So today is World Mental Health Day. To be honest I kind of feel like every day should be mental health day. We should be aware and looking after our minds everyday, but unfortunately it’s one of those things we are still so reluctant to address. With that being said I’d like to think we’re getting better.
It’s like whenever have any problems with our mental health we put them in a box, shove them to the back of the shelf, let them gather dust and just hope they go away. They never do. I don’t know about you, but I know I’m certainly guilty of that. I try to ignore the problem until it stops being one. I’m trying to get better at not doing that. Last month I went on a couple of training days through work, and I was lucky enough to become certified in Mental Health First Aid. (Yes believe it or not, it’s a thing!). It’s actually a very good thing. The course taught us how to recognise when someone is experiencing mental health difficulties, or in crisis, and how to respond. It was so insightful, not only did it equip me with the resources to help someone in trouble, it also taught me a lot about my own mental health, and how to help myself.
One thing they echoed throughout the course is that we all have mental health. Just like we have physical health. It’s only when it turns to “mental illness” that we become cagey. There’s a lot of negative connotations associated with the term mental illness isn’t there? It’s like our brains default to all the bad things associated with it. It’s like we are afraid of being labelled. Mental health professionals always use the broken leg analogy to make sense of this. I know we’ve all heard it a million and one times, but it’s so true. If you broke your leg you’d have no hesitation about going to the doctor to get it fixed. So why the reluctance when we’re not feeling the best emotionally? How come we don’t talk about when we’re anxious? or lonely? or depressed? Why is there such a fear?
I didn’t really suffer with my own mental health until I was about 18/19. I mean I had your typical teenage angst, but outside of that I was pretty happy go lucky. I’ve spoken about this a hundred times before, so apologies if I sound like a broken record. Those of you who know me/read my blogs are probably familiar with this story already, but for the day that’s in it I’d like to elaborate more. I experienced a bad bout of depression the year before I started college. My drink was spiked badly the night of my 18th Birthday and it had a pretty bad knock on effect. I collapsed the day after as it never worked it’s way out of my system. It essentially caused a really bad chemical imbalance in my brain. Anyway, I was taken to hospital where they found traces of LSD and a concoction of other stuff, in what I can only assume was some hideous date rape drug. I’m still counting my lucky stars I never wandered away from my friends that night. I naively assumed at he time that afterwards, life would go back to normal. Only it was far from normal.
I was so low after what happened me. I was angry, sad, lonely, confused. I had this emptiness in my chest and stomach that I couldn’t account for. Things were so different. It sounds dramatic, but I no longer felt like the person I was prior to what happened. I felt it had changed everything about me, knocked all my confidence and made me a shadow of my former self. It was decided I would take a year out before starting college. Something which was never even close to being on my radar at the time.
I had to go on a steroid based tablet to restore the chemical balance in my brain. These tablets were not fun let me tell you. A long with putting you back together, they also make you pile on weight. And for an 18 year old girl who was used to being a size 8-10 it might as well have been the end of the world. So there I was. At home, about 2 stone heavier, watching all my friends move on and start college and feeling absolutely terrified of life.
I had never experienced such a lowly feeling before. It’s something my present self now comes to recognise as depression. I was depressed. As grim as it sounds, the only time I felt peace was when I was asleep. I’d dread waking up because that feeling would be there, waiting. Those around me kept telling me it would get better, but what did they know? They weren’t feeling like this. How could they possibly know? I honestly thought I was doomed to feel this way forever. Suddenly things that I had no issues with before were becoming an extreme source of anxiety. For instance, I’d fret about meeting up with a friend for days leading up to it. I’d worry about completely irrational things, like not having anything to say, or them thinking I was stupid. I started worrying about those close to me dying. I worried I’d never be able to go to college, that I’d become this lonely recluse.
So, how did I get better? Tbh, looking back I don’t think those tablets I was on helped at all. I think they had a lot of undesirable side effects that actually proved counter productive to what they were trying to do in the first place. Nonetheless, doctors orders. I was on them for 7 months. Things slowly started improving when I came off them. In April of that year, a good friend asked if I wanted to go on an inter-rail around Europe. The ‘old Jess’ would’ve been jumping for joy. This new Jess? Cowering in fear! However, my family really encouraged me to go, so I did. I mean I was terrified, but it ended up being the best thing I ever did. I completely pushed myself out of my newfound comfort zone and it was the perfect medicine. I came back after the 3 weeks and the change in me was remarkable. I finally started to feel a bit like my old self. My spark was returning. I went to college two months later, joined the gym, made new friends and life slowly returned to ‘normal’.
I’m aware it’s not as ‘miraculous’ for everyone. But the point is, it does get better. It always gets better. People were telling me it would, but in my lowest moments I just couldn’t see the light. But it was there, it just took me a little while to get to it. And that’s okay. If you happen to be reading this and you’re feeling a little lost, or hopeless, please know you’re worth a whole lot more than you’re feeling right now. The voice inside your head is wrong, it will get better.
Looking back almost 7 years on, I am grateful for the experience. As horrible and all as it was at the time. It taught me a lot about myself and about life. We all go through dark times. I’m sorry for the incredibly cliché ball of cheese that’s about to come, but I think it really did make me stronger. I became better equipped to handle the different things life has thrown at me since. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means invincible. I just gained invaluable insight and perspective. I get the odd bad day like everyone else. I struggle with anxiety from time to time, but I do my best to keep a handle on it. I talk when I need to talk, I write when I need to write, and I cry when I need to cry. I just wanted to share this little story in the hopes that it might be a source of comfort to some who are going through a rough time.
Then again, I might be completely self serving and the world wide web might not give a shit. Either way, it’s out there. Look after yourselves.