Mental health is tricky. It’s woven into the fabric of yourself and it is a core part of what makes you whole. When you are healthy, this is not something you ever have to think about, the same as when your body is healthy. When you are unwell or suffering illness, your body throws up very obvious signs that you need to take care of yourself or see a doctor. Your mental health does the same, but because of our social conditioning and the stigma around mental health, it is often difficult to recognise and act on the red flags that appear in our lives.
There are many kinds of mental illness that can affect us. Just like with other kinds of illness, no person is immune. Some people will suffer from conditions more severe than others, but all sufferers deserve the right to have their illness treated. I struggled a lot with the idea that I ‘deserved’ help when I was younger. Now I see managing my mental health in the same way I view managing any other long-term condition.
I have been through some very dark times. As a creative person who makes things, we are taught to wear our torture as a badge. Suffering and art, they’re synonyms, right? I hate this idea, it romanticises being unwell. It lets people who need treatment retreat into their illness, and be defined by the boundaries it puts up in their lives.
My mental illness manifests as your standard brand anxiety. It is so completely woven into who I am that I just thought it was a part of being a human until I was in my early 20’s. While I’m still triggered occasionally, I don’t lapse the same way I used to, and a lapse won’t last as long. This has been through learning what my red flags are, and how to manage myself when I notice them. I am able to do this because I’m no longer drowning in a dark depression hole. If that’s where you are, you need to get out of the hole first, which can take some time and effort, but it’s completely worth it. While it is likely one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, trust me when I say you can do it. You absolutely have the strength to.
I guess in part of where I’ve been, I recognise mental illness very clearly in those close to me. It’s never very far away. I try to be a good friend and share my knowledge of how mental illness works, remind people they are not alone and if necessary give them a gentle nudge in the direction of professional help. Mental health is a personal responsibility, but as a member of a community I can’t let my skills and knowledge sit unused. I can share my story, my experience, my ways of seeing and dealing with my illness. I hope that in some way learning about what I have been through others might be able to make the steps that they need to, and view their illnesses in a way that will help them feel better about the days ahead.
I’ll write about mental health again in the future, but I just wanted to put some initial ideas down here. If you are suffering, please know you do not suffer alone and that there are places and people who can help you.
In case you need them:
(feel free to let me know of any other good resources available)