WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY 2020…
World Mental Health Day is on October 10th this year. I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a few words updating my own experiences in this area.
This is something I’ve done before but, like everything in life, my challenges with mental illness have ebbed, flowed and evolved since the last time I wrote it down.
Perhaps this year, more than ever, it’s worth trying to reach out as increasing numbers of us find ourselves battling hidden demons on a daily basis.
Of course Covid 19 has played its part in that, indeed it’s probable that we’ve only seen the top of the iceberg in terms of the effects the global pandemic will have on mental health all over the world. It’s not the only reason though, we’ve been facing up to a mental health crisis for many years now. By ‘facing up’ I mean not facing up anywhere near enough, at least not in the UK, where I’m from.
Before I get into the ‘nitty gritty’ it’s important to declare a few things upfront.
Firstly, I don’t claim to be impacted by mental health issues to anywhere near the levels I know some are.
Although I certainly have my bad days, weeks even. On the whole, my challenges are manageable. I’m able to do most things, most of the time. Occasionally I even do them well and, although I’m sure this will come as a surprise to those used to seeing my glum face, actually gain some enjoyment from doing so.
The point here though is that although I do manage, that shouldn’t be enough. I survive but I do not thrive. This knowledge alone causes me many difficulties. It’s potential not realised, a life not fully lived, hope fading (but not yet lost).
Secondly, although I cannot deny the thoughts are there, I’ve never attempted suicide of physically harmed myself in any way. Will I ever? I don’t think so. I don’t know so, but I don’t think so.
That’s not to say that I don’t unconsciously, or sometimes very consciously, cause myself harm though. Some of my behaviours and actions do just that. They also hurt others and that’s a truth difficult to accept. I have to look myself in the mirror and know that I have caused other people pain, often unnecessarily so. Occasionally I reflect and it’s hard to even know who that person is that’s done those things. It is me though, it’s on me.
Getting better at controlling my emotions, internally and externally, is so important and so blinking difficult. Not just in the big moments either, my reaction to the tiniest of things can be way over the top. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately for my long term health) this reaction is mostly internalised, you probably wouldn’t even notice. When it is externalised, it’s not pretty and fills me with shame.
Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge that my history doesn’t lend itself to the traditional view of those who suffer mental health difficulties. Other than the normal ups and downs life throws at all of us, I can’t point to anything significant that caused my current predicament. My upbringing was fine and trauma free, on the whole the same goes for my adult life. Yes, I’ve had difficult relationships, money worries, minor health concerns etc. but hasn’t everyone. They don’t all end up in a dark room with only the black dog for company.
Again I’m making a point. This can happen to anyone. I should know, it happened to me.
So, how’s it going now? I hear none of you cry. Well since you didn’t ask…
The short answer for those getting bored. Not great.
A slightly more detailed answer if you’re hanging on in there. I’m really not doing very well. Difficulties in all aspects of my life are wearing me down to the point where I have no motivation available to even try to fix them. To be honest, I don’t even know where to start. I’m completely overwhelmed.
Covid is placing an additional layer on a state of affairs I’ve experienced before. Fear, uncertainty, frustration and sadness at the situation we’re all in fight for space in an already crowded mind.
Day to day it has a profound impact on all areas of my life. As well as the standard low mood, I suffer from extreme fatigue during the day followed by insomnia at night. My decision making is impaired and my memory is shocking. I wouldn’t say I was ever the most confident of people but any I did have has long since evaporated. I’m a very good actor most of the time but don’t be fooled, look closely and you will see the real me.
Avoidance is my current course of action. Either by hiding in my room, cancelling appointments by making flimsy excuses or distracting myself with overeating, alcohol and other stuff. I’m pretty sure none of these things are the answer but, to borrow a long established skill utilised by politicians all over the world, I’m doing my best to ignore the question.
It’s very likely that if I carry on the way I am I will lose some or all of the following; relationship (almost certainly already lost), my children (maybe not now, but there will be a consequence to the damage being done), my business* (I just don’t have the energy and motivation to fight to save it in these troubled times), my home* (see loss of business), some friends (I’m really no fun anymore) and my physical health (already on the slide).
*let’s not exaggerate. The loss of business and/or home is not happening in the short term. I’m luckier than many in this regard.
If, as is in my case, mental health difficulties are at least part of the reason for the problems listed above, then once they start to grow it seems impossible to stop them taking on lives of their own and consuming all that you ever were. Believe me, it’s not a nice place to be.
Hope is not completely lost. As I write today when things are as they are, I don’t believe life can’t get better, that it won’t get better. Many are not so fortunate, hopefully at least one of them reads this and takes on board my message below:
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS. THERE ARE BETTER DAYS AHEAD AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I know I need to find some strength from somewhere to start to climb out of my hole, I also know that I still won’t be able to do this without help. Medical assistance and the support and kindness of others are needed, even if I often hide from them and pretend that they are not.
Perhaps tomorrow will be the day I start my recovery. If it isn’t, I won’t be too hard on myself. It’s a journey I know needs a certain level of resilience to even have a chance of success. It’s not easy, it won’t be without setbacks and it cannot be achieved alone.
The key is wanting to get to the destination and believing it’s possible. I’m probably not quite there yet but I will be.
Maybe the account of how I did it will be my contribution to the next World Mental Health Day. That would certainly be a story I’d be proud to tell.