Today is World Mental Health Day.
I was going to repost a previously written blog, but instead I felt a strong urge to write to you today, if you are in despair.
I know how you feel.
I have been you. I have been terrified to leave the house. I have felt I had no control over my own body. I have felt my brain was alien and unpredictable and I could no longer rely on it to tell me the truth.
I know what it is like to wake in the night and be consumed with fear, to be able to hear blood pumping around my body, to know the sound deafening in my ears.
I have wanted to hide, and felt shame. I have not known who I was or how to go on. I have wanted to disappear, in every way possible because carrying on felt too hard, too difficult, too painful, too unpredictable.
I know how you feel.
I know the despair that rises up to meet you in the morning and settles on you like a fog as you finally manage to get to sleep.
And I want to tell you. Don’t give up. Please.
It is possible to get better.
I know because I have.
It has been a complicated route to this new peace, and along the way there have been delays, false starts and wrong turnings.
I am not going to pretend to you it has been easy.
Because you already know that isn’t true.
I know how hard you are working, and how you long to feel differently. I know you wish it was as easy as ‘snapping out of it’, or ‘pulling yourself together’.
If only, hey?
My path to peace has involved every aspect of my being. I could not just treat the chemical imbalance with drugs (which I have) without looking at the environmental aspects of my life. There would be no point going to therapy to talk through and understand the mindsets and patterns of behaviour that have made me ill (which I have) without thinking about my home life and the kind of community (open, vulnerable, supportive) I want to be a part of.
We are not just flesh and blood, we are also spirit and soul. We are not just hormones and synapses, we are also heart and home. And we need to attend to our whole self.
This takes time.
It is okay for it to take time.
Let me encourage you. As you inch, step by step, hour by hour, to a greater understanding, as you continue to walk forwards, things will get easier.
If you would have told me a five years ago, or even one year ago, I would be feeling as I do now, with more energy and peace and hope, I would have struggled to believe you, because I felt so bad for so long. I know the despair, I know how all encompassing it can feel. But please, hear me, you can get better.
Somewhere in the mix of anti-depressants and therapeutic practices, long walks at the river and lots of rest, I have found myself again.
And this me I have discovered is at peace. I know who I am and what I should be doing with my time. I am not constantly confused or distracted by the other, well-meaning, voices who have good suggestions. I do not feel the need to appease everyone else, I have found good boundaries that keep me safe and enable me to live well. I can enjoy time with friends and adventures and hard work. And I know when to get an early night, cut back on the caffeine and spend time in my garden.
I trust myself to know what I need to remain well.
And I have a husband and friends who will give me the nod if I am filling my life too full and be brave enough to lovingly suggest I might need to slow down, if they can see stress building.
It is not just me who has been learning. We learn best together.
And the unexpected, particularly amazing, thing about recovery (because, like an addict I know this is a life long journey into health I am walking, not a quick fix) is the gifts that you find along the way. Not gifts for yourself – feeling well is good enough – but gifts for others.
Your story, your experience, might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. We need each other because this is a complicated beast we are fighting and we all bring something unique to the battle.
Our stories are our weapons, gifts that slay despair.
But today, for now, don’t worry about fighting, and don’t worry about trying to make yourself better. Don’t strive, that won’t help.
Let my story start to fight your despair
And your part today: keep putting one foot in front of the other and know you are not alone. Don’t give up, hear the truth – it is possible to get better.
Take it from one who knows.