If I'm being honest with you, I haven't been in great shape lately. Over the summer period, I was feeling better than ever. I was feeling stronger, more capable, more confident. My mental health problems kind of sunk into the background. They were still in the corner of the room and making themselves heard every now and then, but generally they kept out of sight and, more importantly, out of mind.
However, over the past few weeks that has changed pretty dramatically. My stress levels started increasing and my anxiety was returning, primarily due to my imminent return to university. My anxiety stopped hiding in the shadows and started to crawl a little bit closer to the light.
With the growing stress and anxiety, I started to notice changes in my behaviour. I wasn't able to focus properly. I was fidgeting. I was procrastinating. I was overthinking and overanalysing things I had said to other people and things I had done. I was starting to make impulsive, erratic decisions. I knew something was wrong.
I knew I had to get some help before the situation got worse. So I did. I told my family, I told my partner and I told my mentor. We've started taking the right steps to address the problem.
When I start to feel more unstable I find something starts to happen.
I feel trapped by my own experience, like nobody can possibly understand me. I feel ashamed of myself. I lose confidence. I stop laughing and talking. I withdraw.
But I know, logically, that I can't possibly be alone. I may perceive my struggle as unique but it's one that is affecting thousands of Australians right now, as you read this.
There are so many things I wish people knew about me and about what I go through when I'm not doing too well. And although what I go through isn't unique, telling only my story from my own perspective doesn't account for the intricacies of other people's experience. We all have different pain points, coping mechanisms, desires and needs. So I decided to reach out and ask my network: "What is it you wish people knew about your mental illness."
I was amazed by the response. I received so many messages from people willing to share their thoughts and their feelings. There were similarities in the messages but there were also many differences.
Here are five things you should know about mental illness.
1. It requires regular monitoring and treatment
"I thought I'd be healed and then carry on living my life as before. That was definitely not the case..."
Mental health issues require treatment and care. Although the issues may fade into the background and become less relevant at different stages of your life, that does not mean your illness disappears forever. It is something that needs to be monitored regularly. Like a diabetic needs their insulin, or a broken leg needs a cast, mental illness requires regular treatment and monitoring. It's not something you can neglect. It's not something you can wish or will away. It's not something you can park and come back to when your life gets busy. It needs your attention and it needs to be a priority.
2. It can be crippling and exhausting
"It will exhaust you."
Some days you may have achieved absolutely nothing. You may have just stayed in bed. You may have watched TV all day. You may have neglected cleaning the house or cooking a meal. But you find yourself feeling utterly exhausted, like someone has pulled a plug and drained all the energy and vitality from your body.
3. It can be totally paralysing
"It holds you back from doing things... like the other day, I was too anxious to drive to the supermarket."
Some days are better than others. Some days you will wake up feeling like you're ready to tackle the day. You've got this. You're feeling like yourself again. You get through your day unscathed. You may even experience real, tangible happiness.
And then some mornings you'll wake up with dread in your heart. Some days you'll be fragile. Sometimes you will break and that's when you'll need your team, your army, to rally around you and help pick you back up.
4. There is so much guilt
"Then there is the guilt... The guilt of not being happy enough, feeling like everyone around you deserves more, is sick of you and is sick of the same old story..."
Despite all of the campaigns and the charities and the awareness, we still haven't been able to eradicate the shame and the guilt.
The guilt is there when we see the pain on our partner's face when they can't stop us crying or calm us down. The shame is there when we have to tell our employer that we can't come in to work and we can't tell them why.
The guilt is there when we flake on our friends because we just can't keep our defences up and our masks on.
You still feel the guilt even though you've heard "there's nothing to be ashamed of" a thousand times before. You still believe that you should be able to snap out of it, even though you know in your heart it's not that simple.
5. I'm doing the best I can
"I want people to know that I'm trying even if it looks like I'm not..."
You may believe I am wallowing or being dramatic. You may judge the person you think I am. But you cannot know the whole story. You do not know how my night ended or how my morning began. You cannot see the truth.
I did not choose this life. I did not decide, one day, to be this way. I do not want to be this way. I'm just doing my best. I'm really, really trying.
I can't tell everyone's story and I can't capture all the complexities of mental illness. I can only try to write as authentically and honestly as possible and hope that it resonates with, and is useful for, you.
It is crucial that we keep this conversation going. That we talk and we continue talking. This is particularly important for our men, whose voices are still being supressed under the weight of masculinity.
Your story is important. You are important.
This post was first published on The Beauty Breakdown.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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