If you are a regular reader here, it is safe to assume that you have an interest in mental health. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that interest stems from personal experience. I’m also going to bet that your experience involved difficult decision making.
By “decision making” I am referring to the act of making a decision about the severity of your own mental health and how best to deal with what you are feeling. It is almost cliché, but the truth is, mental health issues are the only health issues that trick you into thinking that they don’t exist. If you have a headache you never catch yourself thinking that you probably don’t have a headache and you’re just faking it or imagining it. Unfortunately, that happens all too often with mental health.
Whether the instinct to deny and minimise our own mental health struggles and problems stems from social stigma, internalised stigma, or are simply inherent to mental health issues is a debate for another day. The fact remains that it does exist, and it does make managing our mental health and making appropriate decisions extremely difficult.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on depression because, as they say, write what you know. There have been times in my life when, looking back, I know my mental health was despicable. I was self-destructive and didn’t care about myself at all. I never put a label on it, I never considered seeking a diagnosis. I was convinced that was just who I was. That I was a year-round Grinch who built giant walls around herself. At some point, something changed. I became happy, there were colours in my world again, there was hope.
It has only ever been when my mental health has improved from a rough patch that I have been able to reflect on how bad I had let things get. That’s not helpful in making decisions about whether or not to seek treatment. Honestly, I think that plays a big part in why so many people have to reach a crisis point before accessing mental health services and treatment. It is simply too difficult to see that you need help when you are in the thick of it.
Recently though, for whatever reason, I have felt myself struggling. I have felt myself slipping back into habits and thought patterns that are familiar but not welcomed. The difference this time though is an increased cognizance of these changes. (I cannot say whether that is something that has developed naturally with age and an increased understanding of who I am as a person.
Whether it is a side effect of being on the completed side of mental health degrees. Or, and this is the one I want to believe in most, whether it is a product of having a bigger, better support system around me this time). Whatever the reason, this increased awareness has seemingly thrown up more questions than answers for me.
Being aware that I am slipping back into old ways, into the old me, means that I am faced with a decision to make in how to handle it. Naturally, my brain is telling me that ‘it really isn’t that bad, other people have it so much worse, you’re just being dramatic’, which is discouraging in terms of seeking help.
The part of my brain that manages to ignore the voice telling me that it is all in my head reminds me that the NHS is over-stretched at this time of year at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic, I’m not in crisis, I shouldn’t be taking resources and wasting time.
Then there is the final point of view that my mind offers, the one that says: suck it and see, the voice of the joker in my head that just wants to create mischief and out of sheer morbid curiosity, wants to see how this all pans out. (That’s probably the one I will listen to if I know myself at all).
I really don’t know the answer to fix this inherent problem for mental health sufferers, that is a job for someone much smarter and much more knowledgeable than myself. This certainly was never meant to be any kind of advice column or tips list.
Remember that you’re worthy and wonderful!
All this piece aimed to do was either educate those who have never suffered first-hand so that they can understand what their loved ones may be going through, or to let those who are going through this right now that they are not alone, that it is worth paying attention to those changing behaviours, and that it is okay to reach out for help. Whatever you decide to do, whichever idea your brain offers that you listen to, look after yourselves, you are wonderful, you are kind, you are worthy.