When I realised it was World Mental Health Day I felt a pang of unease, a strange feeling of being unsettled. I know this is because I’m currently on the waiting list for six weeks of talking therapy and twelve weeks of CBT for anxiety. The course of CBT will be my third and the second related to anxiety.
When I think about my mental health, I think of it in terms of a journey. One which I’ve been on since the age of 11. There have been highs and lows, like in all aspects of life, and after fourteen years of OCD and anxiety, and associated spells of depression, I feel grateful that, for the first time in my life, I have the ability to look at my personal journey through a new lens. And, as odd as it might sound, that lens is glossed with optimism.
After years of ignoring my mental health and not taking care of myself I am now in a place where I care about my own wellbeing, I talk openly about how I’m feeling, and I actively seek to make positive change. For the first time I understand how long I’ve spent living under a cloud of shame and guilt, carried heavily on my shoulders because of years of stigma. I alone have not carried the burden of this stigma, but alongside the one in four of us who experience mental illness of some form. And alongside my family and devoted friends who have chosen to love me, support me, and stick with me, no matter what.
As I wait for my treatment to begin I think about all of the times, since turning 18, I have let my mental illness win and what I have lost when that has happened. From my relationship, to my dream job, to a life in London. Every time I’ve lost something I’ve felt defeated and broken and in turn I placed myself, willingly, in a pit of self-loathing. I spent ten years of my adolescence and early adulthood believing I was not worthy of anyone’s love. When I left London I thought I had totally failed. I previously, deliberately, physically hurt myself. I say this not for sympathy, but because I can’t tell you how grateful I am to sit here today and know that those beliefs were bonkers. I sit here knowing I will never willingly hurt myself again. What 2019 has taught me, is that every time this illness tries to attack – and win – I get back up and I begin again. And every time that happens, the recovery process gets quicker.
For the first time I practice self love. I have a beautiful group of funny, caring friends who know that these low waves that come as surely as anything else in life, will pass, that they don’t define me. I understand that my anxiety and OCD is just one part of me, not all. And that part? It’s really small. I get good sleep. I read lots of books. I meditate.
I’m finally in the business of taking care of myself.
I hope this round of treatment will be my last, but who knows? If it isn’t, then I’m 100% willing to keep falling down, in order to keep standing back up again.