy dinners and eating regularly as a ‘project’, so I got a sense of achievement even if my stomach was saying NOOOO.

If you don’t look after your physical health, your mental health will undoubtedly suffer. You need to be strong: not in the sense of ‘battling through’ because, as I said, sometimes you need a wallow. But you don’t want to start getting frail or ill on top of all the sadness, as it’ll become a vicious circle.

Model and trainer Sophie Thomas speaks a lot about mental health and fitness and talks candidly about her depression and anxiety. Definitely worth a check out.

What to do when it randomly hits you

Recovering from grief and sadness isn’t an upward linear trajectory. I would be feeling amazing, laughing, dancing, working and BOOM! ‘What have I done, why did I break up with him?” Or Facebook would share a memory, usually an anniversary picture. Or I’d want to pick up the phone to Gran and tell her some news, realise I couldn’t, and cry.

The worst was recently on a job for a big client. We were all in the canteen for lunch and the girls all started talking about famous murderer and how best to dispose of a dead body. NOT their fault. But because there was no escape (you need a key card to get out the room) and because I was exhausted, I could sit there feeling the emotions bubbling away as well as picturing my Gran. I knew if I asked them to change subjects I’d cry and make them feel weird.

So as soon as it was possible, I headed off to a make up room to quietly cry and it just came bubbling out like it hadn’t since Gran died (about 5 days before). I was shaking all over and had no idea how the tears would stop. The client who books the model found me (great, I’m either collapsing the whole set or weeping dramatically) and said to take as much time as I need.

This has actually happened to me before aged 18, when a relative was very ill and it was touch-and-go: I had a huge job and already arrived in tears. This might just be me, but as soon as the make up starts being applied, I can zip it all back inside and get on with the job. That’s not bottling up or ignoring the emotions: it’s just that work gives me pride and I always want to do a good job. If I had said, “I need to go home, I’m sorry, but I can’t work,” that would have been OK too. Do what feels right to you.

These feelings will hit you for a long time – maybe forever – but you’ll learn how best to deal with them as time goes on and the pain will hopefully become less ‘sharp’.

Tea

Yes, tea. I’m British, OK?

What I didn’t mention there, when I was talking about breaking down at work, was that I asked that client to go and make me a sugarey tea. I’m not usually a fan of the stuff but it’s what my mum has always given me when I’ve had a shock – fainting fits, bad news, when I fell down a drain on my 18th birthday (yep) – and it’s a tried and tested remedy. My bodily shaking totally calmed down and it also sent the signal to my brain, ‘OK time to calm down, relax.” I’ve been self-diagnosing with it whenever I feel especially low or in shock and you know what? It bloody works.

My tea collections has also been growing, and may I recommend my newest addition: Relax by Pukka? Not only is it my favourite Pukka colour combo (the blue and yellow, below), i’s also absolutely delicious and it does seem to quell a beating heart and an overactive mind, making a great addition to my soothing Ashwagandha capsules.

Yep, I’m not one of those organised inspiring lifestyle bloggers, everything’s a mess and it’s how I like it!

Making a cup of tea gives you a little bit of space and time to collect your thoughts and be kind to yourself.

Talk

Lastly, it’s all about talking. Whatever helps you, be it online forums, meeting up with friends or just picking up the phone for a distracting conversation.

And you will find help in places you didn’t know you would find it. People I know only through Instagram have been incredibly supportive. My brother Andrew, with whom I haven’t had that many deep and meaningfuls with over our many years of being siblings, was incredible. My best friends and also new friends were there to lean on.

But they can only be there for you properly if you reach out too. That can feel like the hardest part, especially if you’re like me and don’t always like to show your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and are used to being the one that others rely on. I truly believe that, for the most part, people are good, and caring, and they want to help. So don’t be afraid to talk, because getting yourself back up and standing on your feet is a whole lot easier when you reach out and let others help you up.

Rebecca x

To find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week head to www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

If you’re wanting to talk to someone, there is a list of websites and phone numbers on this site: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help

A couple of other models who speak about mental health on their blog: Fifi Newbery and Sophie Thomas

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