In mid-July I was struggling a lot. When things are rough, I often take to the subtle art of self-reassurance, which I don’t begrudge myself for. I wrote a post on my Instagram about the ‘forever’ feelings that anxiety and depression, and the state of the world at the moment, create. This sense of endlessness and despair is something those of us with mental health issues feel in our darker periods. Despite this, we often deny the experience and try to escape it through a form of toxic positivity. It might be we don’t want others to worry about us, so we stay outwardly ‘positive’ and play it down, often to the detriment of ourselves.
It can take up a lot of mental energy to remind yourself constantly of the rational facts about inevitability of change and potential for healing. Still, it’s a falsity to assume depressed people have only negative thoughts, and are therefore intrinsically negative people. My brain can feel more like a series of ‘thought’ cards you see in gift shops- painful emotions followed by compulsive, constant streams of Pinterest quotes to hold onto; this too shall pass, pain is temporary, you are stronger than your fears, you are not your thoughts, be grateful for what you have, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
This stream of hopeful words goes on whilst still fighting an intense belief that this illness is forever and recovery isn’t possible.
Although this might be how I feel at times, I have never identified less with the illness that has taken over a large part of my life over the years. When I am well, I am confident, brave and committed. I love seeing my friends and meeting new people, discovering new music and poems and connecting to others also through prayer. People may not even see me as an anxious person, and many have been surprised when I open up about my anxiety to them. At times, my illness has reduced me to a tiny part of my true self, able only to live a small and terrified life. My mind is never at rest in these times and I find it really painful for others to see me like this, so tend to withdraw. Although I might have anxiety and OCD, I don’t actually have an anxious personality at all. Mental illness is separate to the person you are, and sometimes it could not be further away.
I was walking this afternoon along by the River Severn in Shropshire. It was a stunning day weather-wise, but otherwise felt blissfully normal. I noticed, after half an hour of walking, a beautiful sense of peace. As I paced along the well worn path adjacent to the golf course, I felt a deep sense of communion with the season and the trees that line the river.
The past few months I have lowered my expectations of feeling positive emotions. I accepted that baseline functioning was enough for me now, having come a long way to reach it. This time of peace whilst in the cold autumn sun made me emotional, because it was only then that I could see the true bleakness of the other side. I am healing because I feel again, I can leave my house and walk and eat and sleep again. I don’t want anything else right now because my mind has moments of freedom and that is the greatest privilege I can ask for. Some people don’t have the access to medication and therapy and supportive friendships and amazing family that I do. For some, my story is familiar and maybe their current reality. I won’t take this period of healing for granted and I ask you to consider your functioning and joy, if you have it at the moment, as a privilege also.
All my anxieties stem around a ‘fear of forever’. Being in constant emotional pain, or rejected by society or unable to look after myself. It has wanted me to believe that recovery doesn’t exist. It’s done this about six times now. Six episodes of deep fears followed by periods of healing and living. The truth of change is in the waves and the ups and downs I encounter as a young person and human on earth, as well as someone with a mental health condition.
The pain of not knowing and fearing the worst comes with the disorder, not with a lack of wanting to see the positive or the rational. I can be ill and see the positive and likely scenario, but I can’t connect to it. This connection takes time and treatment to conjure and is far more complicated than it may seem to those who don’t struggle with it.
I am learning the truth about my experiences and how hard they have been, but also feel true gratitude for six examples of healing and opportunities to learn and grow. It can be difficult when my struggles have been so internal and invisible to feel proud about overcoming them- but I am. Everyone has situations and experiences in their life that they feel completely overwhelmed and destroyed by. I know that mine has been with my mental health, so I am proud and will doubtless be prouder of anything else I accomplish in my life. I’m proud that I turned up to my life everyday and took medication when I felt I wasn’t the ‘type’ of person that should. I’m proud but I am also privileged to be on the other side. I still know and remember the pain in debilitating fear and feelings of forever. It’s all lies of course, but that doesn’t make the moment much easier. The feelings are awful, but they shift and shifted for me, even when I was so sure I was trapped. That’s a miracle and to say that and believe it is a privilege.
I send you all so much hope and love in whatever you have been through or are going through now ❤