my mental health journey: part 2
This is the second part of a post I published about my mental health journey. To catch up on the first part click here!
I’d like to say once I turned my back on doctors and the health care system things became easier for me but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, looking back on it life didn’t get worse either and coming off the medication lifted the fog that had wrapped itself around my brain. Everything that happened to me whilst I was on medication felt like it was happening to someone else, I felt like an outsider looking in and sometimes like I had lost myself completely. It was a time I look back on with mixed emotions, none of them very positive. I was so very lost and sad and I looked for answers in everyone and everything I could. It meant I hurt a lot of good people, people who were only trying to look after me because they cared about me. But that’s something I only gained clarity on in hindsight.
There was no lightbulb moment for me, no epiphany where I suddenly realised what I had to do to make things better but there were certain events along the way that helped towards feeling more in control. When I was first diagnosed and put into the psychiatric system, I was required to attend a 10-week group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course. I would go to this group with about 8 other people and we would talk and complete exercises under the supervision of a Psychiatrist. Initially I was pretty pissed off I had to attend a group therapy session, but in the end, it was one of the most eye-opening things I did. Firstly because everyone in the room was different. It was a mixture of men, women, grandmothers, young adults; everybody and anybody and we all felt the same way and for a variety of reasons. We bonded quickly and soon it became something I actually looked forward to. The second reason I benefited from the sessions was that it introduced me to my counsellor. The psychiatrist heading the group knew our individual backgrounds and knew I’d recently been diagnosed with Bipolar. After a session, she pulled me to one side and offered to give me one on one therapy, free of charge. She also disagreed with my diagnosis completely. It’s an act of kindness I’ll never forget because the effect it had on me was long-lasting. All she did was let me talk to her for an hour every few weeks and I’d leave her office feeling like the rocks in my stomach had melted away.
A few years later I went to University as a mature student at 23. I had become interested in Sociology whilst doing a year-long course (something my counsellor had encouraged) and decided to study it further at a higher level. Moving away from home, attending lectures and meeting deadlines gave me something new to concentrate on. My mind was full to the brim with new and interesting concepts and I was more focused on getting good grades than I was the little monster in my head. University also gave me the chance to meet some of my best friends. People who understood exactly what I was going through because they had been there themselves. Having people around that could relate and say, “Me too” made me realise I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling.
Something else that taught me a lot about myself was going to Thailand for 5 weeks with my then best friend. Most people can travel without giving it a second thought; I have friends that get itchy feet if they have to stay in the same city for more than a few months. I’ve never been like that. My comfort zone is my home and my family and it’s not easy for me to leave it. Going away for 5 weeks made me realise I could leave my comfort zone and more importantly I could actually enjoy it. I’m still not the kind of person that could go travelling around the globe for a year – I really wish I was – but I do know I can venture outside the boundaries I’ve put up for myself when I want to.
Throughout all this learning about myself, depression was always there, I’m not sure I believe it ever really goes away. However, I became more aware of what triggered it or had a negative impact on my mental health. In essence that’s all that changed for me. I started paying more attention to myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I can’t say that I’ve accepted it wholly because I’m still learning how to and I think that comes with time. Truth be told I still feel angry, sad and confused that my own brain can make me feel the way I do but much worse than all of those emotions is how scared it makes me. I’m scared I’m going to feel this way for the rest of my life. I’m scared the people closest to me will become sick of taking care of me on the days that I’m unable to and I am terrified that one day it will wear me down and swallow me whole.
I’m 28 years old now and looking back have probably had depression for at least half my lifetime. In the grand scheme of things I’m still only a pup and have a lot left to learn about myself and there’s still a long way to go on this journey. But I’ve also already come a long way too and it’s that thought that I hold onto when I feel like I don’t know which way is up.