Some days, the light just doesn’t switch on. Some days, it remains dark; no matter how bright the sunshine streaming into the bedroom from the other side of the window blind. Some days, you just don’t want to get up. Some days, no matter how hard you try, your body just lies inert beneath the duvet because it’s safe there. Underneath your duvet, clutching the pillow for moral support, you don’t have to try. You don’t have to heave heavy legs and a tired, sleep deprived body away from the mattress. You don’t have to pluck up courage to go outside of your bedroom, which has become your comfort zone, your best buddy, your safe haven from the world at large, which is still carrying on without you in its happy, random, haphazard way. You don’t have to paint a smile on your face and present it to everyone else, who doesn’t have a fucking clue about the sheer effort it’s taken to get the corners of your mouth to turn up and pretend. Some days, the light just doesn’t switch on.
So, you get up and you’re full of self hatred because the feelings of inadequacy are running high; because you don’t really want to do this. You don’t really want to be part of that happy, random, haphazard world which is turning around you. You don’t really want to hear any other voices, except for the ones in your head telling you what a loathsome, self centred, god awful person you are for even being alive. You want your duvet. You want your safety. But instead, you go to the bathroom.
Sit, shit, shower, dress. Go through the motions. You’re often told you have an ecletic dress style. That’s because you couldn’t really be bothered if your socks match or if you’re wearing a vintage 1960’s Chanel boucle shift dress with Doc Martens and odd socks, with a bobble hat on and a pair of shades even though it’s the middle of winter. It’s dark behind those shades. It’s okay. You don’t have to let the light in.
That smile you’ve attached to your face. Hurts, doesn’t it? You feel as though you’re wearing a mask, and to all intent and purpose, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re wearing a mask, you’re hiding behind it, as well as the shades.
Somehow, you drag yourself through the day. You function, you drop the kids at school. Smile! You shovel breakfast into your mouth. Smile! You start your working day, check emails, place orders, pay suppliers, go to your appointment. Smile! Everything is fine. It must be, because the world doesn’t want you if it isn’t. So you carry on. Get the kids. Make the dinner. Smile! Go to the pub, meet friends. Smile! Everything is fine. Get home, sink into your chair. Smile! Yes, you’re fine, even though you’re dying inside with the sheer effort of being ‘normal’, of getting through a day just like everyone else does but they can get through it without the added extras.
Depression? Anxiety? Bipolar? Schizophrenia? PTSD? What’s your added extra? And why can’t you JUST BE NORMAL LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!
Well, here’s what I’ve learnt. There is no ‘normal’. In order to survive and thrive in this happy, random, haphazard world, we’re all a little crazy, and that’s okay. It’s okay. You’re doing okay. That smile that you’ve attached to your face to prove you’re ‘normal’? Wipe it off, take it away, cry for help!
One in four adults, and one in ten children will suffer some form of mental health issue in any one year. Crazy, isn’t it? But one thing is clear, you’re not. Mental health is just like any other aspect of your body’s wellbeing, and no-one calls you crazy if you break your ankle, do they?
Last year, in the UK, 5.9 people in 100 were experiencing generalised anxiety disorder. 5.9 people in every hundred experience that tight, clenched ball in the stomach; that feeling of dread that something awful is about to happen. 5.9 people in every hundred are ready to flee, to take flight because they cannot suppress moments of feeling anxious, like the remaining 94.1 people can. That’s a lot of anxiety, but you’re not crazy if you’re anxious. You’re just anxious. Yet many people don’t understand what anxiety can do to someone who is anxious – physically, your body is in permanent flight mode – it’s flooded with adrenalin and cortisol, hormones that make you hyper alert and hyper sensitive, so that makes you tired, and you become fatigued, and then it becomes even harder to function. When this happens, you become anxious about anxiety. It’s a vicious circle and people who don’t have first hand experience of it, don’t understand it. It’s not you, it’s them.
So, you don’t just fight yourself, and the physical symptoms that your mental health has caused, you also fight stereotypes. Take Schizophrenia – which is most common amongst the 16 – 35 age group, although you can develop symptoms of schizophrenia at any age. When asked, most people would say that it’s about ‘split personality’ and it isn’t. So again, a lack of understanding, a stigma for the sufferer to overcome. But it’s not you, it’s them.
Schizophrenia literally means a ‘splitting of the mind’ and it’s only called that because there isn’t a better word to describe what suffers experience. Most schizophrenic episodes have ‘triggers’ – a trauma, or an event which leads to the suffer perhaps not being able to tell real from imaginary because their mind has been crowded with information that they simply cannot digest. Most schizophrenics don’t spend all day talking to themselves as though they are two separate people, although they can hear voices, and they can become disassociated from reality. Someone once described it to me as ‘never getting any peace from yourself’, which is a rather good way of putting it. But he isn’t violent, and he doesn’t take drugs (aside from the ones he’s prescribed to help manage his psychosis) – which are two common misconceptions about schizophrenics. Again, it’s not you, it’s them.
Being depressed is awful, but being told to ‘snap out of it’ is even worse. Sorry, depression doesn’t work that that. There isn’t an inner switch that someone with depression can simply flick, and everything will be okay. You ask the 19.7% of people in the UK that suffer from it, and they’ll tell you that it is a low mood which embraces them and takes them sometimes to a point where they cannot function even to perform the most basic of everyday tasks (remember trying to get out of bed, earlier?) and in its most severe form, it can lead to suicidal thoughts. So it’s not just ‘having a bad day’ and it’s not just something that you can turn on and off again, like a tap. Don’t take it to heart, though, it’s not you. It’s them.
Battling with a mental illness is no different from battling with a physical illness. It’s just something that you need to work through – like being given an antibiotic to help an infection, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to receiving medication to help calm the symptoms of a mental illness. In fact, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to mental illness. Full Stop.
So, when you wake up feeling down, don’t just look for the light – it won’t come to order, I’m afraid. Instead, embrace the dark, and remember that you are just one of four people experiencing the same thing at exactly the same time. One in four. That’s quite a lot. Enough to remind you that you’re not alone.
You don’t have to fix a smile, you just have to learn to love yourself for who and what you are. We’ve all got things about ourselves that we don’t particularly love, we’re all different, we’re all good, bad, bolshy, happy, sad, peaceful, loud, loveable, difficult, and anyone can wake up feeling down in this completely random, haphazard world of ours.