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What does mental health mean to me? 

 

I posed a fairly generic question to those who volunteered to write something for this blog, thinking that it would give everyone a wide enough brief to explore what it is they felt most passionately about, what they may be felt most comfortable talking about, so they could frame it and approach it from whatever angle felt right for them and their experiences. But in doing so I realise I have made a fundamental oversight. Now I have to answer the question.

 

What does mental health mean to me?

 

The truth is, mental health is everything to me. Because on those days when it is good, it allows me to live a life free of intrusive thoughts, depressive days, and anxiety attacks over something seemingly small and inconsequential. 

 

And on those days when it is poor, it touches every facet of my life. 

 

The way I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

The way the dogs bark is too loud and grating to my oversensitive hearing.

The way the idea of stepping outside makes me feel nauseous. 

The way that the embrace of my children makes me feel suffocated. 

The way I want to run and hide from my life as it is at the minute. 

The way I feel guilty for feeling any and all of these things.

 

My mental health is a fickle thing. It can change at a flick of a switch. The smallest things can one day not bother me, but the next send me spiralling into a black hole of destructive thoughts. It’s crafty and cunning, it can stay hidden, lurking in the deepest recesses waiting to jump out and make an appearance at any time. There’s no standard which it adheres to; an offhand comment one day can fly right over my head but the next makes me doubt everything I’ve said and done for hours on end (never send me a message which just says “can we chat?”. You may want to talk about the weather, to me I’m replaying every conversation we’ve ever had to pinpoint how I have upset and offended you.) It switches its appearance every time, a master of disguise and subterfuge; will it be the empty feeling that makes me want to not surface from under the duvet. Or will it be the way that the thought of making the short walk to the school gates will make my heart pound as my fight or flight response kicks in.

 

Most days it's good. Even when I have an “off-day” it's now just a small episode, before I equilibrate and re-calibrate. Even though in the moment I feel foolish and useless at once again finding myself feeling this way, the fact is once it’s over, I can see that I have only been in that headspace a short while. But here’s the real kicker with poor mental health. When you are in that good space, it can make you forget that you need to keep working to stay there. I live a busy life. Two kids, a full time job, not to mention the fact I thought somewhere along the line I might try to publish a book or two. And my biggest fault is the fact that when I am busy, when I am feeling okay, I forget that I need to keep working to maintain my mental health. I’m very much a “do as I say, not as I do” person. I will be the first one to tell my friends that they need to take a break and look after themselves, but when it comes to me…nope, I’m far too busy.

 

My stories have inadvertently become a way to try and express those feelings. I can’t write anything when I'm in that place, but in hindsight it's always slightly easier to explain, and even easier (although still nowhere near it being actually easy) when I transpose those emotions, or lack of, onto a character. And sometimes, inevitably so, I doubt whether this is what people would want to read.

 

A perfect example is Seph in The Storm Within Her. She starts the book in a dark place, shattered by the end of her relationship with Kate, and only compounded by the loss of a loved one. Throughout the first half of the book we see her claw her way back to somewhere which resembles inner peace. I could have ended the mental health story there; Seph living happily ever after. But instead, my cruel writer brain decided no. Instead, something happens which sends her back down into her own darkness, silent and hidden, even from Kate who is now by her side, until there she reaches a breaking point. It may seem a cruel and pointless twist, one too many painful things to put the character through. But the path to good mental health is not a straight road. It's not linear, it's not addressing the problem, talking about it and never experiencing it again. It's bumps in the road, unexpected mountains to climb, and sometimes, taking the wrong path and looping back to the start of your journey all over again. So no, I wasn't ever going to let Seph "just" get over it, because that's not how it works in real life. And trust me, I would know.

 

Those periods of darkness which seep into the corners of my existence are inevitable, and even if they do sometimes take me by surprise, I now know what they are. They are a part of me, whether I like it or not. There's no point in hating them (or me for having them, even though that does happen). But there is a point in pushing through and making it to the other side. 

 

Because waiting are the kids that give the best hugs, the dog who will sit quietly by my side when I'm feeling unwell. There's the outdoors and its fresh air which reinvigorate me, my friends and family who make me smile and bring me joy. 

 

Before I sign off, I want to extend my deepest, most grateful thanks to those who wrote posts over the last few days. Each has made me feel things, made me feel seen or heard, less alone in how they have described and communicated their own experiences. I've felt numb and shocked, angry and tearful, but more than anything, overwhelmed in awe and appreciative of their strength and bravery in putting their words out there.

 

And thank you to everyone who took the time to read, like, share and comment. I think I speak for everyone when I say it means the world to have your support in the fight to break down the stigma and tame the beast that is mental health discussion. 

 

Mental health matters. And so do you. 

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