color key — blue: mental health; green: relationship to self; purple: spirituality. contrast of light and dark correlates with bright and somber tones of voice.
When I first put pen to paper about my mental health nearly two years ago, I never imagined I'd be writing again as what I am now.
That things got worse. Not better. There are no quick fixes in the world of mental health; imagine that! — that's fucking realism, except once and idealist always…
Still so many of my days are simply about survival. The next five minutes. I have so much in terms of food, family, friendship, people who've shown me love along the way, I'm grateful, and yet, I still mourn for what I've lost. Matt Haig writes that mental poverty can affect the most privileged of people. I feel lost.
I'm still me under the torrents of acid rain in my head, or the days where I feel stuck in a panic chamber, but I'm screaming for help. Simple things still have the power to undo me. I've tried so hard to fix this, but sometimes I feel I've made no headway at all.
Of course, I probably have, but it's just hard to see. I've gone to therapy, gone to the doctors, given myself space, tried to face my fears, been mindful, given up, sometimes shut down completely. I've worked hard at all the ways I know how, but I'm struggling. I'm struggling to see the light at the end of this tunnel.
I'm in pieces, in my heart and my head. This is not the life I had planned for me as a young, confident, capable, can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to woman. I'm still the person who loves people so much, loves languages, and art and above all — empathy. I just did not foresee the train coming that would knock my mind to its limits and leave me here like a last stop.
My only option is to keep going though. All I want is to be well, is for answers, for hope. But if I can't be well, then I need some extra courage to face that. God knows that desire is all I really have left.
“But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
I'm amazed at the Bible teaching to 'weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice'. Ultimately, it's what every psychology session has ever taught me. You are allowed to have your feelings. We need people to feel what we're feeling with us in order to come to healing and freedom.
Instead, certain responses teach us, from an early age, to expect negativity when showing our feelings. Have you ever felt sad and someone told you to just look on the bright side? Or been happy about a new idea for someone to doubt you? So, we learn to clamp down on ourselves.
And when you shut out one emotion repeatedly, say sadness or grief, you actually shut out all emotions — the ability to experience joy or love too. The longer this goes on, the more we can experience anxiety when we get close to our emotions because we've become detached from ourselves. This is what has happened to me in an extreme way, and something I've been working hard to undo with help from my therapist.
A crunch point came recently when even therapy fell through for me. I stopped feeling okay to be myself. I felt under pressure to work hard, to try and fix myself. Up until this point, it had been my lifeline, but I crumbled. Asking for a break from therapy was one of the scariest things I've had to do.
I'm learning, slowly, and painfully that it's okay to say no. Boundaries are the most important things in life when it comes to looking after yourself, and in order to have healthy boundaries, you need to know you're safe to say no, to stop, to change your mind or turn around. To suppress yourself and carry on until you pop is, well, a disaster. Trust me.
Something else I've learnt is this: 'Why?' is a useless question. Why has this all happened to me leads to what's wrong with me. You can only be where you are. You can only feel what you feel. The why of it all is often down to a mix of biological and psychological processes which, until now, have been largely unconscious, automatic and therefore — remember — not your fault.
The more I try and think my way out of the things that make me anxious, the more tangled up in my head I get. I'm learning, very slowly, to try and ignore the thoughts. And I'm becoming a little more aware of the automatic negative thoughts that occur on repeat. Even though I hate feeling anxious, many people have said to not fear the feeling of fear. But fuck, it's hard.
Somewhere, deep inside, there is still a part of me that knows this will all be okay one day. The whisper is so faint it often gets completely lost. I know one day, the powerful, young woman will rise again. And I'll be able to empathise with humanity in so much more of its brokenness and suffering. Because I'll know. And I'll love hard. Or maybe I already do.
"What if we already are what we've been dying to become."
- ‘Four’, Sleeping At Last
I still want this to be over already. To return to the life I had. I fundamentally hate having to accept this version of myself. But to give her credit, she's doing her absolute best, nearly all the time, to fight and stay positive. Maybe the black dog, once it arrives, never really leaves.
My only prayer is that the demons in the valley of the shadow of death, well, is that eventually I'll be able to control them and not they me. (Psalm 23). I hope that maybe one day I'll only be aware of their presence and comfortable enough to dine unafraid in their presence. Honestly though, I'm not there yet.
Until then, I can hope that, like the snowdrops that push up their heads through the snow, life is dawning in-spite of the darkness.
“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me, or I will die.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
I run to you to hide me.”
Psalm 143 - NLT