I’m not a good communicator.
Never have been, but I have gotten better over the years. Well, maybe not better, but certainly louder.
What is certainly better is my mental health.
While I’m better now, for many years I was depressed, self harming, and there was a moment, two if I’m honest, that I was ready to say goodbye to it all.
*fortunately being super pale helps the smaller ones blend in*
It’s not something I’m comfortable talking about, even with close friends and family - I’d rather lie about where my scars came from or just change the subject. Sitting here writing about it isn’t any easier, so I’m not going to dredge up all the events of my life. Instead, I’d rather take this time to share what kind of state I was in, and what I found worked for me to get out of the hole and on to a better path.
It might not be a remedy for everyone, but if there’s a chance it will help someone in the same boat I think it’s worth putting it out there.
Learning this might come as a surprise, especially to those who know me in person - today I’m fairly jolly, and growing up I was shy but had a relatively normal childhood with good, hard working parents, and attended a good school. At face value I had no reason to feel down, and being shy you wouldn’t know it even if I did.
I felt that had no right to feel sad, or to be struggling - other people have it much worse than me, far worse, and they just get on with it. The more I thought about it, the more I looked at all my failings and (in my mind) embarrassingly simple struggles, the more “evidence” I’d find that I was a pretty weak and pathetic person, overly sensitive too, and so likely a big disappointment to anyone scratching below the surface. Thinking this, I did my best to avoid any deep talks or emotional chats - the more someone asked, friends or family, the more I’d shut down and try to convince them things were OK. There was no way I was letting anyone in, they might catch a glimpse at how weird, sensitive and pathetic I was.
Everything was “fine” or “alright”, nothing exciting to report - no matter how much people asked and pried. But on the inside, behind the walls, things were not.
Because I didn’t do anything about it, just tried to carry on with normal life, it got worse. Eventually I started self harming. It wasn’t a logical choice, more of an emotional one, lashing out at myself for being this way (stupid, weird, sensitive and rubbish at normal things) - cutting my thighs and hurting parts of my body where no one would see.
Once I had reached this point, I was convinced there was no going back. If anyone found out I was self harming I was sure I’d be sent away and locked up in some kind of mental asylum (there was no actual evidence this would happen, but the thought that it was a possibility was enough to terrify me). Keeping it hidden from everyone, I thought I was doing the logical thing (appearing relatively normal, short term distractions), but in reality all I had done was trap myself - and with no clear way out the dark hole I had created for myself, I sunk further.
CLIMBING OUT THE HOLE
The turning point came when I realised that I didn’t want it all to end, not everything. Despite the bad parts, I’d had happy moments good memories, and I didn’t want to lose them or the chance of making more one day. So I finally did what I scared me the most, and had avoided for so many years - I talked to someone. I got an appointment at the doctors, and told them I was upset and self harming. I didn’t get into my life story or go into excruciating detail, that confession alone was hard enough.
To my surprise, I didn’t get locked up in a mental asylum, pumped full of drugs or watch as the world crumbled around me. Instead, I felt a bit better. My mind felt a bit less heavy, and I felt I had made some progress - even though it was a pretty small step, booking an appointment and talking. The topic of medication came up, but I refused - partly because I’ve never liked painkillers, pills or any other type of medicine, and partly because of this feeling of progress (taking positive action, and feeling better for it) made me feel a bit more hopeful, or less hopeless. I was referred for Guided Self Help with the lovely people at Health in Mind, where there would be more talking, and I also got a handy booklet on healthier alternatives and distractions from self harm when I was feeling down. There was a waiting list, so the appointment with the counsellor wasn’t immediate. However, riding the high of making progress I tried to read and watch videos about getting out of depression, self help, self improvement, etc etc, and even told my parents and a few close friends that I was a self harmer, but I was getting help for it. Again, I didn’t go into a lot of detail, but it did feel better being able to get it out.
I’d like to say that’s all it took, one change and happily ever after, but really it’s taken a lot of work to get to where I am now, and there’s still plenty work to do. I don’t think of this as a bad thing though - with all the practice, a lot of constructive behaviours and positive ways of thinking have become second nature - simple things like looking for the positive (saying GOOD and meaning it), taking risks outside my little comfort zone and looking for a way to move forward instead of ways to make excuses when things go wrong. I’ve also gotten better at spotting when I’m following bad patterns (thinking the worst but doing nothing about it, dwelling on something and letting other things slip because of it) or at risk of falling into a negative spiral, so I can take steps to get out of the funk or at least onto something more positive for the time being.
These are simple things in theory but, like most things, harder in practice. They are without a doubt worth it though, and continue to help me move a little forward each day.
KEY REALISATIONS THAT HELPED ME MOVE FORWARD
Talk to someone. Doesn’t matter who, and you don’t need to tell them everything - just speak to someone. There is a chance they might be able to offer a new perspective, some help or support, but what is often the biggest help is being able to talk, to speak through what’s going on in your head - just verbalising things and knowing someone is listening can take a huge weight off our shoulders.
Stop dwelling on the negatives and letting yourself wallow in a pool of self pity. All the time and energy we spend looking at (or for) the bad is time and energy we could be spending looking for the good and ways to move forward. Slipping further into the hole, the worst thing we can do is nothing, so we must act if we want to get up and out into the light of day.
Realise that you, who you are as a person, is not your past actions and behaviours - they’re just that, behaviours and actions, and we have the power to behave and act differently whenever we put our mind to it. Just because we have a history of being quiet, lazy, making poor choices, whatever, doesn’t mean that’s who we are as a person for ever and ever. We have the power to learn and change how we think, and how we act. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to change our habits, just that it’s possible if we work at it. All we need to do is find a way to move forward, no matter how small a step, and act upon it.
It’s not a competition. There are people worse off than us, and there are people better off than us - it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we are doing about our situation, the steps we take to deal with, cope or get through and rise above our suffering - not trying to out-miserable someone to win World’s Saddest Person. What an awful competition that is, where the prize is sorrow and pity.
We need to be honest with ourselves and hold ourselves accountable. Our mental health is our responsibility, no one else’s. We are the ones who need to take action and move forward - if we rely on others to do it for us then have we made any REAL changes or improvements? Or are we just masking the symptoms? Hanging out with someone or the right drink/drug might take the edge off in the short term or provide a nice distraction, but it’s not going to do us much good in the long term - we need to work on our problems and find ways to move forward.
The sun will still rise. Failing at something is not the end, trying something and it doesn’t work out is not the end either, whatever mistake you make the world will keep turning and the sun will still rise on a new day. A new day to try something else, to go in a new direction or to make some progress. Don’t dwell on yesterday’s mistakes or failures, instead own them, learn from them and start the day fresh to find a way to move forward.