It's ok to not be ok. Mental health 2020 Nikki Parkinson Styling You

It’s taken me 53 years to realise it’s ok to not be ok

Nikki ParkinsonHealth, Life 48 Comments

It’s taken me 53 years to realise it’s ok to not be ok … ok for ME to not be ok! This is my 2020 mental health story. It’s far from dire. It’s nowhere near the scale of what others have experienced this year. But it’s my story and I’m sharing it because reading it might be the lightbulb moment you need as we limp towards the finishing line of a year that no-one saw coming.

On that note, I don’t think there will be some magical line-in-the-sand kind of thing happening on the stroke of midnight on December 31. I wish! I’ve have always embraced the belief that a new year could offer the chance to plan anew but a look back on the list of goals I wrote 12 months ago tells me that we can do all the goal setting we like but we cannot plan for the unexpected. 

My 2020 mental health story

Three months ago I’d just returned from picking up my husband from hospital after his appendectomy. And when I say picking up, it really was like a fast-food, drive-through. Because. 2020.

After setting up the patient in bed, I sat down in my home office, the same office I’d worked from every day during lockdown earlier this year.

The tears started and they wouldn’t stop. It was like someone had pushed a button that released every single emotion I’d tried to bury during a year that just kept on throwing curve balls.

My husband’s sudden operation was the proverbial straw at the end of a month of “straws” that had hit me hard. These straws came on the back of a year where every work day has been about showing up with the goal of business survival, of keeping myself and my employees in a job.

When the tears refused to stop, I knew I was not ok. I picked up my phone and booked in to talk to my GP, advice I’d given to so many over the years but had never ever done myself. 

I can tell you, as someone who operates better by taking action, just making that call gave me a small lift. 

In this COVID 2020 year, every single one of us has had some level of stress thrown at us. Dealing with the unknown will do that. Some have experienced way worse than others. And my heart breaks most for those who have lost love ones in this pandemic.

The thing is, when it comes to our mental health it’s not a comparison game about who has more of a right to feel more stressed or burnt out than someone else. It’s about putting your hand up to say you’re not ok and realising it’s ok to not be ok.

That’s been my biggest learning in 2020. I’m the one who, pretty much my entire life, has just got on with it, pretending I’m ok but really just bottling it all up inside. 

My wonderful psychologist said to me in our first session, “it’s never too late to take the lid off that bottle”. Well, that lid? It’s well and truly off.

Yes, you may have seen me show up most days on social media, smiling, keeping things light and breezy and positive. That’s my coping default. The reality is, I also run a small business. There is no sick pay! And there is little scope for just opting out of the day-to-day operations. 

So, this is my reminder to you that when you see others looking and acting like everything’s ok, that it might not be. I was challenged on a Instagram post about why I was smiling when discussing one of the physical symptoms I’ve experiences as a result of stress this year and I replied that if I didn’t smile, I’d cry. And then promptly cried.

It's ok to not be ok. Mental health 2020 Nikki Parkinson Styling You

How I’m improving my mental health

I’m very much a “take action” person … coming at it from all angles. I’m not one to wallow or take pity on myself. It’s not in my nature. See above for just getting on with it!

I’m very grateful to have now found a psychologist who I’ve connected with and who I know I can work with. I didn’t get it right first time. The first psychologist pretty much dismissed my feelings and said there were people doing it tougher. Mmm … I’m very much aware of that, thank you very much. It should have been a sign that I could get in to see this psychologist within a week. It took six weeks to secure an appointment with the woman I’m now seeing. I took that as a very good sign and I was right.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty but I will say that this psychologist has helped me see that my pattern of bottling things up inside was something I established as a coping/survival mechanism from about the age of four. She’s recommended a number of books to me, including Motherless Daughters and The Body Keeps Score. Let’s just say, there is a lot of sh*&t to unpack and I don’t see our sessions ending any time soon.

My burnout and general anxiety disorder has also presented itself physically, in the form of a TMJ disorder (I’d been clenching my jaw in my sleep), heart palpitations and an overwhelming tiredness from adrenal fatigue. 

All of those physical symptoms are still with me but not as severe as they were a few months ago. The TMJ was picked up by my dentist and is being managed by wearing a splint at night and seeing a physio who specialises in treating that pain.

I’ve been managing my energy around work, play and rest as best I can.

