I must say that I am impressed. Lately when I speak to people, watch television, or even read the news, there is more and more conversations about mental health. They are inquiring about the increase in anxiety in young teens. They are focusing on the people who are finally starting to speak about, and work on, their mental wellness. People who were too afraid to do so before. They are talking about changing the systems to make it easier for those needing help, to get help. And they are speaking about how it affects all of us in one way or another.
Yet, the thing that I have noticed seems to be missing, is how god damn hard it is. First, it is a struggle to admit that you are not doing well and that you have a mental health issue in the first place. Then, when you are ready, you have to ask for some help. Hopefully, but not always, you are able to get connected to some level of services that offer you supports and aid. Yet, the challenge does not end there. You, the only person who has the ability to manage the change, has to continue to fight day in and day out to face those barriers and life heartaches that come from mental unwellness. And it is exhausting.
“My dark days made me strong, or maybe I already was strong, and they made me prove it.”-Emery Lord
Now, for each person, that looks different. For Hubby, it is daily. He gets up each day, and I can visibly see it, as he struggles to manage his mental health, and his addiction. He will go for days, even months at a time, without having any major bouts or symptoms of his disorders. He focuses on his interests, and his goals and does all the steps he has learned to manage his ongoing ADHD, depression, anxiety and PTSD. He will use his well ingrained techniques for staying sober and will reach out if it becomes too much. And then, something will hit. Sometimes it is a outside source, like a death, or an event leaving him feeling overwhelmed and other times it is unknown. He may just wake up feeling anxious, or depressed or craving a substance he has not consumed in years.
And then he spins. The tools that he has in his wheelhouse are no longer working. He will pick at his face and his body to the point where he does not want to leave the house. He will either sleep all day or not be able to sleep at all. And in really severe episodes, he will throw up, endlessly for hours on end. It is brutal. It is hard to watch and I can only imagine that it is harder to experience. He feels frustrated and annoyed and will start spouting “shoulds” all over the place.
He should be better by now. He should be able to calm himself down. He should be able to face something overwhelming and manage like the rest of us. He should be more normal. He should be over this rollercoaster and well enough to manage now. He should not be feeling, acting, behaving or facing this anymore. Except.. his shoulding is bullshit.
He should not be any of those things. No one should. And he is not the only one. Hubby is just one of many people, friends, clients, family, or strangers, who spend time beating themselves up when their mental health barrier rears its ugly head. I do it too. I should myself when my depression triggers my emotional eating. I should be making changes. I should be losing weight. I should not be using food as a coping mechanism. But none of that is realistic.
The reality is that mental health, and mental wellness, is a damn rollercoaster. And I hate rollercoasters. They make me sick and anxious and feeling like I am outside of my own control. Just like my depression. Or Hubby’s mental illnesses. Or my client’s diagnoses. And all of us just want to get the hell off. We don’t want to ride anymore and want our feet back on solid ground.
And the worst part is, we won’t. If you are someone who has bouts of mental unwellness, you hate to admit it, but know it to be true. The rollercoaster is not going to end and you will always at some point be taken for a ride. But, you also will ride it less and less as time goes on. You will build up and hone more tools that help you manage those bouts of anxiety or insomnia. You will start taking medication that helps even out your brain chemistry so that you can get out of bed. You will start talking to friends and professionals who will validate that you are not alone in your feelings or your need for support. You will start attending AA or another support group that will help you manage your choices when faced with your challenges. And most important of all, you will eventually, with time, start shifting the focus.. on you… on where you are.. instead of where you should be.
This week was a bad week for Hubby. It was a bad week for me as Hubby’s unwellness is not only hard for me to watch, but triggers my caregiver fatigue and my ability to manage it. He fights SO HARD to fight his demons and most days he wins. But, some days he doesn’t. And, what I want him, and everyone else like him, to know is that he is so much more than these bad days. And he is so much further than he was before. Something that he tends to forget when having an episode.
So, I remember for him. He has been completely sober (from drugs and alcohol) for over three years when he used to use every day. He has been taking his medication daily and able to get good bouts of sleep when he used to stay up for days on end. He has been using the tools he has developed from his years of therapy and his desire to feel better in his life when he used to not even show up for his appointments. He has been leaving the house to socialize, to shop or to go for drives when there used to be months he wouldn’t leave the basement. He has been getting up, cleaning the house, taking care of our dog and chickens when he used to not get out of bed or even eat.
And most important of all, he is loving and caring and a husband who is present and interested and involved. A husband who at one point was so unwell I could not leave him alone. A husband who now is generally interested in how my day is going and supports me when I am struggling, even though he is too. And that says it all.
Hubby, like many others, is on the rollercoaster of mental health. It has the typical loops and dips and nausea creating bumps but at some point, usually more and more often, it evens out, it flattens and you can soak up the stability until the next bump starts again. So, for those of you, like Hubby and I, who are facing this roller-coaster. Remember, you have, and already are, fighting those demons, all day every day and winning. Just sometimes it is going to feel like you are not.