Nobody wants to be defined by their mental illness. I certainly don’t! But when a persons psychological well-being has dropped to the lowest states and a person remains mentally and emotionally unwell for prolonged periods, affecting every moment of every day, sometimes it’s as if your illness or disorder is all that you are.
I can relate.
Helping others manage their mental health is my primary interest and purpose for creating this website. It’s the reason I sought education and training in nutrition, counselling, mindfulness and energy healing and the reason I study psychology. It’s the reason I sign up to workshops that are supposed to change your life and read spiritual, philosophical and psychology orientated books.
And mental illness is the reason I don’t always manage to create a blog post twice a month and why – though I was very keen to begin working in complementary therapies – I have been unable to start properly launching a complementary therapies business. Instead I just help out friends and family when I can with whatever issue my training and knowledge allows me to assist with.
I’ve noticed that people seem to trust me and come to me for guidance. They always have ever since I was young and it’s why I’ve wondered, if there’s such a thing as a life purpose, that mine may have something to do with taking my role as a guide seriously.
At school, when I was selected to take counselling training, the deputy head explained that I was being selected because I had a lot of problems and I understand what it’s like. I was just 12 years old, but what she meant was I understand suffering. I completely get suffering, because right from a young age I’d started to experience it at tremendous levels and yet my worst problems back then were feeling rejected by my peers and starting to pick out everything I hated about the way society works.
I like that people trust me enough to come to me with their issues, asking for advice or taking the opportunity to vent. Much of this occurs online, messages landing in one of my inboxes unexpectedly and every single time, as soon as I am ready to face the inbox, I draw in the persons words and my brain begins to work on overdrive, determined to deliver some sort of support that actually works!
It’s a relief for me to feel like there is at least one thing that I do sometimes that seems to be meaningful enough that I can’t consider my existence entirely useless!
There used to be a time I expressed how much I was struggling and what kind of life I lived day to day on social media. Every time it was a desperate plea for support and for people to understand just how badly I need their understanding and support before I get to my lowest states, where I’d be so unwell I’m beyond help because I can’t even face or talk to people.
Now I try to pretend that I’m normal and not still bang smack on the bottom rungs of the ladder of recovery, failing to pull myself up to the next rungs because it appears the rungs have fallen off somewhere along the way. It’s like there’s this huge hole in my ladder, stretching twenty feet high, and I’m not going to make my way up to the next available rung unless I strengthen all the right muscles and learn to shimmy my way up.
Pretending to be normal is risky business when your only hope of putting food on the table is applying for welfare because you couldn’t possibly hold down a normal job and there are people out there who most certainly want to ruin your life. You can’t be seen to be normal for even a minute in front of the wrong person.
Admitting that I’m not normal and not okay doesn’t seem like a smart move for my blog. I’m sure I’m supposed to be selling myself as someone who used to be at rock bottom, but then who figured out all the lifesaving tricks and secrets required to become a success story. I see those ads on Facebook all of the time.
One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you are going through now and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.
Honesty seems to be serving me well so far throughout my life and maybe I can see why some people come to me, instead of the success story. I don’t want to talk to one of those shiny, polished success stories right now either. They may remember what it’s like to struggle and they may empathise to a degree but they can’t always meet me where I’m at which is largely unsuccessful.
Honesty is important because remembering lies and keeping a false story straight is a lot more effort than I am mentally able to commit to. And I would agree with Dr. Jordan Peterson (12 Rules For Life: An Antidote for Chaos) that dishonesty makes you feel bad.
Honestly, I can’t believe people are even stopping to read these blogs. Nobody knows who I am and yet here you are. And you are absolutely amazing as far as I’m concerned. Thank you for reading.
And honestly, I’m an absolute mess at the best of times, trying to figure out how to make up for my lost late teens and twenties and not continue to drift through life aimlessly. I’m 31 years old and deeply concerned for the fact I don’t have it all together and convinced it means I can kiss goodbye to any idea of a career, soul-enriching relationships and repairing my family unit to include a man, some more dogs and more kids.
I’m such a mess at the best of times that I find myself unable to do the things I need to do to put myself in a healthier state where I may have some sort of miraculous breakthrough moment. I’m such a mess that I don’t show up to best friends birthday parties and skip half my aunts wedding. I’m the one who will plan a weekend break, paying for travel, a room and tickets to see a band and then stay at home. Music is one my biggest passions and even tickets to see one of my heroes playing live cannot magically defeat anxiety, depression, agoraphobia and the effects of trauma.
What the hell do you do when illness is kicking your ass that much, but you don’t really want to give up? What do you do when deep down you don’t really want to die or to continue to suffer and you’re actually hoping for things to turn around and get better one day?
I think some of us are completely unresponsive to the messages from polished self-help coaches and “how to” guides, because that’s not at all what we need. We’re not stupid! And if we’ve already engulfed masses of self-help guides and information on how to be happy and healthy, or how to be successful, or how to cope with serious mental illness the issue is not really always that we don’t know what to do. We just simply can’t do it for whatever reason.
Sometimes what we really need and what is often running on short supply for most of us is an active listener. Counselling and psychotherapies aren’t advice-giving professions for good reason. We actually don’t often need coaches and guides telling us what to do, trying to solve our problems for us and giving us a sense of direction because part of being a successful, functional adult is doing these things for yourself.
We often just need someone we can bounce our thoughts and feelings off. We need a listener, so we can hear ourselves talk and maybe hear ourselves foolishly rationalising the irrational, or making mountains out of molehills, or being our own worst enemies. We need to express ourselves so we can realise ourselves.
And so, when you don’t have that person – the supportive friend or family member, the counsellor or the psychologist – the only thing you can do is become that person for yourself.
If nobody is going to listen to you, you need to listen to yourself. In fact, it might even be unrealistic to expect others to listen to you if you’re not already doing so.
It’s said that many of the most successful people in the world keep a journal. A journal is a safe space for an individual to pour their thoughts and feelings out onto paper without the patronising or well-meaning interruptions of somebody trying to help and thus getting in the way of your process of problem solving for yourself.
As long as you can think, you are perfectly able to hold an entire dialogue with yourself completely in your mind, and as long as you can talk, you are able to talk to yourself. Maybe you’d prefer to do it in a mirror. It might sound completely crazy, the notion of airing your complaints and pain to yourself as you’re obviously doing a lot of that already, but are you really listening when you do so, or are you getting so carried away in complaint that you’re not pausing to reflect?
Mindfulness of thought and emotion, as in observing your thoughts and emotions as they arise is a good technique to use to help you trace each negative thought and it’s resulting emotion back to the unhelpful belief that you have. Hearing yourself (or reading back to yourself) explaining a problem that you have can help you identify solutions and the real deeper issues behind something.
To refer back to Jordan Peterson again and his book 12 Rules for Life, we must treat ourselves as someone we are responsible for helping. Whether you respect Peterson and his book or not, and whether you fully understand this fundamental truth or not, unless we have completely diminished capacity for responsibility, we are ultimately responsible for ourselves no matter who we have around us in our lives.
I may be the human embodiment of the tremendously unsuccessful, defeated lobster, but I haven’t forgotten that management of my illness and lies with me first. I am responsible for being my own friend and my own caretaker especially where there is nobody else to do it, but even when there is support around. I am responsible for seeking help, accepting help and taking action.
I am responsible for listening to myself, non-critically and non-judgmentally and sitting with my problems until I figure out how I’m going to solve them. As long as I dare to wait for someone else or something outside of myself to fix the turmoil within, I risk being a state of waiting to be rescued forever.