I’ve said “no” more often. Spending time with my supportive family and friends in small numbers has been my priority. Bigger events and gathering zap my already depleted energy.

I’ve pulled back from any adrenal-busting exercise. Yes, I miss running or doing a home HIIT workout but my body does not. For now, walking and home yoga routines (I’ve subscribed to the Yoga Studio app) are my friends.

I also like to embrace my woo-woo side at the best of times, so I’ve drawn on it in the worst of times! It might not be conventional or for everyone but I’ve had two Reiki sessions and I know I’ll have more. I don’t profess to understand how it works but these sessions leave me with a level of calmness and stress relief like nothing else.

Thankfully I’d already embraced the “soberish” life after a wake up call in June, post-lockdown. I wrote this post about it . After not drinking for three months, my liver recovered and I’ve spent the last three months (mostly) sticking to a maximum of two alcoholic drinks/twice a week. The night sweats have stopped – damn those researchers for telling me they would. I happily take my alcohol-free options with me to parties because I can only imagine how much worse I’d be feeling if I was throwing hangovers into the energy-depleting mix of what else I’ve got going on.

I’ve learned lots from this book, which I highly recommend: Burnout (the secret to solving the stress cycle) by Emily Nagoski. I listened to it on Audible but have not ordered a physical copy for highlighting all the useful advice.

I’d already been getting monthly Vitamin B injections at The Compounding Lab and I can’t imagine how I’d be if I’d stopped at any stage. 

I’ve (re)embraced simple, small daily rituals to help calm my mind and body and to help me sleep better. I’m not generally good at keeping to them but I’m making more of an effort because it does help me.

I write down who and what I’m grateful for each day using this is dateless gratitude journal I was sent at just the right time.

I do a mood check-in with the Calm app that I subscribed to with the hope of doing more meditation … but I really do suck at it! 

Most nights I’ll have a cup of this drink after dinner. 

The only thing I’ve been really good at consistently doing on a daily/nightly basis is adding calming essential oils to my diffuser each night. I switch between three different brands and blends (The Goodnight Co Goodnight Blend; Ikatan Earth Water; and long-time fave Twenty8 Instant Calm). Getting a good night’s sleep is my number one priority each day.

It’s ok to not be ok. Where am I at now?

I still feel burnt out – the exhaustion is crippling some days – and I now know it’s ok to not be ok. I’m feeling better than I did three months ago but there is a lot of room for self-improvement.

As a small business owner you never really get to switch off but I’m working at becoming better at using the dimmer switch. You only get one shot at this game called life and I want to enjoy it.


If this post has brought up issues for you, please talk to your GP or phone Lifeline 131114.

Comments 48

  1. Nikki,
    So sorry that you have had such a difficult time, and so glad that you have found appropriate help. Take care of yourself. And thank you for the positivity which you have displayed to this community during 2020. Your posts have been a bright spot for me during our horrible (but necessary) lockdown. All the best

  2. Nikki you are on my gratefulness list. Thankyou for sharing your highs and your lows, your good times and your bad, and for normalising life. Wishing you calmness and clarity, and to know that you are not alone

  3. Thanks for your openness Nikki. I truly understand how you feel. I have struggled for years to just accept that it’s ok not to be ok – sometimes I get it but mostly it’s an idea that taunts me. I carry guilt constantly on top of my seemingly endless fatigue and the emotional roller coaster ride I’ve been on and off for years now. I was doing much better at a time when I had a fantastic counsellor, but she no longer practices, as her job has evolved into a mental health advisory role. I dread the process of finding a new counsellor or psychologist after facing similar comments in the past as you did, at a time when I was hanging by a thread and desperate for support. I actually have a referral for a psychologist from my GP sitting here but I’m so scared to make the call because I really dislike the process of opening up and sharing about my situation/self etc but not finding that connection and having to start over.
    I’m juggling multiple issues, complex health/physical which feed and exacerbate the emotional/personal – I could manage if it were just one or two things at a time, but it’s gotten to a point where I’m so weighed down that I have no idea where to start digging myself out.
    I’m not totally despondent, just exhausted – I’ll get there, I just need to take that first step. Knowing I’m not alone in this definitely helps, though I hate the thought of others struggling too.

  4. We are small business owners too Nikki and I love this post because it contains so much useful information for all of us in a similar situation. Thanks for your candid blog – I really believe the more we talk about our mental health (any health issues really!) the more we can help others. Merry Christmas and a restful break to you and your family.

