Like many others, I spent the last week battling a terrible bout of the flu. My housemate got sick a few days earlier, and I immediately launched myself into a Florence Nightingale role, complete with endless cups of tea, company on the couch, and an endless supply of painkillers. She began feeling better on Wednesday, which is exactly when my symptoms started. The irony is not lost on me.
The bout of illness hit hard and suddenly. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, my brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton wool, and my entire body was aching. I lost all my appetite, which is truly rare for me, and I existed mainly on honey-drenched cups of tea and packets of Capri Sun.
Initially, I attempted to work through this illness. I’m a freelance writer, so I can’t just call in sick and rest easily knowing a paycheck is still on the way. But it quickly became clear that I was incapable of producing anything of quality in this state. I spent about an hour on the same introduction, and it ended up making absolutely no sense.
My housemate urged me to go and rest, and shockingly, I followed her advice. I tucked myself in bed with episodes of ‘Love is Blind’ and my comfiest sweatpants. The days that followed were pretty much the same, as I binged TV shows, finished two books, and mourned what it felt like to successfully breathe through my nose.
I completely gave in to my illness, and I’m so thankful for that. Too often, I’ve pushed through an illness and worked despite my raging fever or swollen tonsils - thank god, those have been removed! But I’ve learned that it truly only prolongs my illness, whereas entering “Full Sloth Mode” seems to wrap it up far more quickly. I also work in a field where I can’t operate at anything less than 80%, as the proof is truly in the pudding, namely the terrible copy I produce.
So I spent almost five days horizontal, and today I’m finally returning to the real world. I took care of my physical health and gave myself compassion throughout this, and it was worth it. But now I’m left wondering why I never manage to do this for my mental health?
The last year has been really difficult for my mental health, to put it lightly. I entered a depressive episode that I couldn’t quite shake, and after returning to therapy, I was diagnosed with a major depressive episode, alongside my existing borderline personality disorder. I’ve been doing ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and I’ve been put on antidepressants.
Adjusting to the medication has been a rollercoaster of its own, with intense mood swings, interrupted sleep, and near-constant nausea throughout.
I’ve isolated myself a lot throughout this, and it’s reached a point where I don’t even know how to reach out to some of the people I left on read.
I also left my job of five years and went freelance this year - excellent timing, I know.
So to conclude, it’s been a turbulent time, and you can say that my mind has also been unwell recently. Yet I lacked all of the compassion I gave myself for this physical illness. I pushed myself to work, even when I’d spend hours struggling and crying behind my laptop. I lacked all compassion, berating myself for my lack of productivity and stressing about finances constantly. I continuously told myself that I was being lazy. I didn’t care for myself as I should have.
It’s only now that I contrast this with this recent bout of the flu, that I realise just how terribly I have treated myself throughout this period.
Imagine if we treated our mental health like we do our physical health. If waking up feeling depressed was the equivalent to waking up with a stuffed nose. You take things easier, you feel comfortable cancelling plans with a friend, you express this to someone and they provide you with sympathy.
On the days when our mental health symptoms are plaguing us, we’re not operating at 100%, or even 90%, and yet we force ourselves to persist. We don’t give ourselves any compassion, and we don’t expect anyone else to either.
We still treat physical health and mental health as completely separate entities, despite how interlinked they actually are. When I feel depressed, I feel it in the lethargy in my limbs, I feel it in the heaviness in my chest, an ache I can’t treat with Paracetamol. When I feel anxious, my pulse is racing, my body is stiff, my vision is blurred. When I’m suffering from the flu or another physical ailment, I begin to feel my depression more clearly, I feel vulnerable and lonely.
The two aren’t as separated as one would think, and yet we treat them as if they’re worlds apart. But the same treatments can be used. While Paracetamol won’t help the pain of depression, a day spent taking it easier might, some fresh air would certainly help, and talking to a doctor can be a great way to get help.
I’m on antidepressants and people are quick to ask for how long I’ll be on them, or if they’re really necessary, yet no one asks this of the cholesterol medicine I’ve been taking for years now. Both are inherited disorders, deep within my DNA, and yet only one of them gets taken seriously.
From this bout of the flu, I’ve learned the joy of breathing through both nasal passages and that Capri Suns are not just for children. I’ve also learned that compassion makes the suffering easier, and I want to bottle up this compassion for when my mental health needs it as well. I’ll have sick days for my depression just like I would for my flu, as it deserves the same amount of respect and rest. I won’t expect myself to work as normal when my mind is unwell, just like I wouldn’t when my body is unwell.
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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