This weeks long awaited post is by Rosalind, if you are interested in her other posts you can find her last one here and follow the links there to access more. If you enjoyed the art in the piece you can find more here.
I find it interesting that we throw around the phrase mental illness in so many situations – clinically, socially, professionally – but you don’t often hear of people being mentally healthy. Mental Health is a term only used when there is a big problem.
The thing is, in my experience I don’t think it’s that simple. I know people with mental illnesses who are getting on a lot better than people without, mainly because they think about their Mental Health.
The brain is a funny creature and Mental Health and the culture, or even the social circle, we are in also influences the way we see it.
Friday last week I woke up and it felt like a part of my brain had turned off and I was no longer able to access emotions. This is not the first time this has happened. It lasted two days; the first I kept it low key and tried to accomplish a couple of tasks I needed to do, the second I went to work.
Without emotion, being motivated to do anything was difficult; being social was challenging and not doing inappropriate things was a struggle. I was using my rational brain to keep things on track using past experiences and the knowledge that I would care in the future to keep going.
I get intrusive thoughts. This is something I have only come to recognise recently after I explored the entire back catalogue of the great Maria Bamford, and they are harder to keep in check when you have no emotion (mine are reasonably mild and I wouldn’t consider it OCD territory).
Here are some examples of things I have thought about: smashing a bottle/ mug / anything smash-able and stabbing myself, slamming my head in a door, saying/doing inappropriate things the list goes on. Now these are not things I want to do, they appear as very non-aggressive suggestions in the same way you might think ‘hmm I could have some chocolate’. Just because I have these thoughts doesn’t mean I want to do these things, this is the bit that’s harder to wrap my head around, but it’s true and there is a difference, it just isn’t always clear cut.
It’s interesting when I have talked about my experience of losing my emotions to friends; the initial reaction is ‘that is awful’, which is in a part true, but on the other side it doesn’t feel awful because there is no feeling. There is knowledge that it’s not a good state, but no feeling behind that.
Part of the reason I want to write about this is because recognising that something happens helps me and knowing that it’s not just me makes things better. On the other side of this, I want there to be more awareness for things like this because I benefit so much from having really supportive people in my life so these things do not cause me large problems, but a lot of people don’t have that same support.
On my way back from work on Saturday my emotions slowly started to return. It’s funny how much you don’t notice your emotional experience until it’s gone. Sunday I was in work and it was a completely different day and for the next few days I noticed my emotional experience a lot more and was able to relish moments that would normally pass me by.
On both days I ate very nice chocolate and the difference in that experience was something I can’t even describe.
In the past I have had real difficulty coming to terms with the variance in my brain’s ability to function. I have tried to fight with my brain and it has failed miserably, often ending up with more difficulties and complications. I’ve got to a point where I have accepted my brain is complicated and fragile and that’s ok, I like it that way (even though sometimes it is hard to deal with…). I also feel very mentally healthy probably the most mentally healthy I have ever felt.
One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that sometimes the most important self care is not harming yourself or those around you and if you don’t manage to eat, shower or leave the house for a few days, that’s ok.
To those that haven’t experienced things like this, if someone in your life who you know experiences mental health difficulties and is being a bit of a tosser, examine your perspective for a moment. Are they actively seeking to hurt you? Does what they’re doing line up with what you know about them? Are they fighting a battle with their brain that you can’t see?
There are mental health services you can point them towards, it is also not your responsibility to fix them, but knowing someone is there for you makes such a difference. Imagine you are walking beside someone carrying a really heavy bag. They may fall over, they may pant and swear, they may even blame you for not carrying it because fuck it’s so heavy, but it’s not personal; if you weren’t their they would swear at the air and blame gravity. Knowing that you are there can distract a little from the burden.
It also means that I have a lot more patience and empathy. I mean if I can have empathy for myself when I have felt a very strong urge to physically maim/mental scar a stranger/myself/someone I love then it’s much easier to accept the frustrating things other people do.
I genuinely do not know what kind of person I would be without the love and support I have received in my life so far, so when I see people doing awful things I take a moment to see how they got there. It’s very easy to take what you have for granted and to say ‘it’s not an excuse’ but then try and excuse your own bad behaviour because you were a bit tired or you weren’t really paying attention.
What if they don’t know? I have days where I don’t know what emotions feel like. If I didn’t have a structure in place to help me remember what is important to me when I am not in that state I could commit genocide without batting an eyelid.
Black and white is just a filter, there are more perspectives than you can ever realise.
Above is a little book I created about one way I see my brain, to see more of my art click here.