First things first, whilst this blog was mainly designed as a place to express my thoughts, and I suppose had an element of selfishness to it (in that the sole purpose of my writing was to offer myself some relief from my own head), I am truly overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received since making my blog public. I’ve received lovely comments from so many people, and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that my friends and family can know how i’m truly feeling. More importantly, I think, however is that it seems my words are relatable to a fairly large number of people, and that my blog is offering reassurance and hope for those who may also be struggling in similar ways to myself. Never in a million years did I expect people to respond so positively to my writing, and I feel so privileged that the words I write on this page may (albeit only slightly) offer other people comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone.
So, my aim is to only post on this blog when there is something I feel I’d like to express. Sometimes I find it easier to organise my own thoughts if I write them out on a page and shuffle them around and analyse where those thoughts came from. From personal experience, I have often found that my true feelings are trapped within my mind and that the speech does not accurately portray my emotions. Perhaps that trapped feeling resides from an embarrassment to verbally express how I’m feeling, although I think it may just be a component of anxiety that renders me unable to organise my thoughts coherently. As a quick side note, it is important to me that I stop assigning personal pronouns to mental health. Unlike a lot of other individuals I’ve spoken to, when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I was really desperate for my GP to explicitly say the words “you have anxiety”, or something similar. Many people I guess may not understand this because the idea of labelling someone is undesirable and can be deemed as unnecessary. However, the way in which (my) anxiety manifests itself has lead me to consistently need reassurance and clarity. It may sound irrational to those who do not experience mental health in the same way as myself, but I remember feeling very concerned that perhaps I do not suffer with anxiety or depression, and that I have subconsciously picked up on the symptoms of such mental illnesses and created an adequate description that would lead to a diagnosis by my GP. Of course now i’ve had time to reflect upon these thoughts with a more rational outlook, I can see that actually these thoughts of needing an explicit diagnosis, and the fear that I am creating something that I do not have, is most likely a result of having an anxiety disorder. I completely understand that this sounds confusing and impossibly irrational, and I can’t say I particularly understand it myself, however what I do know is that there is absolutely no way I could have been ‘making up’ having depression and anxiety. My feelings were (and are) very real to me and so deeply rooted, and could perhaps not be felt by an individual who does not suffer from anxiety or depression. Or perhaps they can, I don’t know because I’m not everyone else, I guess I’m just speculating to try and understand my thoughts a bit better.
That leads me on to another thing I feel very strongly about, and whilst it is addressed to an extent, I’m not sure it’s being emphasised in the right ways. Based upon my own personal experiences, and from listening to experiences of others, I have swiftly learnt that mental health is not an objective thing. How I perceive depression to feel and sound, is most likely not going to completely correlate with another individual who also suffers from depression. Again, this reinforces that mental illness (in my opinion) strongly parallels physical illness; in so far as a person could be suffering from the common cold, but yet one individual’s experiences of having a cold (for example, blocked nose and a headache) could be very different from another individual’s experiences of a cold (for example sore throat, aching limbs and fatigue). It is easy to generalise both physical and mental health symptoms, so that there becomes a criterion for having these illnesses. Of course I understand that illnesses need to have a criterion to an extent to enable accurate diagnosis, however I feel that somewhere along the way, the subjectivity of illness has become lost. In addition, in the same way as physical illness, I have found that mental illness has the capacity to fluctuate from day to day, and sometimes over extended periods. Whilst for myself I think my mental health is relatively consistent in its frequency and intensity, I am aware that for some there is a greater variation where the consequences of mental health can be hugely intense on one day, and relatively ‘at bay’ the next. Now, for physical illness I suppose the answer to this fluctuation of symptoms and the subjectivity to each individual could be explained in terms of biology. I’m not a doctor, but perhaps one day the physical symptoms may be dampened as your body fights the illness, whilst the next day the body is tired and needs to rest for that day.
So whats the answer for mental illness then? How can mental illness fluctuate and sometimes seem so prominent in people, and other times seem to not exist? Well I think I might know the answer: in exactly the same way as physical illness. The brain is part of the body, serotonin and GABA are neurotransmitters involved in the brain, if these neurotransmitters are chemically imbalanced, it’s likely your brain may not be operating optimally. The brain is part of the body, therefore the body is not operating optimally. Is this not just the same as what happens when someone contracts a physical illness? Sometimes the body can efficiently and quickly fight an illness so that it does not have too great an impact on one’s day, but the next day the body is tired and needs to take a rest before it can return to its optimum function. This is just my opinion, i’m sure there are much better explanations for how physical illness is fought, but my main point here is that physical and mental illness are much the same. Similarly, everyone has different bodies and reacts differently to certain viruses and diseases, so in my mind I suppose I can’t understand why this is not understood as the case for mental illness also. People deal with things differently, but it doesn’t make their experiences any less ‘bad’ or ‘intense’ than anothers’. One person’s mental illness is simply not comparable to anothers’.
Whilst slightly side tracked, the reason for writing this post is that I want to reinforce that mental illness does not define me. I plan to beat my depression and anxiety, and so I will not offer it a personal pronoun. This is because it is not who I am, it is a part of me that has contributed to my character and my perception, but it does not offer an insight into my identity. Therefore I’m going to consciously try not to use phrases such as “my depression” or “my anxiety” both in speech and in writing, because I feel once I’ve separated who I am, from the depression and the anxiety, I’ll be able to tackle the depression and anxiety without losing my sense of self. This does not mean that I will stop talking about it, because that will not make it go away, it simply means that I’m wanting to draw a distinct line between the factors of my personality that are healthy and create my character, and the factors which are pushed upon me by depression and anxiety.
I think for my own personal wellbeing talking about mental health is crucial, however offering it the privilege of being connected to my sense of self is no long an option.