I have been mulling over writing another post about my mental health for a while now, because I’ve not been feeling my best. I like to write about mental health, mine or otherwise, because it has always felt cathartic in some way and I like to think that someone out there might glean some comfort or a deepened understanding from reading what I have to say. Multiple times, I’ve caught myself mentally writing and rephrasing monologues about what I’m going through; in my head it sounds empowered, but written down, it just reads as whiny and self-obsessed. It feels almost blasphemous using those words to describe my struggles, but taking them on their most basic face value, it’s true.
I have made a new friend in recent weeks, and I can definitely see the correlation. Not because his presence makes me so happy I’m wondering what on earth I have to be depressed about — in one way, quite the opposite! His take on my mental health and emotional state was the equivalent of holding a magnifying mirror ten centimetres away from my face and forcing me to take a good look; what he had to say about me was so unnervingly accurate and astute that it pissed me off and I dwelled on it for days.
One of my favourite Depression things to do is to moan about the distinct lack of people who care about me or try to understand me — you know the kind of thing: I have no friends, my family don’t care about me, my manager is the worst, etc. One thing I frequently declare is that I have no friends. Whether this is intended as a lie or simply a reflection of how lonely I am is up for debate.
He asked me about what I’m doing at the weekend or something, and I said, “Oh, I’m going out with my mates.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you had any mates.”
This poked the bear a little bit, to be honest with you. Who was he to say I had no mates? What was he trying to imply? That I’m so boring or have such a non-eventful social life that it must be because nobody likes me?
“Of course I have mates,” I replied, indignant.
“Then why are you always telling me you don’t have any?” he asked. That shut me up for about half a second.
“Well, because when I say that, it’s not really what I mean, it’s just an exaggeration.”
“Why would you say something you don’t mean, especially something like that? You obviously have loads of mates, I know you do because you talk about them all the time. You’ve got your work friends, the girls from school, Claire, Caitlin, that big group from uni.”
“I haven’t seen half of them in ages, though.”
“Because you need to arrange things.”
“Not from what I’ve seen!”
“I’ve been speaking to a girl I lived with at uni, actually,” I argued. “We were talking about meeting up one weekend.”
“Oh, cool,” he said. “When?”
“We, er… we didn’t actually settle on a date,” I admitted.
“Because it’s hard!” I said. “We have jobs, social lives, other commitments-”
“You have excuses,” he said and of course, he was right. So I grabbed my phone, tapped out a message and a minute later, I had a date set to drive down to see my old best mate from university who I haven’t seen in three years. We’d been saying for ages We need to meet up! We need to meet up! but had never actually arranged anything. One of us had to be the one to bite the bullet so I finally did.
We’ve spoken quite a lot about my current mental health state, because honestly, it’s pretty plain to see. I’m finding myself quite stressed out, not sleeping as well as I’d like, overeating, breaking out, lacking in energy and – worst – swatting away intrusive, harming thoughts like they’re coming at me in a batting cage. It’s extremely easy, when your mental health is suffering, to believe the voices telling you that nobody understands and nobody cares, but my friend does understand — more so than I sometimes think he does! And I know this because of his approach.
Nobody ever really tells me it straight. My mum has tried in the past, but I’ve struggled to understand her motive; where she’s coming from with this method of tough love. Each time, I’ve never listened and have always been caught up in the whirlwind of trauma and emotions I was caught up in, which is understandable because a young person dealing the things I’ve gone through is up for a tough time of it.
Until now, I’ve always been of the belief that softly is the way to go in these instances. When I was in the direst need of support, I have always refused a helping hand to hold and insisted that I needed time to do things my way and on my own terms. When it came to getting myself medicated and accessing therapy, I’ve always reiterated that it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with and cannot be rushed; would be more successful if I come to it with the correct attitude. My mum has told me that this, standing back and letting the chips fall, was particularly difficult when I was away studying, because she thought if she didn’t intervene soon, it would be too late and her phone would eventually ring in the middle of the night to deliver the worst news.
My friend disagrees. Not in a “I’m going to say whatever is on my mind just to be a dick” kind of way; more of a “I don’t owe you anything but honesty” kind of way.
He’s told me about his own experiences with emotional and mental battles, and his attitude was astonishingly similar to my own. Only looking on as a third person, I could see how flawed it was. I could see myself sitting in my room feeling sorry for myself, wondering why nobody wanted to meet up with me but never reaching out to other people because “they’d only say no anyway”. I could see myself sitting in large groups of people who had all invited me out for the pleasure of my company, worrying to myself that I was asked along out of pity and convincing myself that their friendship is no more than an elaborate five-year-long prank at my expense. I could see myself spending time with others, voicing only negative comments, negative fortune-telling about my day or week or year, self-deprecating humour that comes across as uncomfortable and exaggerated confidence/obnoxiousness used as a barrier to stop people crossing over to me.
I am not ashamed of my mental health, but at the same time, I am not proud of it. Nor should I be. It feels a bit wrong saying those words, like someone is going to jump down my throat for shaming mental health sufferers, but that is not at all what I’m saying. I’m certain that all of us who have had experience with struggles with mental health can agree that these experiences are not good, nor are they desirable. My depression and anxiety have been very long term things for me, and most likely they will continue to be for decades to come; I have made my peace with that, but simultaneously I shouldn’t let these things take up too much space in the little camp they have set up.
A lot of what my friend has said has made me reconsider how I view myself. I always seem to have this notion that people only spend time with me out of pity or loyalty due to long-standing friendship — yet here is a new person who I have only known for a matter of weeks who is continually keeping in touch and asking to meet up and chat and do whatever else. This person owes me nothing.
I have let myself become complacent. I don’t want to be a victim to my mental health anymore. I don’t want to let that become a dominant part of my personality. I don’t want to talk about myself in a way which I would never dream of talking about somebody else. I don’t want to worry about how the world sees me. I don’t want to sit waiting for the good to find me.
I want to do me. I want to do what I want to do, what makes me happy. I want to focus on the positive things, because everything I need is right there — I just need to chase it. I want to be kind. I want to try my best to make myself happy.
All these things are in my power; it’s just taken me this long to see it.