It doesn’t matter who you are, if you suffer from a mental illness then you can expect to have bad days. I work in Mental Health, I have a Masters Degree in Mental Health Nursing and I am studying my Grad Dip in Psychology. I am assisting people with their own mental health struggles on a daily basis and some may think with all that knowledge and skill under my belt I shouldn’t struggle with my own mental health. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I have just spent two days off work being a right old Negative Nancy and in a very dark place. Fortunately, these events aren’t often these days but when they hit it is a very lonely place to be. I am certainly not immune to succumbing to my own mental health struggles. Sometimes it is worse having all the knowledge as I tend to be even harder on myself for not being able to ‘snap out of it’ and use the multitude of strategies I have up my sleeve for my clients, on myself.
During these periods Nancy is definitely my right-hand lady. Molehills seem like mountains and I am the biggest failure on the face of the earth. When people say, “think of all the good things in your life”, “practice gratitude” or “go and exercise”……I just want to slap them. None of that is helpful when you are in a hole and sometimes you just need to sit there and wallow for a bit, not be made to feel worse for not being able to write in your gratitude journal or get your butt out the door for a walk.
Any of you that struggle with your mental health will understand these feelings as although everyone’s journey is different, many of the struggles that we face when battling depression and anxiety, are the same. Those feelings of emptiness and hopelessness. The feelings of worthlessness and a deeply embedded pain that can’t be eased. The exhaustion and disillusionment and the numbness. These are all common when you are stuck in the quagmire that is depression, although they can play out differently depending on your circumstances.
So how do I send Nancy packing and pull myself out of my hole? I don’t fight it. I have said in one of my earlier posts, it is like landing in a spider web. The more you struggle to free yourself, the more you get tangled and the more exhausted you get. I choose to ride it out. I know people struggle to take ‘sick days’ for their mental health and I am not immune to that, but I have recognised the importance of pulling back before I completely lose it. I need time to withdraw and regroup as I know if I don’t nip it in the bud I will end up in a very bad place. I let myself feel all the feelings, I sleep, sit on the lounge and stare outside, cry, eat and sleep some more. Sometimes it only ends up being for a day, other times it can be longer.
My depression never goes, don’t get me wrong. I have been in battle with it for most of my adult life but the deep holes that I fall into aren’t there all the time. These holes appear and I fall in for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes it is just due to stressful events, a situational crisis, being overcommitted, tiredness, relationship struggles, something triggers me and sometimes my meds just need to be adjusted. Occasionally they happen for no reason and I have learnt to be ok with that. The good thing for me now is knowing that these dark periods don’t last. I have that experience to draw on so I now just buckle up for the ride rather than trying to run from it. I also understand what events in my life led me to have a mental illness and with that understanding I am less hard on myself and just accept these dark days as part of living with depression.
It is not easy though and we can be terribly misunderstood and accused of being negative, lazy or dramatic. If you are early on in your journey with mental illness or you have unstable supports and environment, then riding out the dark periods probably seems impossible at the moment and you are probably feeling hopeless. Hang in there. Try and find a health professional (GP, Counsellor etc ) to support you or at least connect you with supports. Try and find one person in your world to share the burden with. Someone to talk to, someone to drop a meal off, take the kids for a few hours. Reach out and ask for help. Seek help from government and non-government organisations that offer support for accomodation, finances etc.
Mental illness is a solitary journey in many ways. There is no way you can ever make anyone understand the chaos inside of you, and no one can take that away from you, but you can ask for help to reduce the burden mental illness has on you. Even if it is just practical help. Asking for help is hard at the best of times, but when it is for a mental health illness rather than a physical illness, the stigma of that can prevent us from seeking assistance.
You are worth it. You deserve life and a good life at that. You are not broken or faulty. You are entitled to receive the same support and compassion that a physically ill person does. There are supports out there for those battling with their mental health, work out what they are in your area and reach out. Sit your loved ones down and be open. Be brave and be part of the movement to de-stigmatise mental illness. Every time you ask for help and admit your struggles you are contributing to pulling down that wall of mental health stigma. Finally, always remember to ask the question,
“R U OK?”