This picture sums up what mental illness feels like for me.
You can see nothing behind the gate, because it’s obscured by mist. If I tell you there is usually a picturesque view of trees, fields and a farmhouse, you have to either take my word for it or wait until the mist clears to see whether I’m right. For now, all you can see is the mist.
It’s the same when people tell me I can manage my mental health — or recover — enough to live the kind of life I want. To live my version of success, fulfilment and happiness. I can’t see past the mist, so I don’t know whether they are telling the truth.
It’s difficult to believe the mist will clear.
Even when I know what is behind the mist, i.e. my current life as I experience it when my mental health is relatively good, it’s hard to keep faith that the mist will clear. Or to believe, if it does clear, that the view will not have changed.
Part of me is always thinking “you can’t rely on anything” — every time I think I have something figured out, it has a tendency to fall apart. This isn’t always true, to be fair, but it has been true often enough in my experience that I tend to default to thinking everything will go wrong because that’s easier to deal with than the disappointment when I get my hopes up.
Long term mental illness wears you down that way. You think you can outrun it by working hard and using your coping strategies, but sometimes it catches you anyway and you lose stuff. Stuff like jobs, money, friends, self-esteem, confidence.
The mist is always ready to descend.
When things are going relatively well, you can’t fully relax or be optimistic because the mist is still hanging on the horizon. In a matter of minutes, it could creep up on you and obliterate the landscape.
With that in mind, I try to keep going in the right direction — even when I can’t see far ahead.
I use my compasses (life values like creativity, compassion and curiosity) and I hope that my next steps will become — and remain — clear.
Sometimes they do. Other times I’m wandering in the mist, lost, scared, alone and confused.
So when I talk about being scared of getting ill again, I’m not talking about the sniffles or feeling a bit subdued — I’m talking about the mist descending and obliterating everything in my life.
I keep reminding myself that according to Keats, autumn is not only the season of mists. There are blessings, which I try to seek out. I think I should think of my life in the same way: the mists may always be waiting to close in on me, but my life and experiences can still be fruitful.