Over the past five years I’ve written many words on mental illness; its effects, the shadow it’s cast over the last decade of my life. I’ve written about my own years learning to breathe and struggling for air. And yet most of the time I have written in the past tense; I have written of past pain, relapses over and sanity restored. Today, for this Mental Health Awareness Week, I write in the present tense. It hurts; it’s the familiar pain that sits at the base of the neck. In the place where I sing and speak from; there is an ache. At times it feels cruel that the pain sits where my purpose feels fulfilled, but it serves as a reminder that this too shall pass and when it does; I have a job to do. These things are for another day, however. Today is heavy; with unspoken pain and impossibly high demands which argue that I should be better by now. These thoughts are my own; many before have told me that I’m my own worst enemy. Then there are the symptoms that are less voiced. The unwanted and unbidden images which flash through the mind, splitting the darkness like lightning. The overwhelming exhaustion which begs for bed within minutes of consciousness. An anxious foreboding which cannot be quietened. And the less dramatic expressions of brain-wiring gone wrong; the fact that deciding what to wear was a paralysing decision with anxieties crashing into one another in my head. It is not a day for cliched comfort, nor resolution. It’s a Psalm 88 day where “darkness is my closest friend”; a day to look to scarred palms and know that we have a God who weeps with us in our present; and yet cannot help but point to a tearless future.
I mentally wrote this article whilst doing my cleaning job, yesterday and If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to write it. Even as I type, I’m not sure I want to. You see, in the past few months, I feel like I’ve gone a long way to putting the mental illness stuff behind me. I’m still passionate about the work I do and awareness raising – but I kind of thought and wished that my own journey through mental illness was over. I write about depression, I don’t live it anymore. After all, 2013, has so far been the happiest of my life. I love my family, friends, boyfriend, my work, my home – life is good. What is there to be depressed about?
The other day I realised I was crying driving to a meeting with my dissertation supervisor. I’d cried most of the day before. I was heavily, bone-wearingly exhausted. The smile fell off my face as soon as I was alone and the tears came hard and fast.
There is some acutely painful about relapse. You forget, during periods of rest and wellness, the horror of it. You forget how exhausting it is, how the pain sits heavily in your stomach and at the back of your throat. For me, in the past few weeks, the months of feeling happy and lighter, have felt cruel. They’ve felt like a snapshot of what life could be. When I began to realise that the darkness was creeping in, I raged at God.
Why did I have to feel like this, again? I’ve done my time. I talk about mental illness, I don’t live it.
I felt like a petulant child, asking why? why? why?
Of course, there is no real answer to that question. There is no reason that it shouldn’t have returned. Depression has its’ own timetable. I am beyond grateful that this time, its return has been short.
Relapse, in any illness, is particularly painful. It feels like you’ve been let down by recovery, remission. It makes any work you’ve put into recovery feel pointless.
For me, I think I was putting so much effort into my work, so much effort into being the person I want to be, the 100% better version of myself, I began to forget. I began to forget that there are things I have to do, that help me stay well. Getting enough sleep, being one of them.
That isn’t to say that I’m to blame, it could have happened anyway. But it’s something to keep in mind. In part I resent that I have to keep anything about my own daily battle with the illness, ‘in mind’. I still wish it would disappear, never to darken my doorway again. And it might. I believe in a God who heals, sometimes in small steps and sometimes in dramatic flashes. It’s a hope I hold, but it is not a hope I take for granted. It might happen… but I might have to wait until heaven. Relapse is hard because it reminds me of that fact and I’m an impatient person. Relapse also reminds me not to take the light for granted, to appreciate it, for as Andrew Solomon so poetically writes:
“I can see the beauty of glass objects fully at the moment when they slip from my hand.”
If this relapse has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the beauty of the glass before it slips.
For more information about depression you can read our post here: https://thinktwiceinfo.org/2012/04/26/depression-awareness-week-2012/
Or visit www.depressionalliance.org/