Warning: This post discusses depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Please do not proceed with reading this post if these topics are likely to be distressing for you.
Greetings Twisties and welcome to the new name!
Today marks the first day back into writing and talking about mental health. I admit that, in my own stupidity, I did quite possibly the flipside to what I should have done. Having seen many, many other writers and bloggers talk about mental health, I decided that I should leave it to everyone else to write about anxiety and depression and focus on my niche instead but, and I ask you, was that really the right idea, really? It’s one of those times, I think, that leaving it to those more knowledgeable than I am was quite possibly a bad decision. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve certainly been through the ringer when it comes to my own mental health and, I’d like to hope, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that could help you should you ever need them later on.
For today, I’m not talking tips and tricks. Instead, I’m posing this question to you – are we really talking about mental health, or are we actually deflecting on mental health? Ha, I know, I’ve got you interested now.
Just before I got married, I experienced my first intrusive thought in my young adult life. As I chopped up an apple for a snack, I had the sudden mental image of plunging the knife into my to-be husband’s chest. Horrified at the idea, I dropped the knife and ran out of the room in tears. Since then, I’ve experienced many, many other forms of intrusive thoughts, including slashing my wrists with a tin can lid, hanging myself from a pendulum light fitting (or more commonly, the shower rail), harming loved ones in all kinds of graphic ways, and I could easily go on.
When these intrusive thoughts began, I immediately got myself to the doctor and got myself checked in for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I won’t lie to you, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy had me smiling again within a few weeks, but that’s not without plenty of cursing and tears first. CBT requires you to be really willing to ‘go there’ with your mental health, it isn’t easy and nothing gets sugar-coated. Pills are sugar-coated, not therapy.
Throughout therapy, I remember feeling very, very alone with my thoughts. Even if I’d been clinically diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, I still felt incredibly alone as a sufferer. The groups that were prescribed to me were full of other sufferers who had cleaning or hoarding compulsions, nobody admitted to having harm obsessions like I did. When I opened up about the nature of my thoughts, I noticed a few people pull their chair that little bit further away. Another ‘friend’ also blocked me on social media, heaven forbid crazy little me might actually try and stab someone.
Over time, I continued to do battle with my OCD. I had an inner demon that I’d argue with, or Aragog, as I’d decided to call him. Each time Aragog told me that I was worthless or a failure and that I should just go kill myself, I’d argue back under my breath.
“Shut up, Aragog.”
Slowly, very, very slowly, I grew stronger and stronger against my OCD. When the bad thoughts tripped me up, I was able to self-diagnose them and I was able to see that they were all just a part of my OCD. The hardest kind of therapy for OCD is ERP, or Exposure & Response Prevention. The idea behind it is that, if you stay in the frightening situation for long enough, the scary thought eventually goes away. I won’t tell you some of the things that I had to do in the name of therapy because I don’t want anyone to attempt such treatment without professional involvement, but do know that some of what your therapist will ask you to do is enough to make you question their sanity, never mind your own.
Through therapy, I was gradually able to have more good days than bad. Sometimes I got by with a little bit of focus and determination, and other times I’d have to admit that the OCD had won. Fortunately, my therapist had already warned me that there will be good days and bad days in my fight against depression and anxiety, and so sort of anticipated them anyway.
When the really dark days set in during the winter months, sometimes even more aggressive symptoms came about. Sometimes I’d feel a tense, itching sensation and have an unrelenting urge to cut them, anything to make the pain go away. I’d sob and cry and claw at my skin, willing myself to make it through each new day.
After two years of suffering with those same horrific symptoms, I was handed another damning diagnosis- Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
The problem with mental health disorders is that they affect us all differently, and each time I experienced a new symptom, I was usually just met blank stares and sympathetic nods. Nobody really understood me, and even fewer could or would relate, which really gets me back to my leading question;
Are we really talking about our mental health? Or are we simply deflecting it? Why are we so afraid to admit that we struggle ourselves?
Quite often when we talk about tackling mental health, we talk about helping other people manage their own inner demons. We might nod and agree with one another, but it is seldom that most people are ever really willing to talk about their own darkest feelings. Instead, we deflect the problem away from ourselves and back onto the task at hand.
Yesterday, Matt introduced me to a song that recently entered the charts. If you’ve never listened to it before, then this is “Serotonin” by Girl In Red:
What stood out to Matt, and to myself, is some of the lyrics in this song. This young lady describes having violent intrusive thoughts, intrusive thoughts just like me, like the ones that I’d often been getting myself.
So then, I was left with another agonizing question: Do I really have OCD, or was I just a bit… you know, stressed? Is it a mental disorder, or is it more likely to be emotional fatigue? Being a housewife, a carer and a dog mom were bound to be impacting me!
Have I really been pushed through months of gruelling therapy for something that so many people suffer from, but simply aren’t ready to admit?
How many other people are out there, taking medications with all kinds of horrendous side effects and in the hope that these thoughts will eventually subside?
Why are we talking about mental health, but not our own experiences of it?
Why are we so afraid of admitting that sometimes we have these dark thoughts, too?
How can we say we care for one another, if we can’t be honest about ourselves?