So, it’s that time of year once again – Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day of sharing stories, raising awareness and erasing stigmas surrounding mental health.
I’ve always been an open book when it comes to my mental health and – in a big picture sense – I’m a huge advocate for talking about it not just one day a year, but every day. It sounds odd when I say “in a big picture sense,” but I’m actually referring to a common problem that affects people living with mental illness.
It’s a lot easier for me to talk about my own mental health experiences in a big picture sense because it allows me to remove myself from the situation and look at things from the outside, disconnected. For instance, I can talk openly about my past experiences with self-harm, my brutal panic attacks and even my suicide attempt without thinking twice. However, it’s far more difficult for me (and I’m sure many others can relate) to talk about my mental health in the moment, during an episode.
Years ago, I attempted to confide in someone I trusted about my mental health. Without getting too deep into it, I’ll just say it didn’t go well. To be fair, I was in the middle of a major episode at the time, so I probably came across like… well, for lack of a better word, like a crazy person. As anyone who suffers from mental illness can confirm, people tend to be a lot more understanding and receptive when there are no actual symptoms showing. After all, the symptoms of mental illness are just as inconvenient for the people around you as they are for you.
But I digress. After that negative experience, I began forming a nasty little habit that I haven’t been able to kick to this day.
When I’m in the midst of an episode of depression or anxiety, I tend to not want to talk about it. Instead of confiding in friends and family, I resort to self-deprecating humour and the wonderfully bleak world of depression memes in an attempt to make light of the situation. When people ask me if I’m okay (which is a totally fair thing to do when someone starts making flippant jokes about killing themselves) I either say “I’m fine” or that I’m “just in a funk.” If they persist, I’ll give a little, but I always find myself trying to change the subject as quickly as possible. “But enough about me, how are you?“
Meanwhile, my symptoms are running rampant, so in reality I’m probably not fooling anyone. I stop going to class, flake on my friends and it takes every ounce of willpower in my body to resist calling into work sick every day for weeks at a time. I either eat too much or stop eating completely. I lack the energy to do basic things like brush my teeth and have a shower. Nothing seems interesting or worthwhile. I find myself beginning to question almost everything, from my friendships (do they all secretly hate me?) to my career choice (can I really see myself doing this for the rest of my life? Can I see myself doing anything for the rest of my life? Have I wasted all this time and money?). My guitar, paint brushes, camera and even this blog lay abandoned, sometimes for months at a time. Without realizing I’m doing it, I’m alienating myself from the people who care about me.
One symptom that I experience more than any other is dissociation, a word I only learned about five years ago. It pretty much blew my mind that there was a word for what I was feeling – or rather, not feeling – and that there were so many other people experiencing the same thing. The best way I can describe it without resorting to Google is a feeling of disconnectedness. Like I’m walking in a fog and nothing around me is actually real. It feels like I’m standing outside my body, watching it go through the motions but not really experiencing anything. These episodes can last anywhere from seconds, to minutes, to days. It doesn’t always happen during an episode, sometimes it comes out of nowhere on a day when I’m otherwise totally fine. But during an episode, it definitely happens more frequently. Consequently, even when I notice that I’m isolating myself and pushing people away, I can’t quite bring myself to care.
It’s difficult for the people who care about me to help – or to even know that something is going on – when all this is happening and yet I’m simultaneously trivializing my own situation any time someone reaches out. Eventually, people stop reaching out. They stop inviting you places because they know you’ll probably just back out. They stop asking how you are, and I can only assume it’s because they’re tired of hearing the same boilerplate response. I’m completely aware of all this, but once again, when I’m in the middle of an episode I just don’t care.
Last year, my mental health resolution was largely introspective: to not allow my mental health to kill my sense of self-worth. I was determined to learn to love myself and my skin again, even on the days when that little voice was screaming inside my head that I’m worthless. Some days – many days, actually – that voice is still there, obnoxious and persistent as ever. But I think ultimately I achieved my goal. Deep down in my core, I feel that I am finally comfortable with the girl I was, the woman I am and the person I’m aspiring to be. I’m finally at peace with myself, so this year for my mental health resolution I’m turning outward, to my relationships.
This year I’m putting my foot down. I refuse to let my mental illness kill my relationships with the people I care about. I will prioritize my friends and family, and I will make a conscious effort to do so. I have a tendency to make all these grand plans when I’m feeling manic, which naturally leads to bitter regret when the day actually comes and all I can do is roll myself into a blanket burrito and scroll idly through Tik Tok for 6 hours straight. This year, I’m going to make an effort to make realistic, achievable plans when I have a level head. If I still can’t keep them, I’m going to be honest about why instead of making excuses. I suppose this blog post is my way of holding myself accountable.
I tell a version of my story every year on Bell Let’s Talk Day, but I always try to make it a little different. More importantly, I try to tell it in a way that is future oriented, ultimately focusing on my goals rather than dwelling on the dark parts of mental health… my hope is that this will inspire others to do the same.