“You haven’t written much about mental health lately”, asked a good friend. “Are you better?” The answer to the first one was a simple “I know”, the answer to the second was “Yes and no.” I haven’t written much about mental health because I had nothing to say about it, although I know that having nothing to say about something has never stopped me writing about a particular subject in the past. I thought I’d say that before you did. The second is trickier.
Like many mental people – not all because we are all different – I know my black dog intimately. Not as an old friend exactly, but not as a hated enemy. My dog brings with him a degree of certainty, a feeling of familiarity. I am trying to say that when he calls, I know where I am, what’s going on.
With things going well in my life, he hides beneath the surface. It does not take much to knock me off the straight and narrow. A household calamity or minor crisis can cause agonising anxiety and dark thoughts, but surrounded by love and those who understand, it’s manageable, it’s bearable. If I can see life along a straight road, with no deviations, then everything is fine. I am very grateful that people allow me to do this. I would never cope otherwise.
I decided to write this tonight because some good friends have suffered from depression and anxiety. Some have just told me about it, some have gone a step further and “come out” on social networks. I never thought I was particularly brave coming out, but I sure as hell believe they have been. And they are strong people too, the sort of people I would not hesitate to call in a crisis. Just because they have been afflicted with the invisible illness does not make them weak. I respect them even more.
Sometimes, the depressive knows the signs. An anxiety attack, something stressful occurs; other times it can be just too many dark thoughts at once. Maybe all of the above. Sometimes, none of the above. There are no rules.
I don’t think mental illness really existed until relatively recently. Well, it did, but we just called it something else.
I haven’t written much about mental health lately, but that doesn’t mean everything is all right. It doesn’t mean everything is all wrong, either. It’s there, always there, compartmentalised (mental is in there – you see what I did there?), in its place, ordered as best I can, and I get on with stuff, always thinking too much; thinking, thinking, thinking.
But I’m the lucky one. I’m still here, pushing along, struggling on, still on the journey of life, hoping I don’t meet too many obstacles along the way. If you are in the darkness, light does shine through, eventually, I promise. You might need to get help, you might need some medication (I need both and always will) but there is something better out there and if not better, then maybe not quite as bad.