I think one of the biggest issues we have in our discussions about mental health and mental illness is that we force them to exist in paradoxes. You’re either depressed or you’re happy. You’re anxious or you’re calm. You hate yourself or you love yourself.
But the truth is that nothing fits in such a neat box. I can be suffering through heavy depression and yet laugh at jokes, have an hour spent enjoying myself. I can think everyone hates me and yet at the same time, I feel like I’m being wronged by all and not appreciated as I should be.
Life is never as simple as just a label. That has been one of my greatest struggles in opening up about my mental illness. How would people believe that my depression drives me to hurt myself, when I can be smiling and laughing at a party just hours before? How would people understand that my eating disorder forces me to starve myself when I preach self-love and compassion to everyone around me?
They wouldn’t, at least that’s what I believed for so long.
But as I opened up, I discovered that a lot of people might not understand, but they wanted to understand, and sometimes that has to be enough. They were willing to recognise that I could be happy and sad, that I could be lonely and seek alone time.
Now I’m asking for their understanding once again, as I try to explain that my mental health is the best and worst it has ever been.
It’s not that my depression ‘came back’, as it never really left. Rather it got so much stronger, as if it had secretly been working out like crazy and suddenly knew how to effectively overpower me.
Previously, my depression had resulted from minor events in my day. I have borderline personality disorder, which means that I feel things far more heavily, I have an unstable sense of self, and I struggle a lot with the relationships in my life. My depression used to be triggered by things like thinking someone was angry at me, messing up something, getting paranoid, or feeling abandoned.
But suddenly my depression was just there when I woke up. I was doing everything ‘right’, like I had learned in therapy after being diagnosed with BPD. I was taking time for myself, barely drinking alcohol, focusing on fewer relationships and learning to communicate. I had removed all triggering stimuli from my life and yet my depression wouldn’t budge.
Before I had experienced mood swings, so I’d be depressed for a few hours and then joyful and then furious and then back to depressed. But now I was just depressed.
I got back into therapy and my new therapist believed I was in a depressive episode. She felt that it was alongside my BPD, rather than stemming from it specifically. Sometimes there aren’t any lifestyle factors for such things, I just lacked the brain chemicals I needed, I was simply predisposed to depression.
So I started a new course of therapy, focusing on Acceptance Commitment Therapy this time, and I recently was put on antidepressants for the first time in years.
Things look pretty bad, and naturally a lot of my friends and family were extremely concerned. They wanted to know why things were going so badly, I didn’t have an answer, as in many ways, my mental health is the best it has ever been.
After being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I was forced to recognise that I didn’t know myself. Not just in the cute who-even-am-I-dilemma of your twenties, but in the fact that every trait of mine turned out to be a reflection of others or an attempt to avoid abandonment. I had built myself into something I thought would love and not reject, down to my flaws and quirks. Now I had to question everything.
Plus, a long-term relationship ended, and I had to learn who I was single, when I didn’t have a partner to anchor my life around.
It was a lot of soulsearching, and I finally got to meet myself. I learned that I love being single and can’t imagine trading it for anyone. I learned that I love quiet evenings at home, that drinking doesn’t work well for me, that I’m quieter than I expected, that I’m a person fuelled by passion, and so much more. I built a life that I could love, one that involved watching TV shows with my roommate, going for walks every day, travelling at my own pace, and writing about everything.
I am in a place in my life where I have a good grip on who I am, and I’ve built a routine that works for me. So why I am struggling with depression?
I don’t know. I guess it feels like my mental healh is good but I’m struggling with mental illness. I think it goes to show that you can be doing everything right, putting yourself in healthy situations, and yet still be struggling with things like depression or anxiety.
I’m doing really well and I’m also not doing great a lot of the time. Both of these things are true, and so I need to learn to adapt to each of these days. When I feel good, I’ll sit behind my desk and work, I’ll go and see friends, I’ll tackle tasks like reorganising my entire cupboard. When I feel really bad, I’ll treat myself with compassion, I’ll rest, I’ll read a book, I’ll order food, I’ll look after myself.
The path from mental illness to recovery isn’t as simple as it seems, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all or easy label. There are days when you laugh at a stupid meme, and there are days when you cry at nothing at all. However you’re feeling is the truth, but not your only truth. You can be doing well and terrible, and that’s simply how you’re doing.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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