The In-between - Mental health matters.
It’s been one of those weeks where the best laid plans go awry. Where the alarm goes off and I roll over instead of getting up, trying desperately to catch more sleep before it drifts away from me again; where I begin working on one task only for something more urgent to crop up and take me away from it, my attempted productivity depleted and before I know it, the day is done, that first task is still unfinished and the to-do list has doubled; where a visit to the toy shop with my son leads to a LEGO obsession that has us spending hours together building Harry Potter creations and then playing with them - hours I wouldn’t trade for anything because our time together of late has been filled with frustration and tears, and these moments where it’s peaceful are glorious.
If I sit down and allow myself to mull it over, to really reflect on what has come and gone, the truth is clear. The past six months have been hard. The kind of hard that leaves me weary and tired down to my bones. Mental illness is like that. Turn on a dime and it feels like the walls are crumbling down, everything closing in around you. For years now I’ve lived with this inside me - the ups and downs of feeling like I’m in control versus feeling it spiralling downwards. Through hours of therapy in my psychiatrist’s office, learning to manage the trauma that led to PTSD and the anxieties that see me riddled with fears that feel so overwhelming, to the everyday realities of putting into practise what I learned in his office and through my extensive reading into the issues, a self-education that was necessary to keep me functioning.
Sometimes I’m so well that I forget for a moment that there was a time when I wasn’t.
Then these moments come. I don’t expect them, yet perhaps I should. They build, slowly and unobtrusively, one moment, one pressure, then another, and another, until the pile has grown so tall, rickety in their stack, my haphazard attempt to manage them all shifting from capable and competent, to just managing the load. Until one too many things top the pile and it fractures, the base spiralling out from beneath it all and the load scattering, spreading thin, pieces breaking in the fall. In my rush to try and manage it, I flounder, scrabbling to collect all the pieces and never quite managing to gather up the full load.
The one advantage to having lived so many years amidst this mental illness is that now I know how to take care of myself when this happens. I know to be gentle with my self-talk instead of berating myself for my inability to function effectively some days. I know to rest where I can, to prioritise self-care and take some time to just exist without allowing external pressures to make me panic. I know what healthy functioning looks like now, and even if I don’t always reach out and communicate to people in time to stop the fall, I know who I can reach for when I need someone to help me. I know that it will pass with time and effort, that small steps will see me reaching sunlight again, my pile bolstered by the many supports that surround me.
I know that in time I will learn how to manage the load before it topples. For now, I will continue to be gentle, to allow my mind the rest it needs, and slowly but surely, I will put in place the structures that will allow me to regain my competence and control. After all, when you know mental illness, you also know it’s opposite, and that’s what mental health is like.