Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mental Illness Isn't the End of the World — But Sometimes it Feels Like it Is

It's no secret that I've been struggling lately. I stress about everything at the best of times, so the past few months have had me worrying about everything from whether I'll be able to write more soon to whether I'll still be living with my parents when I'm 50. Suffice to say my current situation is less than ideal!

But I have to remind myself that it's not the worst situation. I may struggle with my finances, but I'm not going to be left to starve anytime soon. I have a safe place to live and I've got my dog, Murray Monster. Sure, there are times when I'm so overwhelmed by my problems that it's hard to breathe, but I have some good things in my life. I have a foundation.

I think a key aspect of dealing with any problem is to stop beating yourself up. Blaming yourself for your situation isn't taking responsibility — it's as helpful as blaming your parents, your school bullies or the world in general, i.e. not at all, even if there is a grain of truth in it. All any of us can do is our best, whatever constraints and challenges we face. There's no point panicking whenever we fall short of our expectations. All we can do is go from here — this very moment — and try our best.

Being able to see this perspective is evidence that my mental health is improving. Not long ago, I felt that my life was hopeless and I was useless and a burden on my family and friends. That's one of the most horrible things about mental illness, depression in particular: it steals any sense of time passing and life changing. It feels like you're hiking up a mountain and can only see the slope you're trying to scale. Everything else is covered in fog. When things improve a little, you can look down and see where you've been but the top of your slope is still covered in mist. You don't know whether it ends, let alone if you can make it. As mental health continues to improve, you see more of the mountain above you. You can see the top of the slope you're climbing, maybe even the next slope or ones beyond. Hopefully, one day, you will be able to see the top of the mountain.

I think writing a novel is also like this: you may have a vague sense of the whole, but you can only write it step by step. You start out with a map, but once you're climbing the mountain you lose track and take detours, slopes blur into one another... I suppose it all comes down to faith. You need to keep faith that the mountain is there and that you can conquer it. 

Of course, that's easier said than done when you're surrounded by fog and can't see your hand in front of your face! You might also reach the top to find — as I did with my. First attempt at a novel — that you were climbing a foothill and the mountain is beyond. What do you do: give up or keep climbing?

6 comments:

  1. A lot of young people live with their parents, even after they graduate from college, due to student loan debt, the lack of affordable housing, and the difficulties supporting themselves on entry-level salaries. Not to mention a lot of young people are unable to find work in the fields that they want to work in, due to increasing competition, so they are often left looking for work for long periods of time or have to take lower-paying jobs in other fields. So don't be too hard on yourself for living with your parents, because a lot of people are currently doing that, though I know that it can still be a bitter pill to swallow when we're taught to move out on our own as soon as we're grown up. But eventually you will make it through this (and I have confidence that you will) and get a place of your own. It's just going to take some time.

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    1. I'll try not to be too hard on myself, but it's so hard now I'm in my 30s and all my friends are either renting or buying their own homes — neither of which is even on the horizon for me. I guess I'll take my own advice (and yours!) and keep going... Thank you :-)

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  2. Wise advice here, Hayley. Writing my current novel definitely feels like trudging up a mountain swathed in fog. I can see enough though; enough to take the next step. And I suppose that is all we need. The rest will follow in time. xxx

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  3. It's great that you can write about your feelings, Hayley, never mind writing a novel too - that's far more than most would be able to do. Hopefully, that fog will soon clear.

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    1. Thanks, Rosemary. It's not much of a novel at the moment though!

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