My Own Struggles With Mental Health Mean That I’m Not The Best Person to Help You With Yours.
“In the backseat pocket you’ll find a instructions on what to do in an emergency, please take the time to look over these carefully” blah blah blah “In the event of an emergency oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling. Please put on your own mask before helping others, including children…” You know how it goes. And yet, despite what the media tells us about the rampant narcissism of our generation, how many of us will martyr ourselves for those we love and care for?
I’ve written a fair amount in the past about my mental health, on the archived because-I-haven’t-worked-out-how-to-move-it-to-the-new-format-blog, so I don’t want to go into a huge amount of detail. Also because it’s complex and it’s exhausting and I don’t entirely understand everything.
Here's the abridged version; I’ve been treated for depression and anxiety since I…well, my first memory with a professional is 6, but I don’t think it was a regular thing until 9? In my late teens I started experiencing what I now know were manic episodes. It wasn’t until a major depressive episode following a manic episode on my 28th birthday, one in which I finally left any kind of reality into psychosis and physically attacked another person, that I was diagnosed with bi-polar. It’s a diagnosis I still struggle with and ignore because I worry that people will love and respect me a whole lot less if they knew the truth.
My experience with mental health is very rarely like the neat, succinct articles you read where the takeaway is hope - but rather, a constant brutal swing between the deep beautiful knowing that you have some divine part in the world, to waking up in sheets stained with months of sweat, semen and menstrual blood, because the half hour you spend everyday playing the part of a well-adjusted, charismatic, normal person, means you’re too exhausted to do anything other than sleep and dream of those periods when you’ll actually be a “well-adjusted-charismatic-normal-person" again and not just the "pretend-to-get-by" person. It is the most beautiful parts of life punctuated by an ugliness and loneliness that I lack the language to adequately articulate. The physical reality of mental illness is messy, disgusting, smells bad, and isolating. But those are all things for another post.
My illness, in short, well, as short as I can make it, is not one that will pass. It’s not the lightning strike version of anxiety and depression that’ll happen once or twice in a lifetime, it’s not even the high functioning type that I’ve seen posted about on FB. It’s not even a day-by-day thing. It’s literally minute by minute that I monitor myself in order to survive and take care of myself. Which is why I'm the worst person to lean on for support if you’re unwell. I feel like a cunt for writing that. The thing is, I might be doing really well. I might be in an extended period of wellness. Hell, I might think I’m the fucking Queen (If I do think I’m the fucking Queen, get me to a hospital ASAP), but for me, to get to that period of wellness, I’ll be using all my resources; sleep, food, therapy, engaged work and more sleep, to be there. Most of the time (I hate admitting this, because it makes me feel weak and I’m embarrassed by my weakness, even though rationally I know I shouldn’t be and that it’s not really weakness), I’m running at capacity. This means that me actively being there for someone else who is unwell, is not only terrible for them, because I can’t give them what they need and I may even trigger some shit beliefs in them that arise out having mental health issues, but also, because it can make me really, really sick.
It seems logical to reach out to someone that you feel would understand your circumstance, and hey, look, I’ll always be armed with hugs and smiles, and at times I will have a patient ear and a “you can do this”, but unless you’re in my inner-most circle, one that’s comprised of four people outside of my immediate family, then I may not be able to be the on-call response you need. I may not have the patient ear and “you can do it” because I may myself, despite appearances, only have one nostril above water. A drowning person is not the best person to save another drowning person.
There’s a lot to be said for the state of mental health services and that’s probably the realm of people better informed than I, but I believe your best, first port of call, when dealing with mental health, is an excellent GP. And I know they’re really hard to find. But keep looking. They are out there and they are life changing.
If you’re reaching out to mates - and you should, be sure to check in with them, spend time with well people, not talking about mental health crap, but just living life. Again, I feel a bit of trepidation saying this, but dysfunction breeds dysfunction, so being around well and stable people, when you can, is a really good thing. Unless you’re like me and severely introverted and the best company is your cat and Netflix, then do that.
Put your health first, even if it means admitting that you may not be the best person to help someone you have a deep compassion for. Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. It’s sound advice and it may just save more than your life.
Afterthought: This and all blogs and articles are simplifications of very complex and serious issues. This is only a reflection of a very small part of my own experience and your own individual circumstances must be taken into account. If you're struggling call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or if you don't feel safe, get to your nearest emergency department.
Also here is a panda because they bring the good feelings.