  5. Nikki, have you thought about looking into whether some of your symptoms could be related to peri/menopause? Have a look at UK expert Dr Louise Newson at menopause_doctor on Instagram or website menopausedoctor.co.uk. Menopause should be rebranded ‘female hormone deficiency’ – it’s so much more than hot flushes (think low mood, joint pain, tinnitus, anxiety etc) and can have long term impacts on brain, bone and mental health. BUT there’s great news: the new modern forms of body (NB not bio-identical) identical HRT are literally life-changing. Women post 45 need to understand what’s in store for them and be empowered to make choices about their own menopause. I highly recommend a look.

  6. 2020 has been truly difficult! Thank you for airing your story and I’m glad you are taking time for yourself. I’m supporting my partner who suffers with anxiety, depression and PTSD. A good Psychologist/Psychiatrist is absolutely key. Thankfully mental health has come to the forefront in the media in recent years. We are human and no one is perfect but with the right support, the everyday gets put into perspective. Best wishes for your ongoing treatment x

  7. Dear Nikki
    Thank you for “Its OK not to be OK”
    When I think of this I will not be beating myself up for feelings and “not being sorry for myself” as I journey through a difficult period of physical pain and operations. I knew I am up for a long period of rehab but I will have comfort in your quote. Even strong women need support.

    Best wishes

  8. Thank you for sharing Nikki. This is such a powerful, emotional & honest post. It brought a tear to my eye for both you and for me, acknowledging the effect that 2020 has really had. Realising that your mental health requires as much focus as your physical health has been a big realisation for me this year, my past belief was just work harder and it will all be OK – not so (that’s taken 61 years to realise!). The inability to plan ahead in any capacity is a major issue for those of us who are usually highly organised and like to have some semblance of control. Your story will have helped so many people.
    Your honest, realistic posts are the reason I continue to follow you. I’ve loved your home reno posts, which show how down to earth you remain despite your successes. Take care lovely lady, you really are such a great advocate for us all.

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      That is a big one for me Debbie – I really have focussed on the physical the past few years but the mental needs just as much attention. Thank you for reading and following … bedroom reno post coming next week for some light relief x

  9. Dearest Nikki,
    I am so glad you are taking care of you. Sounds like you have love and support and techniques in place to help. I can relate to many of the things you have said. So many worries about loved ones, health, work etc. My tipping point was when we put our older dog down in August and I broke down in the supermarket and couldn’t stop crying !
    I found out today I am being made redundant – this has been hanging over my head all year ! Kind friends have invited me to join them in Byron Bay in January and I will use this chance to reset !
    May 2021 be a better year for us.

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  10. Hi Nikki – thanks for showing such bravery by sharing. You’re right – social media makes it seem like you have this amazing and easy life – but small business is hard and risky. Only this week I realised that the anxiety I’ve been feeling for months is not normal, and slapping a smile on my face and turning up to work every day to keep everyone else lifted has left me exhausted. So off to the doctor who sent me for blood tests just this morning. There has to come a time when you know that ‘enough is enough’ and it’s time for assessing and making changes. Well done for all the things you’re doing now to look after yourself (put your oxygen mask on before helping others) and I hope your sharing will help more people to assess just where they are right now, at the end of this challenging year.

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  11. Hi Nikki, Thank you for Sharing your story. A amazing book I have read was called Thriving Mind by Doctor Jenny Brockis a GP from WA who also Burnt out, She is amazing I even emailed her and she responded straight away. I bought a few copies and shared them and everyone said after reading it it was them. Highly recommend her book and you would love it.

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  12. Sending you much love Nikki. 2020 ‍♀️What. Can. I. Say? My daughter who has clinical
    depression was in hospital 4 times and lost her job. I lost my job and then topped 2020 off with a knee replacement! I took myself off to my GP and discussed how I was feeling. It’s been challenging. We really don’t talk enough about how we really feel. Yes the floodgates might be open or the lid removed but a problem shared is a problem halved.

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  13. Thank you Nikki for sharing this very honest update on your health. Such a great reminder that we really can’t keep going on this wild ride called life when we are trying to keep all the balls in the air all of the time. Wishing you and your family a relaxing and calm Christmas and New Year xox

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  14. Thank you for sharing – it’s so important that we recognise and get help for mental health issues: if it was a broken arm we wouldn’t hesitate. I see and hear myself in your reaction at the “last straw”. This was me in full coping mode during my mother’s illness and death eight years ago. It was only after the Adrenalin stopped at the end of the work semester that I too burst into endless tears in response to a query from my boss. Counselling and time off helped me to understand some of my issues. I wish you well in your journey. You are such a fabulous role model to us all (but please don’t see that as a burden to carry). Xx Helen.

