After hearing incredible stories from two of my colleagues yesterday, I’ve been inspired to share some about my own struggles with my mental health. So here goes.
I’ve spent the last couple of days on Struggle Street.
Out of all the places I’ve ever been, Struggle Street has to be the worst. It’s filled with bad memories, shame, overthinking, horrible hangovers, constant doubt, and self-loathing. Struggle Street isn’t a place I choose to go. It’s a place that just pops up every so often and puts itself in my way, so that I have to turn down it. Sometimes I’m stuck there for days; other times I manage to extract myself within an hour. It’s a rabbit warren, a labyrinth (unfortunately without David Bowie in tights), a prison.
When I’m on Struggle Street, the main things I feel are shame and self-loathing. Along with these come self-doubt, low to non-existent self-worth, the occasional episode of self-harm, and a lot of self-deprecation.
I took this photo earlier today. I’d had a wonderful morning at the beach with Mikey. Look at my face. How happy do I look? Very. Do you know what I was telling myself right before I took that photo? It certainly wasn’t anything nice.
The amount of times I’ve called myself an “idiot” or “fucking stupid” or a “waste of space” over the past 36 hours would be enough to reduce anyone else to tears were I saying it to them. But that’s the thing about high-functioning sufferers of depression and anxiety: we’re high-functioning. We continue to get along with our work, play sport, laugh at social gatherings, be there for others, and generally live life – all while these toxic thoughts, self-loathing, or other harmful behaviours are happening in the backgrounds of our minds.
The moments after this photo were spent avoiding food (trying to feel in control), anger at myself for gaining weight (cheese, man), inspections of the scars on my legs from self-harm and the new scratches that joined them in the past couple of days, and a lot of wondering about why the hell anyone would want to spend time with me.
Did you guess all that from that photo?
I have been living with diagnosed depression and generalised anxiety disorder for most of my life. I think there are three buckets that people who know me fall into:
- Those close to me who have seen very low lows. They’ve seen me freeze before I’m about to enter a social situation, watched me excuse myself from conversations so I can leave the room to have a panic attack, witnessed my face drop just before I cover it up with a smile, walked in on me curled on the floor in the foetal position, heard or been in the presence of me bawling my eyes out, or seen me shaking uncontrollably.
- Those who know about my mental illnesses but haven’t seen a low. I’m pretty open about my mental health, but I rarely give details about how it affects me, and how often I head to Struggle Street. The thing is, I struggle a lot more often than I let on. To this group I might seem like I’m having a bit of a bad day, but then I turn around and crack a joke – so I must really be okay, right? Like I said before, I’m high-functioning.
- Those who actually have no idea. Again: high-functioning.
How do I get away from Struggle Street and make the escape into a better place? It depends where I am and who’s around me, really. It also depends on what sort of dark hole I’m stuck in. I have a bunch of strategies up my sleeve to help slow my mind down, lower my heart rate, make me feel safe and in control, and remember my worth. I use these to varying degrees of success on a regular basis. If you’ve ever stumbled across me sitting and staring into space, chances are I’m counting my breaths, trying to ground myself, or reciting something in my head.
Today? Nothing has helped. I’ve had a couple of conversations with supportive friends, which kept me a little distracted. I’ve tried reconnecting with nature, meditating at the beach, listening to music, spending time with my pets, and cooking, but nothing is snapping me out of it. Writing has been helping, but I’m also anxious about the possible ramifications (there’s that overthinking) of being so open about my struggles. Sometimes I just have to wait for it to pass on its own.
Being on Struggle Street when travelling can be interesting. Travellers are often more emotionally open (think how quickly travel romances can develop) and tend to have a bit more life experience and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve been lucky enough to find good shoulders to lean upon when I’ve needed them. But sometimes all I can do is wait until the storm blows over and try not to completely isolate myself.
It’s a different approach when travelling, because it can be tempting to lock myself in a room and feel miserable. But sometimes I am forced to be outside, be social, and get through. The unexpected can help too.
So, why share all this? Because sometimes I just need people to know what I’m going through. It helps. No matter how outwardly confident someone looks, they can still be struggling in a deep, dark space. No matter how happy I look, behind my big ol’ smile I might be putting myself down.
This isn’t a cry for help. It’s another story for you to add to your library of mental health knowledge. It’s a request for you to think about your words before you utter them and to practice kindness. It’s a reminder to myself that there is strength in numbers and that a society more educated about mental illness is a more supportive one.
So. I am here for you, even if I’m not always here for me. Share your stories, or gain strength from others. I know that Struggle Street will always be there, though my visits may be less frequent at times. It’s part of how my brain is made, so I’ll keep working on my strategies and drawing strength from others.
Until next time. x