Tuesday, 10 October 2017

My Mental Health Journey Thus Far

I never thought that I would still be alive at this age. In fact, there was a point when I believed that I wouldn't see my 22nd birthday. But here I am today and it has been a long and tough journey.

My struggle with depression started during my final years of high school. It was as though a switch was flicked on; at the time the difference between 'before' and 'after' was so distinct. I never fully understood why or what had changed within. But I was changed.

It will get better once I finish high school.
It will get better once I get into university.
It will get better once I go on exchange.
It will get better once I finish university.
It will get better once I get an internship.
It will get better once I get a job.
It will get better once I .....

My constant pursuit of the next thing was tiring and, to be frank, futile. I thought that achieving X would drastically change things and how I felt. Would it be surprising to hear that things never completely changed? Sure there were some things that helped, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn't make a significant difference.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not, remember that what you have was once among the things you only hoped for.
To keep a very very long story short, I had high functioning depression. I did what needed to be done and soldiered on. Get out of bed, go to work/uni, go study. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I simply existed.

At some stage in my depression I had a lightbulb moment - did I want to live or did I want to die? If it was the latter then I needed to just get it over and done with. But I was too scared to kill myself. I realised that I wanted to live. I wanted to live properly, not just a half-assed miserable life. I came to the confronting realisation that if I wanted the former then I needed to do something about it. It was so much easier to stay miserable than to do anything to change the situation. Trying to battle the constant internal admonishment 'well life is always going to be shit so why do anything when it will continue to be shit' was difficult. I filled journal after journal with said thoughts, all of which live in the depths of my wardrobe now.

But then I snapped my fingers and all my struggles went away.


I wish. Ha.

Mindfulness is such a buzz and overused word these days. Yet, it is one of the things that has helped me the most on my mental health journey. Somewhere along the way, I also adopted the notion associated with self-love, that you should treat yourself the way you would treat a friend, a little too seriously. This is why I frequently talk to myself in my head, especially when my mind becomes a jumbled mess. My inner voice is usually my own personal cheerleader. It was also liberating to discover that it is okay to feel the 'bad' emotions; the key is to acknowledge the emotion and then let it go.

Some resources that have been an immense help have been:

  • Buddhist Society of WA - I adore the talks and have listened to hours and hours of them. There have been so many nights when I was distressed and fell asleep to one of the talks. 
  • Tiny Buddha - this site always seems to publish articles that mysteriously align with my feelings at that moment. 
  • Tumblr/Reddit- bit random, I know! There was comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my struggles; I found it so hard to find people in real life who cared/stayed or acknowledged my struggles. 

Wanting to get better involves making a conscious choice every day, every hour, every minute. Every waking breath. No one can make that choice for you. As harsh as it may sound, it isn't anyone's job to help you or care. Psychologists/psychiatrists' influence also only goes so far. They prepare the ingredients but how you use those ingredients is wholly up to you.

It has been a very long journey for me - 6 years - and one that has no end. My steps forward have been so minute that I never noticed the gradual changes and improvements in my mental health. However, the cumulative steps have brought me to a place that is world's away to where I was before. I face setbacks and 2016 was the year of setbacks. But I have come to realise that it isn't about being "cured". Rather, it is about having the strength to continue to fight the internal battle. More importantly, it is about having hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Won't change a thing.
Just because you find that life's not fair, it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it's OK.
And that's not right.
And if it's not right, you have to put it right.
Naughty - Matilda

Today is World Mental Health Day (10 October) and I have decided to share my mental health journey. Obviously, this post is quite personal. But I hope that by sharing my struggles, this helps reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. If you ever need someone to vent to/listen, just send me an email. Any time.

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