Look harder and longer for the signs. It’s worth the journey.
First post for ages, A Path To Followers (APTFs), apologies for that. To be frank, I have been exhausted by the whole fundraising process. Still $8500 being transferred to Early In Life Mental Health Services for a new Sensory Space as you read.
Today I have been inspired to write about the onset of mental unwellness; about the warning signs and our life style contributions which, in times of strength, might give us breath and light, but also lurk in the background ready to pull us down and into a world of emotional instability should we trip up. I pride myself of being pretty in tune to my friends and their place on the emotional see saw on any given day, but I struggle to identify those warming signs in myself and identifying them in those around you can be even more tricky. I hope the couple of examples I give today can help you identify any signs of distress in those around you.
Firstly, for those of you reading this who have a lived experience of mental unwellness, I want you to know that your thoughts of unworthiness, of not being enough, are NOT reflective of your place in everyone’s life and can be temporary with the right treatments.
I can only talk from my experience and from those who have been brave enough to entrust their experiences with me; both in my professional lifetime and in my role as a “just” a regular person. But in just taking that perspective, I think I can shed some real light on warning signs you might see (and probably attribute to some other reason) that your loved ones, colleagues and friends might experience prior to becoming visibly and noticeably unwell. Please remember that every person experiences illness as an individual and as such, my perspective is just that, MY perspective. Let’s hope its common enough to guide you in supporting those around you.
I loved entertaining friends and family at our home, to the point I became relied on as the organiser of all social gatherings (or at least I thought so). I exhausted myself planning, inviting and hosting the events and then was always disappointed when those times were quickly over and everyone went on with their own lives. I was again, alone, with two small babies and a husband, for as readily available and as awesomely helpful at home as he was, he was still working long days in the city, while I was at home way out in the suburbs. It was like I was not worthy outside of those group gatherings. I was a young mum at the time and my friends were mainly all still living the single life and/travelling. My side of the family lived in the country. It felt like no ever called me or asked to visit me. I felt completely and utterly alone.
I don’t hold social gatherings much anymore, but more importantly I try not to equate my sense of self-worth with the people I invite or events I do and don’t get invited to. I was forced to struggle with being alone and being with only my immediate family. It’s been a long journey, but I revel in those times now; my time with my four main men.I no longer regularly equate my self-worth to settings where I feel good because of the people I am with, but to my own inner peace. It’s an inner peace that I still have to be conscious to nurture, but it now allows me the capacity to sit back and be me, without any social grouping propping me up.
Little things become giant hurdles and little people become insurmountable monsters when you are becoming unwell; at least that’s how I lived it. I was rightly or wrongly dedicated to keeping a very clean and tidy house, of ensuring my two growing babies were given every learning opportunity and exposure to the greatness in their worlds. I would be in constant state of fragility over messiness, over unwashed clothing, dishes, but still doggedly ensured that all the activities that created such mess were kept in regular operation. I never quite knew or believed that the world would keep functioning, that I would still be a great mum and partner, if I let this part of my world fall apart, even just a little bit… It was exhausting me.
I became obsessed and ill at ease at having my mother-in-law in the house. I perceived her every attempt to include herself in our lives as one giant intrusion into our parenting and judgement of me as a mother. I couldn’t let it go for years. Thankfully, I came to realise that she was really only part of my problem, the rest remained in my head, set up by my own expectations of who I thought she was as a parent, who she was as a grandmother and how that related to her role in our lives as grown parents and adults. I allowed her pessimism and cynicism to infiltrate my world and would literally shake with anxiety every time I knew I would see her.
Learning to deal with my mother-in-law enabled me to learn much about my low sense of self-worth and the expectations I held of myself and other people. I became a different person for everyone who was in my life; each persona altered to fit what I thought their expectations of me to be. Again, exhausting!! Once I learned that I was a worthy person, with all my ugliness, I was able to escape from those expectations that I had created and obided by, but perversely thought everyone else held of me. An instant calm came over me once I realised that I had control over this; that these negative aspects of my life (in my head) could only continue to grow if I fed them.
I realised that even though I didn’t organise the regular catchup with my old school friends, they remained my friends. I finally recognised that the house was still a home and I was a very good parent, even though I didn’t follow my children around with a mop and bucket or take them to story time every week. It finally hit me in the face, that I was a good person, deserving of love, without having to prove to everyone (aka me) that I was a good enough.
When I realised all of that, I collapsed. Of course I collapsed. Anyone, putting themselves through that much effort to just be good enough, is like running a marathon, over and over in your head. Put that together with a genetic disposition for mental illness, a long family history of mental unwellness and a chemical imbalance, I finally started my long journey of recovery.
It was long and it is still ongoing. I still fight my fight. I fight it my way and I now believe I fight it pretty well. I still trip up. I am only now, almost 12 years after my first collapse, am able to notice my warning signs. I am only now, after almost 12 years on several medications, been able to wean myself off some of them. Medication has been its own long, slow journey, but one that I am willing to be patient with. It saved my life, probably over and over. I am not going to rush that.
Nothing’s ever perfect. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. But we can strive to be as good as we can be. Look at your friends, family and loved ones. Are they relying on others to bolster their sense of self-worth? Are they everyone to everybody, but least of all, to themselves? Are they concentrating loads of energy into the small things, which we think really matter, but ultimately are only solving one tiny part of a huge puzzle? Do they expect great things from themselves but never feel they deliver great things? Is this you?
Have a chat, send a text, check in. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to ask someone if they are ok. Most of all, stick around. Don’t make the assumptions about their withdrawal. Wait, be ready and willing when they feel safe enough.Most of all, respect that in doing this, they are revealing the most vulnerable part of themselves and that alone is a huge feet to master, especially in a world of mental stigma and social judgements.
Set your own path. Walk your own journey.