First of all, how can I possibly be 25 at the end of June? Half the time I feel like a moody teenager, the other half like a child smearing on her mummy’s lipstick. Or I would, if I ever wore lipstick. I’ve spent 25 years on this planet and I still can’t decide whether I prefer crunchy peanut butter or smooth, or whether I actually enjoy going to the gym. Does my hair look better blonde? Should I choose coffee or tea? But also, I still haven’t worked out how my brain works. I don’t know why some days I wake up feeling positively glowing, while other days I’d rather go back to sleep for a week. I don’t know why I see unhealthy coping mechanisms as viable options, and I don’t know why I turn inwards instead of speaking out.
You would think that after years of therapy (and I mean YEARS), I would have some sort of notion as to where my mental illnesses stem from. But nope, I had a perfectly happy childhood, full of camping in France and all the love I could ever wish for, and I’ve never been through any significant trauma. This has left me feeling guilty for needing help. Surely the overstretched NHS should be focusing on people with real problems, not me with my imaginary illnesses and irrational thought processes.
My mental health has messed up my life quite a bit. It’s caused me to drop out of university the first time around, spend the majority of my final year back at home instead of making memories with friends, and miss out on countless social events. It’s caused me to spend my birthday in hospital, leave a close friend’s wedding after the ceremony, and turn down a job interview at Condé Nast. It’s also been the catalyst for two break-ups. And on top of that, it’s messed up the lives of the people around me, causing them pain, fear, stress, anxiety and anger. Knowing all of this, I get frustrated that I can’t just sort myself out.
But mental illnesses are illnesses. I didn’t choose them, I can’t wish them away and they don’t have to have a reason.
Of course, it is possible to learn to manage a mental illness, something I do with varying degrees of success depending on the day, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there, lurking in the background. Learning to cope doesn’t mean that the thoughts aren’t still loud, threatening to bring the life I’ve built crashing down around me. It doesn’t mean I don’t choose self-sabotage over self-care, or do something unhealthy instead of the thing I know is best. I mean heck, people without diagnosed mental illnesses don’t always make the ‘right’ decision, so why would I?
I’m writing this during Mental Health Awareness Week. My knee-jerk reaction to this is, ‘Thanks but no thanks, I’m already painfully aware of my mental health.’ But that is missing the point. This week is about letting people know that they are not alone. It’s about teaching people that there isn’t always a ‘trigger’, that those with mental illnesses can often still continue to live ‘normally’, seeming highly functional on the outside, but battling silently with their own minds.
I don’t understand my mental illnesses. I can recognise patterns in my past, but I can never see what’s going on in the moment. Maybe when I look back in a year or two, it will all make sense. But then again, maybe it won’t, and I’ll just have to accept that my feelings aren’t always dictated by my circumstances. If I’m feeling it, then it must be something.
I hope if you’re reading this, you know that you don’t have to justify yourself. Whatever you’re feeling or thinking is valid, regardless of what’s going on in your life. Am I just writing this as an oblique way of justifying myself? Maybe, but I promise I’m learning.