Mental Health and My Identity – World Mental Health Day 2019

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm

This blog was written by a member of BIMHN, sharing their thoughts on what how they’ve learnt to see mental health as a part of their identity. Content note; medication, depression, mental health treatment, recovery, relapse.

Today, on World Mental Health Day 2019, I am reflecting on my own mental health.

My story is thus; about five years ago, I began experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health that eventually developed into a full-blown episode of clinical depression. Without sensationalising it, my life ground to a halt for six months. As someone who had taken pride in never sitting still, it’s an understatement to say that experiencing this for the first time was a shock to my system.

Gradually however, with the aid of medication(s) and a gradual return to work, I began to improve. During this time of adjustment, I was fixated on ‘getting better’; returning to a facsimile of my life and state of mind before this first period of being unwell. Occasionally, I was able to attain this for a brief period; a few hours of enthusiasm here, a day of productivity there, spells of regular sleeping and motivation. But I couldn’t make it last.

I treated this inability to sustain ‘being better’ as a setback – proof that in reality I wasn’t ‘better’ and ‘recovery’ still eluded me.

I lost faith in medicine as an effective means of treatment, because it didn’t put me back to where I was before I became ill. My outlook was that I needed to find something to ‘jolt’ me back to where I was before my first period of mental ill-health – the fact that I hadn’t found this yet was proof that I wasn’t doing something right.

After a while, a pattern began to emerge; every few months, I would become unwell for a time – life would again grind to a halt – before stabilising again. I took this as a further sign that my efforts to ‘get better’ continued to be focused in the wrong direction. With the support of professionals, I re-started taking medication, but remained sceptical because it hadn’t worked for me before.

However, this time, it seemed to at least make something of a difference.

Fast forward a few years, and more recently, I’ve been hearing and learning more about other people’s mental health, and what that’s involved for them. I’ve met people who have been seriously unwell for a very long time. I’ve heard about their despair when they feel shoehorned into a model of ‘symptom-free recovery’ rather than ‘wellbeing.’

Some chronic physical conditions might never fully ‘go away,’ – why isn’t it accepted that the same might be the case with mental illness?

It’s only been over the last few months that I’ve finally been able to get past my obsession with getting to a stage where I’m completely symptom-free. I’ve learnt to forgive myself for the fact that it might not be possible, at least immediately. My personal mental health difficulties and fluctuations are a part of my own identity. In my case, it’s probable that I might need medicine to manage it for a number of years. I’ve now learnt to see past this as being a personal flaw, it’s just who I am. After all, we wouldn’t classify it as a character flaw if someone needs to take mineral pills for anaemia.

What is it that I’m trying to say? In recent years, awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and the different types of mental difficulties that people can experience is fortunately on the rise. World Mental Health Day has been observed for over twenty-five years now, and even in that relatively short time, more campaigns and charities have come alive, dedicated to campaigning and educating on the issue. There’s still a long way to go – but it’s fair to say that with even basic levels of awareness becoming more prevalent, mental health problems are no longer as much of a taboo.

I now feel comfortable with accepting that my own mental health is a part of my identity, rather than something that I just need to ‘get over.’ It just so happens that my identity means that occasionally, life is more challenging than normal. I’m working to accept this, rather than battle it as something to be overcome.

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Blog | No comment

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