I write a lot about mental health. I do so for a few reasons: the ever-prescient advice to write what you know; the fact that I’m declared generally unfit for the real world by virtue of illness; sometimes, a feeling that there’s a dearth of information on a particular topic.
But mostly, I write about mental health because I don’t have a lot of it.
I’m chronically mentally ill. I’ve been in treatment for depression for six? seven? years, and experiencing symptoms for a long time before that. I deal with levels of anxiety that are only offset by a carthorse-stunning amount of anxiolytics. I’m on my third species of antidepressant – not third brand, third type of drug. I’ve been therapied into the middle of next week and back.
And I still operate at only about two-thirds of ‘normal’ functionality on a good day.
I write about mental health and mental illness because they take up a lot of my thoughts. My own, clearly: but also my friends’, my role models’, the people in the books I read, the PhD I someday want.
I write about mental illness because I just can’t relate to a lot of the dominant discourse in mental health writing.
For example: I don’t believe that a so-far treatment-resistant set of problems dooms me for life, but nor do I believe that I can snap out of it or work it off with exercise and vitamins.
I can’t relate to the unbearably trite ‘sunshine and showers’ metaphor. There are lots of people for whom depressive episodes come and go a few times in a year, and I can see the value of comparing it to April showers if that’s your experience of your illness. Mine feels like a wet month’s holiday in North Wales, personally. Drizzly. Grey. A neverending trickle of rainy annoyance down the neck of your coat.
I can’t relate to the advice to ‘talk about it’ or ‘start an art journal’ because yes, thank you, I’ve thought of that by now. Lots. After a while you bore yourself and you bore everybody else too. Starting out on the path to recovery from a first, or a first diagnosed, episode of mental illness? Talk about it all you want. Write awful poetry and rip it up and enjoy the catharsis and my god, paint or shout or whatever you need to to get yourself past that first awful hurdle. It’s just that after years, depression doesn’t feel like something you can exorcise from your system. It feels like turning up at a dead-end job.
So maybe, the real reason I write so much about mental illness is this: there isn’t much of a voice for people who’ve long since accepted mental illness as part of our lives. Creating awareness, and offering avenues and outlets to people who need help for the first time, is so important, and it’s probably right that most of the media around these Awareness Days focuses on that. Articles aimed at removing the stigma of mental illness, actions taken to open people’s minds to the possibility that their friends and family may be suffering and may need help – wonderful. Seriously. I’ve written a few.
It’s just that there’s a lot of us around for whom awareness is unavoidable.
So here we are. It’s World Mental Health Day. It’s not just for people who’ve never navigated the choppy waters of seeking therapeutic help before. Rather, it should give the rest of us a kick in the backside to remember to ask for help when we need it, and to try lift ourselves from a routine-shaped rut, and to keep looking outward. Someday we’ll be able to look back at this and laugh.
(And someday, I’ll be able to look back on my Eeyore-like blogposts and laugh, too.)