My mental health – MHAW15

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.

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  • Only today I was wondering why the umbrella term “mental health” is used in a way that simply does not apply to physical health. I wonder if the use of the more general term is making it harder to find remedies (or even a cure) for some mental illnesses? The remedy for a heart disorder would make little difference to a bad back or a knee. That is a self-evident truth, perhaps in part because we are specific about describing the problem. Does the general term “mental illness” divert attention from identifying causes, given that different patients will have very different mental health issues with different triggers? There now seems broad agreement that mental health should have parity with physical health. Perhaps one way of acheiving this would be to stop generalising about it?

    • I have been familiar with many of the feelings you write about and articulate so well. I am 59 years old and have had similar thoughts and feelings since childhood. Years ago a spiritual mentor recommended I read a book titled “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron. My wife and I both read the book. It is not a panacea but it helped both of us to say “That’s me!” and helped us understand why we feel the way we do sometimes and some things we can do to cope with being a highly sensitive person in a culture where aggressive, competitive, outgoing personalities are championed and sensitive people are seen as “flawed”. I will keep you in my prayers. Peace and blessings.

  • Thank you for this Katharine. It’s very brave of you to share this insight with your readers/followers. I have a couple of friends who both suffer with anxiety and depression and struggle to explain what it’s like for them. Their difficulties have resulted in debts – which add to the anxiety and one has resorted to drinking to self medicate. I’m often lost for words and ways to help support and encourage them to believe life is actually worthwhile. I will direct them to your writing because I think it might help them to see how you feel in this kind of detail. I’m sure they’d both relate. God bless you and again thanks. Xx

  • Bless you for your courage and honesty; don’t underestimate the number of people you will have helped; Stay strong, Katharine. You’re not alone.

  • I battled with anxiety for 3 years until I stopped fighting it. Like you say, it’s so exhausting. I found an amazing book called At Last a Life by Paul David. He has a website too which had information that made so much sense. Personal therapy also helped to change my thought process. Mental health is a cruel illness that no one can see but its devistation on the sufferer is soul destroying.
    Good luck with finding peace.

  • Been there, done that, don’t wear T-shirts. But can we get away from using the term ‘mental health’ to apply to a psychiatric problem. Mental health is what we are all striving for. Mental health problems, issues, or – dare I say it – mental illness, is what we are living with. I believe the term ‘mental health’ has started to be used as a euphemism for ‘mental illness’, because it is too scary to say we are mentally ill. If we don’t use the right words, it will for ever be a taboo. I suffer from depression, I don’t suffer from mental health.

  • If you haven’t already discovered it, you should read a classic blog post on depression from someone who has been in its pits and at least at the time got mostly out of it. No, it’s not advice or clinical research or well-meaning useless platitudes, but you will probably find yourself howling with laughter, which is excellent medicine. While you’re at it, read the rest of her posts. Warning – they might want to take you to the psych ward for laughing uncontollably with tears running down your cheeks! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing (so familiar) It is of enormous help to read an account like this and all the comments in the Replies section as well. Great to know not alone 🙂

  • Hi, I have just read your story and find it very inspirational. I suffer depression myself and I relate to how you describe it. I also work for a charity called Making Space and we are looking to develop some training to help people to talk about their mental health. Would you be ok if I printed out your story to show how inspirational it can be to talk about mental health?

  • Hi, I just read your article in the daily mail and I wanted to tell you to look up magnesium and it’s affect on anxiety, I recommended that a friend took it and he said he feels so much calmer after constantly feeling stressed about everything, it relaxes your muscles and if you’re relaxed then you can’t feel stress. I have suffered from anxiety for 20 years but I am now in a much better place, lyrica has been really helpful it has stopped the fear I had, I take a very low dose now and hope to stop completely soon, I have started taking magnesium too and I definitely feel more relaxed than normal. I hope you check it out and I hope it helps x

