A little while ago I found myself in a place that I had never experienced before, I never imagined such an unhappy and lonely place existed. Over time the cracks had started to appear and it didn’t take long before I was a constant blubbering mess, it felt as though my ability to feel happiness was slipping through my fingers before my eyes but I could do nothing to hold on to it any longer, the smiles were fake and my days merged into one another… I was simply existing.
After being signed off work I called a counselling service because I knew how I was feeling was not right, and my emotional instability was not fair on my family. That first phone call may be the hardest thing to do but it is also the healthiest. At the time my self-esteem was rock bottom, I would contemplate why I had even been born as I couldn’t see what good I contributed to anything. I had my family whom I cared for, but when you feel like this you even start to think they’d be better off without you. It’s easy to see how things can spiral if you don’t get professional help. One of the reasons why I wouldn’t open up to anyone was because I feared what they would think of me, for example I would tell myself that they would see that I have two healthy children and a loving husband and think that I was ungrateful for still being miserable despite the fact I “have more than some people” or that “things could be worse”. What they don’t realise is that no matter how much love I have for my family, nothing could just flick the switch back on to happiness for me, if only it was that simple! When depression takes a hold of you it is all consuming, you feel trapped in a dark room with no exit signs in sight. This is why I’m not sure it is possible to meaningfully discuss your mental health with someone who hasn’t struggled with it themselves, because I could try and explain myself until I’m blue in the face and they still wouldn’t be able to understand, sometimes even I don’t understand it. Plus of course it is always easier to just say that you are okay when people ask how you are. Subsequently everything remains bottled up inside, which only makes things worse.
As I spoke to my counsellor for the first time things came flooding out from years ago, I couldn’t make sense of why these things felt relevant to how I was feeling today but somehow it all seemed entangled. She told me that I had been sweeping everything under the rug and I was good at putting on a front, however you come to a point where something happens and as you go to sweep that under the rug as well you find that there is just too much under there already and so it all comes crashing out. This is exactly how it felt, it was too much to deal with and I drowned within the storm swirling around in my head. I have learned that when you try to ignore things they don’t go away, instead they fester inside and your emotions bubble up like angry lava within a volcano. You have to deal with things head on as they happen.
It took a long time to work through everything, one of my biggest struggles is with Automatic Negative Thoughts, for those of you who are wondering what on earth they are; my interpretation is that as something happens in everyday life and you have an automatic thought and reaction in response to it, sometimes these are negative, but because they are automatic you just go with it and don’t even question it, or at least this is what I did anyway. Even something as simple as someone cancelling plans with me, I would turn this into the belief that I had done something wrong and they no longer want to spend time with me, when in actual fact it was probably just because they had something else they needed to do, but I would never see it this way. When this happens, you need to stand back, remove your emotion from the situation, and look at it from an outside perspective. One way to do this is to ask yourself what would you advise your friend if it was them telling you about this situation, suddenly you can see it so much more rationally, although putting this into practice and finding the strength to do it over and over again is easier said than done when you are caught up in the grip of your own negative thoughts.
As I discovered that the way I had been thinking was not how it had to be, it was like light creeping back into the dark room I had become a prisoner to, a sense of hope ran through my veins; something I had not felt in a long time. I got a little ahead of myself and thought I would be able to use all I had learned to banish negative thinking from my mind for good, this would be a fresh start free of anxiety. However, I realise now that this is just the start of a long road ahead, there are days when I wake up to find myself stuck in that dark room again, I feel it before I have even opened my eyes and there is nothing I can do to escape it, I have no control over it, my negative thoughts and anxiety come back with a vengeance, as if it is punishment for standing up to it the day previously. It tries to convince me that the good days are just a pretence and happiness is not real. But I will not give up, I am accepting that my mental health will always be a part of me, there is no miracle cure and I will have good and bad days. I have let my negativity win for so long, it has become my learned behaviour and changing that will take time. It may be mentally exhausting and relentless, having to repeatedly steer myself away from the negative pattern of thinking I have always known – It’s like asking someone to start writing with their other hand, they just want to revert back to using the hand they normally use because it is easier.
But I will not surrender to it, whilst happiness may feel like hard work at times, I will continue to fight this battle with all I have.