Mental illness is one of those things that does not discriminate. All you need to do is look at the statistics. 1 in 5 Australians between 16 and 85 struggle with a mental health disorder. 1 in 7 children between 4 and 17 are diagnosed with one. As a mental health professional who works with children, adolescents, and young adults and has been doing this for a decade, I see it all. But as a human being, I have been one of those 1 in 5.
Some of you might know that back in 2015–2016, I struggled with depression for almost 18 months. I lost a part of myself in that period and it was a hard struggle back. I went to therapy. I fought the demons. I got back on my two feet. It’s what I do. It’s what people like me do.
It’s important to be aware that not everyone struggling with a mental health disorder stays at home or struggles to get out of bed. There are several people with anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, personality disorders who all have jobs and who seem to be able to function. You might see them at work, laughing with colleagues, interacting with the world, focussed on their job and completing their tasks. They may have families they cater for or go out with their friends. But what you probably don’t see is them crying alone in their house, breaking down in the shower, having sleepless nights because their mind won’t shut the fuck up, or being unable to eat due to not feeling hungry.
I know these type of people. I am one of them. I may look like I have my shit together but you have no idea about the underlying anxiety. You have no idea how I pull myself up before I fall into the depths of darkness. I jokingly call myself a functionally anxious person. But the truth is, that’s what I am. That’s what many of us are. We function because we feel like we don’t have any other choice. Maybe it has to do with the stigma around mental health but maybe it also has to do with our perfectionism. But it does not mean the mental health disorder is not affecting us.
When I notice my warning signs for falling into the darkness – loss of appetite, restless sleep, loss of interest in exercise, writing, reading and other pleasurable activities, more self-critical talk, more hopelessness, feelings of being worthless, loss of meaning, and withdrawing from others – I know I have to take action before the downward spiral begins. It’s one of the benefits of being a mental health professional but also having experienced depression before myself.
But sometimes, doing it alone can be tough. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my last episode, it is to reach out. No matter how much I yearn to withdraw in these times, I have to reach out. To a friend who will validate and listen without judging, without offering advice. And then slowly, I put things in place. Try and set goals, plan things to look forward to, make sure I exercise even when I don’t feel like it, connect with others, try and do things for others and most importantly, try and build meaning back into my life. It’s a slow process. It takes time. It means getting out of my head and actually doing things. But it is all worthwhile.
And maybe again, I will look like I have my shit together. But only I know what lies beneath.
Featured image by Kat Jayne from Pexels
Until next time,