I’m no stranger to talking really. In 2014 I went to my first Gamblers Anonymous session and poured my heart out to total strangers. Professionally I can stand in front of 500 people and do a half-hour presentation. I can walk into a pub and introduce myself to absolutely anybody - as long as I am not talking about my mental state.
To the average person and those not consumed by the daily struggles that come with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, talking can be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. For those like me who continue to struggle at times, it’s a task akin to climbing Everest and more often than not, just as insurmountable. It leads to sometimes irreparable strains on important relationships, not just with family members and partners, but friends just as good as, not to mention colleagues and important associates; essentially the entire circle around you.
When you lose that connection with such an important network of people, you start to feel empty. I would go as far to describe myself as utterly soulless during my worst episodes, some of which only very recently. Instead of sitting down and explaining my fears and worries, I try to front things with wasted bravado - how could you love and claim to be compassionate towards people you can’t even share your feelings with?
As a great example, a few months ago my parents were set to meet my then partner’s parents, and for the weeks leading up to it both my parents and partner could tell my brain was in overdrive, even more frenetic and chaotic than the alarming pace it normally runs at. Instead of responding to their concern and sharing my frets, even if they were a little silly, I fronted it out, leading the actual night which for everyone else was a wonderful success, to become a nightmare for me. I drank enough gin to sink a small ship, resulting in two panic attacks and ultimately causing fractures in said relationships.
Experiencing a mental illness makes you feel selfish
What people who try to manage mental illness symptoms seldom reveal is how selfish it makes them feel and, as irrational as it sounds, the daily battle in their own minds would be better off there as opposed to burdened on another person’s shoulders, even if that person is the one you lie next to of a night, or the sibling you share your day with. No one wants to be feeling like a nuisance and certainly not an inconvenience. “A problem shared is a problem halved”, but I would just convince myself I am a pest to everyone around me, despite the overwhelming size of my support network.
Often those with mental illness feel trapped, stuck in their own heads and at war with themselves. To steal some lyrics from a famous band, I was “bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say, chained to all the places that he never wished to stay”. The words I wanted to say made me feel weak, stupid and self-indulgent - the places would often be my alone in a corner of my bedroom, or a social event I had absolutely no desire to be a part of.
But it is time to talk.
If you’re suffering then start small, write something on a paper, save a note on your phone – the minute it goes elsewhere, the pressure valve in your brain opens a little, and slowly but surely you can manage it. If you’re on the outside looking in, remember, nobody wants to be babied. We might be struggling, but we’re not attention seekers. We might seek reassurance for insignificant things, but try to remember our brains during that time are not quite wired the same as yours. You can only offer support and build small steps that could ultimately lead to a revelation or a hint at what an underlying issue may be.
Everest may be undoable for some, but there are plenty who have conquered it, especially those with a helping hand.