It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to share with you what living with mental illness has been like for me and how I found ways to manage it. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had an enjoyable life, just sometimes it seamed like the shine wasn’t quite there.
I have struggled most of my adult life with mental health issues. A deep depression so incapacitating that I’d rather have starved than leave the house or an anxiety that feels so physical I mistook it for an illness for the first few months.
It started in my late teens, with a rather innocent college deadline that I couldn’t envisage meeting and being sat in a car bawling my eyes out for hours, unable to move. A trip to the doctor had me diagnosed as depressed, and leaving with a packet of pills that promised to make me better.
Only they didn’t*. I spent six months in a fog, and ‘woke up’ confused as to where the time had gone. I also gained a whole load of weight, and this began my negative relationship with my body. A constant battle to lose weight filled with self-loathing and despair, which only fuelled the depression. This consumed most of my twenties. It wasn’t all-bad, I met some of the best people in my life, had some amazing trips and experiences but all the time my mental health was not quite healthy enough.
With age I got less concerned with my appearance, understanding that life is short and that experiences, health and love is really all that matters. This helped numb the depression somewhat. I took a job as a secondary school teacher and anxiety replaced the depression. It didn’t get really bad until I quit my job to move to Kuala Lumpur. All of a sudden I had so much time to think and sure enough my old friends, depression and anxiety crept back in. The pressure of what next and I need to do something worthwhile, made me sleepless, anxious and unable to enjoy this wonderful experience.
I was a week off going to seek professional help. I’d found counselling incredibly helpful in the past and was ready to give it another bash. Then a trip with my friends, for my birthday, helped me to rebalance. I realised I needed to get into a regular yoga practice. I needed to think through the issues of my childhood, forgive them and let them go. And I needed to address the self-doubt and lack of self-worth in order to heal.
It was a long hard process, but I no longer get panic attacks and I can now see the black clouds forming. I am not fixed, I am not sure I ever will be, but that’s ok. I now recognise the signs and I try my damnedest to stop it in its tracks. It doesn’t always work. Just two days ago I was listless and lacking in desire for anything, only wanting to hide from the world and watch box sets. Having gone on for a few days the black clouds finally lifted yesterday and I wanted to do everything again.
Life’s hard for everyone and living with mental illness is no walk in the park. Some days brushing your teeth, hair or taking a shower can seem like the hardest thing. But that’s ok and better days will come. Acknowledging this helps take the power out of those black clouds a little.
I hope we all know it’s ok to not be mentally fit and that talking about it can actually help. What I am trying to say is that life happens even when you are living with mental illness and sometimes you opt out for a short while but it is always still there, waiting for you to come back and enjoy it.
* I realise now that the dosage was probably wrong and that maybe they would have worked if I’d discussed it with my doctor. I am neither for or against medication to help with mental health issues. It is very much a personal decision that should be made under medical guidance.