  • I have never replied to a blog before, but this issue has touched me for nearly two decades. My mental health is so fragile I could easily end this misery and sorrow. The only thing stopping me are my children (aged 11,7 and 1) and my wife, but have suffered from the “black-dog” for as long as I can remember. My early life showed so much promise, had so many dreams but unfortunately it has all ended in a catalogue of disaster, leading to a court appearance in the very near future, with the possibility of a custodial sentence. It’s not for anything obscene, but an error of judgement over a 3 year period in a company were I was a director. I mis-appropriated some funds, and have paid all the monies back. It is impossible to adequately express how contrite and remorseful I feel, but I can no longer live with these feelings of complete helplessness, and find myself in the grip of a cloud so black and bleak, I can longer think straight, no longer summon any energy to commit to anything and finding it difficult to go to work. In some ways though, I like being in the grip of this torment. It may sound perverse, but having these feelings and constant thoughts of suicide, make me value the very short time I have left, so this may be my first and last blog. I do believe in god and suppose in my own way am spiritual, but feel unworthy of any redemption and maybe deserve an eternity in purgatory. I am in awe of all these people who live with the same mental issues as me, but don’t think it is my DNA to help myself.

    • Mark, first I would pray that you do not take your life. None of us are worthy of any redemption, that is why Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, the godly for the ungodly. All of us deserve an eternity in hell, not purgatory, but Jesus has already paid the necessary price for the grace that opens heaven’s doors for you and me, long before either of our great-great-great-great grandparents were ever conceived.

      You admit to financial wrongdoing, and there will be an earthly price even though God forgives you. Moses and King David paid severe prices in earthly terms for their sins, which included murder, with David’s having Uriah left to die in battle premeditated after trying to cover his adultery with Uriah’s wife. Moses was in exile 40 years after being groomed to be the next Pharaoh of Egypt. David’s first son with Bathsheba died in infancy and two of his other sons died, one in leading a civil war of rebellion against David. But both of them were forgiven, redeemed and restored to service for God. Your life can follow that same pattern, if you will put your whole trust and faith in the blood of Jesus shed for your sins and open your eyes to the new life God has for you through and after these trials are worked out. You are in my prayers and undoubtedly the prayers of many others.

  • My first reaction to you is to thank you for being open with your heart about your feelings. It touched me. Sometimes being between a rock and a hard place leaves little room for manoeuver. Your article didn’t say if you were on any medication but having such a daily struggle must be awful. It must seem like a victory just to make it through each and every day, although you do say otherwise. When I cannot face things or issues in my life and I start to feel weighed down or depressed, I find sleep is a great healer. I am not on anti-depressants or any other drugs for that matter, I choose to battle it out myself rather than suffer side effects or addiction from prescribed drugs. I have heard such dreadful stories from various sources and in the media, about individual lives ruined by prescribed drugs. I don’t take any alternative medicine anymore, like herbal remedies or homeopathic cures. ( I did used to take kalms herbal tablets a few years ago to help me relax.) I do have a Christian faith and that sustains me and gives me great strength. Take it to the Lord in prayer my minister proclaims to our congregation. Also I did have a wonderful dog, a Golden Retriever, who helped me therapeutically by being loving and affectionate, sadly she passed away. Hang in there Katherine and if you do feel at the end of your tether please don’t attempt suicide, talk to a friend who you can trust.

  • Katharine,

    I had hoped our paths might cross at ExCel last week. Jo Swinney was there at the Preach stand who I always say wrote the best book ever on depression, ‘Through the Dark Woods’.

    Look, I’m really old, even older than your old man but these social media outlets concern me what with the trolls etc. Far better is good old ‘face to face’ communication (and chocolate obviously).

    The previous week I’d been in Nepal attempting Starfish Principle stuff and how about this … when I get back to my flat there is a personal letter awaiting me from Jean Vanier. Jealousy will get you nowhere Katharine.

    Love will though,


    • Dear Katharine,

      I’m going through a particularly hard time just now, I’m being very blokey about it. Struggling to put these few sentences together, thoughts are bouncing around my head like a ball in a pin ball machine.
      I should have replayed when I opened this on the day you posted it, as I just wanted to say thank you, your a diamond.


  • Hi Katherine. Thank you so much for your inspirational and candid writings on your challenges with mental illness. You are blessing many people by being able to speak openly. Many people cannot do what you are doing so bravely. Every person that shares their story helps break the stigma and reaches out to others too. Well done.

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