I wrote this two years ago and when thinking about what I wanted to say about Mental Health Awareness Week I reread it. Rather than rewriting it I just thought I’d share it again. It explains my relationship with mental health perfectly.
I do feel like I am winning and have been for some time but you never know when that might not be the case. So if you are struggling, it can get better, it isn’t simple but know you are not alone, my inbox is always open.
16th May 2018
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 seemed 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.