Mental health is a huge label to put onto the illness I have. It is sort of like going up to someone and saying ‘I have really bad physical health’ and them just sort of going ‘oh, I’m so sorry!’. It’s a great start to a conversation about where you might be at in life, but it doesn’t really give the other person any tools to support you.
Specifying the problem you have makes it a whole lot easier for friends and family to support you. The umbrella of mental health is as big and diverse as physical health. Yet, it is part of our terminology when talking about any specific mental health condition to refer to it as often by the umbrella term as by the specific.
Making the term ‘mental health’ overwhelming. However, the point of mental health awareness week is to make us aware of mental health, the fact that we all have it (emotional needs to be addressed), we all need to care for it and there are many ways in which it can go wrong. We don’t need to know the specifics of them all, in the same way we don’t know the name and symptoms of every physical health ailment – we just need to be aware of the existence, compassionate in the meeting and accepting of the individual who presents themselves mental health condition and all.
So I am going to talk about what I know – depression and anxiety. I find it hard to fully describe what happens in my brain because honestly, I don’t know what is normal and what is not, but I will give it a go.
Getting up in the morning is the hardest part of any day, not because I am lazy, but because waking up hurts. I am so tired every minute of every day, that there is always a need for more sleep, but, I have to get up so I do. This is the first battle I face each day.
Then all I need to do is survive the day. From the moment I am up, I battle negative thoughts. For my whole adult life, I have been unable to look myself in the mirror as me. I always pretend to be someone else, it’s been easier that way. However, recently I have started to be me and it is very hard not to look at myself and hate what I see. This is not about my image so much as just seeing the face of someone you really don’t like so close. Learning to look myself in the eye and seek out something about myself that I actually like takes enormous energy and effort. This is the next big battle of my day.
The cycle of negative thoughts in my head is pretty non-stop, and this leads into my exhaustion. I fight the thoughts (as often as I have the energy) whenever they appear, but this takes up the majority of my mental capacity.
This means that I have very little capacity left for work. Which doesn’t help the negative thoughts. I work about 2 days a week, and that is the absolute limit, at the moment, of what I can achieve. This leaves a significant sense of failing as I look at all the things I hope to do and achieve, I watch friends who have larger issues than me, who survive and even thrive on a day to day basis. I am reminded by my capacity each day, that I am weak.
On top of this, I tackle the anxiety – a crowded space, unexpected change in plans, a stressful situation, or just those days when my brain is battling the negative so hard that there is no hope left in my head. All of these situations cause my heart to race, my breathing to speed up, my hands to sweat, my eyes to dart and my fear levels to shoot through the roof. It is as if I am under attack, but the attacker is inside my head and the only way to fight that attacker off is to beat my head with whatever is to hand.
I rarely have a day that ends with a feeling that I have won the battle, but I fight hard enough that I rarely end the day feeling like I lost. Me and my enemy are dug in trenches, each equally determined, each exhausted by the battle, but reconciliation feels like an impossibility.
I am exhausted by the fight. I feel like I am drowning in my own mind. I feel lost and broken, weak and hopeless. This is what mental health means to me. This is the life that I live, and the fight that I fight.
Despite it all, I have learnt compassion, empathy, joy and hope through journeying through the darkest places my mind can offer. I am happy with my life. I would prefer it depression and anxiety free, but for now – this is where I am at.