World Mental Health Day: What a difference a year makes
Recovery isn’t linear
A year ago I made one of the best decisions of my life – I wrote an article detailing the true extent of my mental health struggles.
At the time I wrote the article I was lost. I was drinking less than I had been but still regularly blacking out and doing stupid things as a result of alcohol. My mental state, although better, was far from healthy.
Writing about what I had been through, and was going through, acted as therapy. It allowed me to explain myself to those around me without enduring the anxiety of doing it face-to-face.
Knowing that once I released my thoughts and experiences into the world, there was no going back was surprisingly freeing. It meant that I could no longer conceal my demons and that I could finally talk about my mental health openly and without fear.
Since writing the article, a lot has happened and my mental health has been far from stable. However, I can now confidently say that I've never been in a better place.
So here's my story of the last 365 days.
I hit an all-time low less than three months after publishing the article. I'd ridden the wave of positivity and new-found confidence in the time directly afterwards but soon I was back in the cycle of drinking to mask my feelings.
It was February 3rd 2018 and I had been on a night out. I had followed my usual pattern of saying I would "take it easy" and then passing out in a bar on West Street. This time, however, my night ended in A&E.
I fell out of a taxi and hit my head on a curb. In my drunken state I didn't feel the pain but the next day woke up with the most unbearable pain and bruises all over my body. I couldn't move my hand and kept feeling faint. That evening my friend took me to A&E where I was told I had concussion and had bruised all the bones in my hand.
In the grand scheme of things, my injuries were minor. I hadn't broken any bones and I got over the concussion within a few days. The real injury, however, was to my mental health.
I remember laying in bed two days later, crying after having my first panic attack in three months, and considering reverting to old habits of social exclusion and calorie restriction. I needed control back in my life and these options felt familiar and safe.
I thought about the articles I was writing on mental health and felt like a hypocrite. Why could I write about self-care and recovery but not implement my own advice?
Being completely honest, I nearly gave up. I almost threw in the towel and accepted that happiness could only ever be a short-term thing for me. I wasn't meant to live a happy life, so what was the point of even trying anymore?
But, in a rare moment of optimism, I decided to give happiness one more try. If not for me, for my family, friends and boyfriend who have supported me more than they will ever realise.
Instead of reaching out for professional help this time, I did something that for me required far more confidence. I spoke to the people closest to me and told them I wasn't OK.
Relapsing is a tricky topic and one that is hugely under-discussed. Recovery is one thing, but slipping back into the clutches of mental illness is still stigmatised.
The pressure to recover and then be perfectly fine for the rest of your life is very real with regard to mental health. Society expects recovery to be linear and without the additional problems that rear their heads along the way.
However, recovery is not one straight line from sad to happy and the narrative perpetuating this is hugely damaging.
Returning to my friends and family in the pits of despair after a few months of telling them I was "recovered" and "happy" was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Explaining that I wasn't feeling OK anymore felt like letting them down. I'd got their hopes up and now I was disappointing them. Of course this wasn't their perspective, but that's how my depressed and anxious mind distorted the situation.
The help, support and advice I received from those closest to me was invaluable. They told me to carry on writing, to say "yes" to new opportunities and not let my depression and anxiety hold me back any longer.
They made me realise that I'd worked too hard on my mental health to let it fall apart.
Where am I now?
Things have changed a lot in the past year.
I've gone from being recovered and relapsing, to recovered and stable. I still have down days and weeks, but I know how to manage them now.
I'm writing and spreading the word about mental health but not feeling hypocritical when I can't take my own advice.
Through dealing with my problems and being open about them, I now have the confidence to do so many more things.
This time last year, if you'd have told me I would be running campaigns on mental health and writing about it so candidly, quite honestly, I'd have laughed in your face because confidence was such an alien concept to me. I struggled to speak to people without the aid of alcohol a year ago and now I'm pretty much teetotal.
World Mental Health Day is a hugely important opportunity to open up the conversation surrounding mental health. It gives people who are struggling a platform to voice their issues and start a conversation.
Mental health awareness, however, should be something that is talked about everyday.
I hope that through opening up about my struggles over the past year I can raise the profile of mental health, relapsing and recovery in a way that inspires people to speak openly about their mental health 365 days a year.
Mental illness is one of the most pressing problems facing us today and if we're ever going to improve the situation, we need to talk about it.