I often find it difficult to talk about my varying mental health issues. Not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed, but because I’ve been dealing with them for so long. I don’t remember a point in my teenage or adult life where it hasn’t been something I’ve had to face head on. In a way, the depression and the anxiety are a part of me that I’ve never been without- I have blue eyes, I’m allergic to penicillin and sometimes I’m cripplingly afraid to go outside. If you know me well, you know I’m a walking bingo card for psychological dysfunction. But, with a little help from our good old friends Sertraline and Chardonnay (a mixture I lovingly refer to as truth serum), Ican shed some light on my unconventional coping mechanisms, and how I’ve survived the past eight years of cerebral chaos.
1: Selective Self-Seeking
Unconventional self-help tip numero uno: sometimes you have to be selfish. If I had a pound for every time someone told me they’d delayed getting help to ‘protect’ a loved one’s concerns, I’d have Zac Efron on a diamond encrusted leash. It’s normal to be reluctant to worry the people you care about, but looking out for yourself is the first step to progress. What makes mental health disorders so incomprehensible to those who have not experienced them, is their enduring nature. You can’t just take a course of pills and feel better, it isn’t a virus that needs to be placed into isolation, and it can’t be surgically removed. When battling addiction, they say admitting you have a problem is the hardest part of recovery, and I think the same can be said for mental health. Admit it to yourself and those around you, and then do everything you can to kick its arse into remission. In the beginning, you need to look at what youneed and what’s going to make you better. Those who truly have your best interests to heart, will accept that and aid you in your journey. Those who don’t, do not care about you and will get crotch-punched later in life (either metaphorically by karma, or literally by me if I ever meet them). Be aware of the things that are good for you mentally, and be selfish in your attempts to surround yourself with them… Just try not to be a massive dick about it.
2: Accepting the Ugly
When I was 15 I had my first panic attack in the middle of my high school gym hall. If you have ever experienced one of these little shits, you’ll know your first thought is that you’re very possibly dying. In between mentally planning who was going to sing ‘Wonderwall’ at my funeral, and who gets my electric pink Stratocaster in my will, I saw my local GP. What I’ve come to realise as I rapidly approach my mid-twenties, is that not once did this doctor ever explain that this could very likely be an ongoing issue (spoiler: it has been). My mentality at the time, fragile as it was, was that it would just be a blip in an otherwise normal adolescence. For nearly eight years I’ve wondered when it’s all going to stop, when I’m going to “get better”. This notion was shattered only a few months ago when my new (and infinitely more likeable) doctor told me “Jen, you’ve had this for eight years now. It’s not going away.” Whilst that might seem harsh to some, it was a revelation to me. Yes, I would love to wake up tomorrow and never have to deal with any of it ever again. I’d give almost anything to not have another panic attack or a day spent crying in the dark. But recent experience suggests that this is something that is always going to be a part of me, and that’s okay. I can and have coped, and so can you. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, but you can take part of it and turn it into a positive. Let your efforts to protect your own wellbeing against all odds become one of your biggest strengths, I promise you’ll come to love yourself for it.
3: Knowing Yourself
By living with mental health disorders, it has become somewhat difficult to differentiate between aspects of my personality, and symptoms of my conditions. Am I a paranoid person, or is the anxiety making me that way? Am I pessimistic or am I just on a downer right now? Will drinking bring out the best or worst in me tonight? Which version of myself am I today? Who am I? What will I be? This is the hardest thing for me to write about, because battling with what’s me and what’s a side effect has brought me upon some of my biggest crises to date. I wish I had an answer to this, but I’m still trying to work it out myself. On the good days, I trust in myself to know who I am. I’m funny, intelligent, kind and sensitive. On the bad I interpret these traits as being annoying, arrogant, selfish and cold. Maybe I am all of these things, or perhaps I’m none of them. What I’ve come to learn is that you can find solace in the uncertainty of it all. I can change, I can grow and I can learn because it’s all a part of who I have the potential to be. I also know the things that will never change: I will never not rap R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ to random strangers in a club; I’ll always eat the blue M&M’s first and so help me god if there’s tequila anywhere near me I will vomit rainbows. What I’m trying to say, is take advantage of what is unique to you today and look forward to learning the rest tomorrow, next week or a year from now.
I’m not a fan of the term ‘recovery’ when it comes to mental health. It implies something going away, never to return, to be forgotten about and rarely discussed. Even if what you’re going through does ‘Die Hard’ it has the potential to return ‘With A Vengeance’ like some sort of ‘Lethal Weapon’… Excellent action movie puns aside, it is completely normal to accept that you may take three steps forward and five steps back. You might be crushing it in the office today, then sobbing on the bathroom floor tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago I was hysterically crying and vomiting in a bucket on my mum’s living room floor, and now I’m writing an article promoting mental health wellbeing. The journey from depression and anxiety to fully functioning human being is kind of like the Trump presidency- unpredictable, daunting and senseless. You can’t call it, so roll with the punches and pat yourself on the back for getting through each day. They say thank heavens for small mercies, and I agree. Applaud yourself for any and all progresses, no matter how minor they might seem. Managed to eat some toast despite not having an appetite all week? Progress. Not self-harming when you’ve had a really bad day? Progress. Telling a friend what you’re going through at the minute? Progress, progress, progress.
5: “You’re going to have to save yourself.”
A depressive, 20-something English graduate quoting Bukowski? “HOW ORIGINAL!” I hear you cry. But spare me your eye rolls, because I have a point to make and you bet your apprehensive arse that it’s a good one. Like so many, I turn to literature on the dark days to bring my spirits up. I even managed to bullshit a degree out of it, but that’s neither here nor there… However, one verse by Charles Bukowski always comes to mind when I’m giving myself a pep-talk:
“Nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won.
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it”
While it might sound daunting, I’ve found a great deal of comfort in knowing it’s all on me. We are all the masters of our own destiny and the engineers to our own happiness. Talk to people, love people, share your life with people, but remember it all starts and ends with you. The strongest people I know are the ones fighting the monsters in their own head. Getting yourself out of bed and seeking help is the most empowering thing you can do. When you feel like your life is getting out of your control, take it back. When you’re crippled with self-doubt, find comfort in the promise of tomorrow. Put one foot in front of the other, and know that whenever you fall there is always a way to get back up. You are both the victim and the hero in your own story. Dammit, you are the story, so start writing.