|(Art is by lil ol' me, shop coming soon! eep!)|
I'm treading some new water with this post, as despite dealing with mental health issues for twelve years, I've never delved into them on my blog. I think that's partly because it's such a tricky topic to write sensitively about, and partly because my mental health has been such a monumentally long journey that I just wouldn't know where to start. My official diagnoses are ranging and choppy but include depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia and a whole laundry list of previous and current struggles. It's a lot.
So how do you go about eating an elephant? You break it into bite-sized chunks. This is a bite-sized chunk, it's just a taster, it's not my whole story. But that's okay, because if you've been there then you can probably build that story in your mind anyway. A cloud, permanence, confusion, doubt, harm, isolation, breakthroughs, hard work, setbacks. And that's what I want to talk about today: setbacks. Because even after twelve years I'm still coming to terms with them.
For the past year I've been doing so much better, I haven't had any depressive cycles and panic and anxiety had been a minor issue. I've cut down my previous cocktail of medication down to one pill a day, with the hope to wean myself off that soon. In my head, I was 'better', I was done, I was free. So when I got very anxious at Christmas time in a crowded London tube station (somewhere I could've never gone several years ago), it gave me pause. But I dismissed it and continued on the 'I'm not ill anymore!! Hurray!' train. Then I had a few pretty serious panic attacks and some bad days in a short period of time, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so disappointed in myself. I felt like I'd screwed up, like I'd made some misstep on my way to being 'normal' and I wasn't getting better after all.
Don't get me wrong, I've been dealing with setbacks for years but the difference is I'd never felt this well before. Instead of going from bad to worse, I felt like I was going from great, right back to terrible. It felt like a long way to fall and it made me doubt how far I'd come. I was embarrassed. I'd been telling my family how much better I was doing, bragging about how I could handle all these previously-impossible situations now, how I was going off my meds and I was finally 'normal' (a stupid, meaningless word). I burst into tears in a 7-11 in Thailand because I was homesick and I felt pathetic and ashamed, not realising that it was such a huge deal that I was there in the first place; that I'd travelled to freaking Thailand, getting there completely on my own and not panicking once. That's a big freaking deal, but I dismissed that completely because I'd had a setback.
It took some honest conversations with family members to make me realise just how far I've come. That every little step is a victory, and if I stumble backwards sometimes then that's okay. Mental health is an ongoing journey and it's taken time for me to realise that there isn't a solid endpoint, that I'll never reach 'normal' because 'normal' doesn't exist. There are just good days and bad days, and I've just got to be grateful that now there are a lot more good ones than bad ones.