Mental health problems were never really on my radar when I was young. I’d heard of and knew people with depression but that was all I’d ever encountered, and even my understanding of that was incredibly limited. Then life happened, and here I am in my second year of university having suffered from PTSD, and consequently anxiety, depression, dissociation and derealization.
This is an article written by a girl with a lot of mental health struggles that have come on very suddenly and, to be honest, I don’t think any of us in this position really know what we’re doing. Today is a good day, yes, but there are often times when I can barely get myself out of bed, let alone try to form coherent sentences to give support to anyone going through the same. But, today I can, so here it is.
I do not have all the answers. What I can offer to you is, in some ways, a mini survival guide. Alongside the usual advice of definitely speaking to someone who loves and supports you about what you’re going through, there are two things I’d like to say have helped me through my darkest days.
What sounds like a really small thing, but has really helped me, is taking things step by step. Sometimes that will literally mean an hour at a time. One small mundane task at a time. A day at a time. Particularly for anxiety sufferers, everything can just be so incredibly overwhelming, especially thinking about everything altogether, instead of separating it up into small parts. But if you start small, you’ll realise how much further you can get than by expecting too much of yourself. Taking little steps: getting out of bed. Check. Doing the dishes. Check. Having a shower. Check. Maybe after that, you might feel well enough to do some work or call a friend. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. You can try again another time, after you’ve rewarded yourself and then decided to take some other small steps.
And please do reward yourself for the little things. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself I’m being silly or pathetic for giving myself a pat on the back for leaving the house, but in reality, battling with mental illness sometimes makes doing these basic everyday things so difficult that it is actually a huge achievement. We aren’t soppy or weak for allowing ourselves to be proud of these things, just because they’re harder for us than some other people.
The second, and possibly more important thing, is finding even the smallest glimmer of hope. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve completely lost all hope of things ever getting better. But you don’t need to hope for a happy future filled with sunshine and rainbows in order to have hope inside you. You can literally have hope that tomorrow your favourite show will be on telly. Or that when you go to the shop tonight they’ll have that amazing vegan chocolate ganache you got last time. Or that your mum might be giving you a call later. Find something to look forward to, no matter how small it is. Anything that can keep you going.
My story is not yet one where the protagonist overcomes every battle and comes out a perfect hero. But I am still here, still alive and kicking, writing a blog post about mental health while my housemate cooks dinner singing downstairs and the sun shines through the window. So, start small and above all, hang in there. There are many, many reasons to. Find them, cling to them, take each day as it comes and, hopefully, by doing this the day will creep up on us when we look back and all those little steps we took were what got us out of bad times and into better ones.
Art by Jess Brown