Mental health seems to go through phases of being a bit of a hot topic. As a society we’re beginning to speak about it more, opening up and channelling courage in talking about the struggles in our lives. There’s a surge in effort to break down stigma and awareness campaigns to beat the band. But what message are we actually giving out about it?
Personally, I think it’s great to vocalise what would otherwise eat us up. Shame cannot survive in the spoken word so it’s important to put words to our feelings and get them out of our systems. But it’s also important not to dwell on or glamourize the ‘struggle’. That’s where our message needs to be crystal clear. We need to be aware of and believing in the fact that full recovery is always possible. This is the message I believe to be worth listening to and spreading; the honest message of hope and motivation.
I’m going to come out and say straight up, I am sick of reading stories of struggle rather than stories of success over mental health issues. I’m all for breaking the stigma but talking about how we just need to learn to live with it, is simply misinformation. It genuinely irritates me because I feel like people are being robbed of the full lives they could live just because they’re being led to believe that they're incapable of living it. Mental health may set us back temporarily, but it can never steal away our potential, passion or purpose.
One of the most helpful parts of my recovery was truly believing in full recovery and knowing that my carers did too. It was never a case of learning to manage my eating disorder or finding ways to distract from self-harm, or getting the dose of Prozac just right. None of that equates to my definition of really living. Yes dealing with all that contributed in shaping who I am today but only because of my journey in overcoming them. If I thought that I had to live my life like that forever, it’d only depress me more!
Recovery does not come á la carte, you don’t get to keep parts of your mental issues. It’s not like I’ll sometimes self-harm if things get tough or have a slip up with my ED if life is a bit challenging, I won’t have down days, I’ll just actually experience my emotions – the entire colourful spectrum of them. I won’t get the ‘occasional’ panic attack or sometimes just want to die. If you break your leg, it doesn't just sometimes go back to being a bit broken. That’s not recovery and I feel like it’s messed up to be putting out the idea that it is.
I think when we speak about mental health it’s helpful to see where we’re putting the value. If we’re ruminating on the difficulties, then maybe we’re valuing being a victim. Maybe it’s nice to get attention for our suffering and that’s fine if that’s how we want to live. But most of us have a survivor within us fighting to seek out solutions and begin to act on them. I’d much prefer to listen to that little fighter. I’m not saying we can’t speak up about our problems, but when we do, we need to find help and start working on obliterating what is holding us back. There’s never an excuse for settling.
Regardless how it manifests itself in your life, be it through an eating disorder, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, substance abuse or whatever it is – you do not have to deal with emotional distress in this way forever.
It’s not merely a part of your life, it is not who you are, it’s not something you have to learn to live with and it’s not unbeatable. If you haven’t been told before or you don’t believe it yet, I want you to know that you can recover. This is not all there is and you're not stuck living like this.
Life is challenging, but if we just succumb to the identity of whatever diagnosis has been given to us, we’re not overcoming the challenge, we're letting ourselves get buried beneath it. To me, that’s not good enough for any of us, that is settling and missing out on the gift of life that we have. Even if you can't see it right now, life is actually an amazing thing and it's worth fighting for, every step of the way.