I like to think I know a lot about mental health. I’ve researched and written several posts for this site on my own experiences, as well as creating resources on specific topics. I’ve also spent a long time in treatment for my own mental illness, learning about what I am experiencing, I’ve read books on the subject, and shared and discussed our experiences with friends. When I first read a definition of depression as a teenager and realised it might apply to me, I spent hours on Google researching because when I am dealing with something I find difficult I like to understand it from every angle; learn the shape of it.
Lately however, I have been struggling in a new way. I know what’s happening to me, I can feel the weight in my chest and notice how it’s only getting heavier. I watch myself losing interest in the things I care about, finding it harder and harder to reach out to the people around me. I see myself as if from a distance, feeling less engaged in social interactions when they do happen and wearied by the rush of embarrassment when I open my mouth to speak. Knowing when things are getting bad is not the same as doing something about it, I know that too. So I do my meditations, try and get out in the sun, text my friends and my parents but still, the weight is pressing down and finally a day comes where the urge to spend the day in bed without moving finally wins and I give in. I know what to do and I’ve been doing it, and yet here I am, walking to the shops in the clothes I slept in, staring blankly at the shelves and leaving without the food I came for. Even still I am surprised me how strong the feeling of shame is when I go to talk about how I’m feeling - despite all the writing and the thinking, sharing and supporting, I still feel like this is a secret I should be better at keeping. I’ve never felt that I had the answers, knowing more about my mental health hasn’t made me any better at fighting back when things get bad, it’s just made it easier to see what’s happening. There is something frightening in that for me, the knowledge that I can see what is about to happen and am unable to stop it.
There is a lot of (valid) anger about the narrative that we just need to Talk About Mental Health. I understand, I feel like I’ve said these words over and over, and asked for help so many times it seems foolish to keep asking. In a country where mental health services are desperately underfunded and mental illness is rarely (if ever) treated appropriately in the workplace it is clearly wrong to put the onus for change onto those who are themselves just trying to survive and get by in the most difficult of circumstances. This is not how it should be. I resist the way mental illness is used as a buzzword, or romanticised and reduced to make it more palatable, and I am deeply angry at how many people are failed when they ask for help. But I also know that realistically these things are unlikely to change drastically anytime soon, that doesn’t make me any less angry, but it does make me wonder what I can do in the meantime.
So I ask myself, what small changes can I make that might help someone else, or even just myself. Right now the biggest thing that I feel I can do is say that I am not ok, I can talk about the reality of how I feel because there doesn’t feel much else available to me. Next week I may be better, but right now, things are bad. That’s how it is. I acknowledge it as I do my evening walk in the sun after a balanced dinner and an afternoon spent with people I care about, it sits in the corner of my mind as I do my 10 minute meditation before bed. I am doing all the right things and it’s still not enough, not always. These things help, but for today I am struggling. If you are too then please know a few small things.
· You are not alone
· There is no shame in this pain
· Asking for help (often and loudly if necessary) is the most radical act of self-love you can do
· Taking care of yourself matters
· You matter
…and the one I cling to - it will not feel like this forever.
Maybe these are meaningless platitudes in the face of a struggle you have carried for a long time, but I hope it reminds you of a time when things felt lighter, it felt hard to write that list because I had to acknowledge truths I often forget. I sat down to write this because I am struggling, and I think it has helped - which shows that when the structures of our world are not in our favour our voices still have power and that using that power (if we so want to) can be deeply important. Regardless, you are not alone. I am deeply proud to be a part (in my own small way) of The Respite Room and I hope that we will be able to help because I am so tired of feeling unable to help myself.