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  15. I totally agree about a good psychologist. I’ve been seeing mine every month for four years. Thank you for writing so openly and honestly about your mental health. Whilst it is now an openly discussed topic in the media many people still don’t understand that it is a health issue, not a personal weakness.
    Sending you heaps of virtual hugs and let’s hope 2021 is a kinder year.

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  16. You cannot underestimate the power of women sharing stories such as your struggle Nikki. While this shit show of a year has tested us all, I cannot imagine the stress of keeping a small business going, not only worrying about yourself but your valued employees.
    So glad you’ve taken steps to prioritise your mental health and I’m really happy to hear you found a great psychologist. I love your label so much and even though I’ve not met you, I’m even more glad to support it now xx

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  17. Thank you for sharing Nikki, I can relate to a lot of that which is troublesome. I’m so glad you loved reiki. I had reiki from friend in 2018 after I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it helped get through the whole ordeal. I can’t explain it either but I dealt with the bad blows very well. I hope 2021 is kinder, and if its not, that’s ok too.

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  18. Nikki, sending you oceans of love and light, and a massive high five for looking after you! The best thing we can ever do is look after our children’s mother and not be too hard on her. Gosh women can be so brutal to themselves, and there is only one person who can change that. Much love xx

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  19. A very familiar story. 55, family. HSC, Covid and my small business topped off with Rheumatoid Disease, a bugger of an auto immune disease. Balance, diet, yoga and less stress is the big key and absolutely saying no! There are some days where my body is exhausted and aching but I think in the long run these skills will stand us in really good stead … if my nasty meds don’t get me first. Take care Nikki . Keep that adrenal system calm and thank you for being honest about the roller coaster. X

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  20. Thankyou Nikki, for your honest outpouring of your experiences this year. Just reading it made me realize that mental exhaustion and overload can and does happen to almost anyone, no matter what age or occupation. I get that having you own business with responsibility for the wellbeing of staff must really weigh heavily sometimes, and especially in this year of uncertainty. You always seem to hit the nail on the head with your insight into physical and mental health, and you have suc
    h a special gift of sharing. You will probably never know how much you have helped and reassured so many of your fans.

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  21. Great post, I really appreciate you sharing your story Nikki. I have spent more time on Insta this year and whilst I love the curated life and the inspo and joy Insta gives with its pretty pics, I feel a sense of connection when people have been showing up with bits from their real life. 2020 has had more shit than a showbag, but it’s also helped us all get more clarity into how we live our lives. Again thanks for sharing x

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  22. Thank you for sharing. Could have been written by ‘anyone’ really, I’m sure we all (if honest) can relate to many parts of it.
    Personally I don’t think 2020 has been a ‘crappy’ year, simply because it’s made me realise what and who is of utmost importance to ‘ME’. I’ve eliminated several people from my thoughts and have been spending time thinking about ‘me’. Something that I never really did.
    Sure like most others 2020 has left a terrible mark in my life. Loss of loved ones, not being able to see family and friends overseas etc etc. But I’ve learnt to focus on what’s ahead, what’s important to me. The remainder is out of my control.
    So, roll in 2021 for us all. May it be what we can control and what we need to learn from. May we all continue to treat each other with respect, but more importantly, respect ourselves. Take care Nikki and know ‘it is definitely ok not to be ok’ ❤️

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  23. My dear dear friend… it’s so helpful that you too have shared here about the what, the how & the why. I recognised a lot of your symptoms & experiences because they were mine. I thought that the harder I worked all would be well. Nope said my dr after my burnt out self stopped work. Anyway, I am so glad that talking about mental health & being real is much more acceptable & we can have more open convos. I am a Calm app fan & listen to the Daily Calm before I get out of bed (not sitting on the floor or chair!) & choose another at night before sleep. Sending you my best wishes & love. Smiling is what we do, even if we don’t feel it as much! D xx

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  24. Ty for opening up about your problems & solutions Nikki!!
    It HAS been a really crappy year That 2021 is better. Keep up the good work & I totally agree about a good psychologist ❤️

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