Coming off antidepressants may have been a watershed moment, but the past two weeks have reaffirmed something I already knew: coping with mental illness is a daily battle. Sometimes the battles are small and sometimes they are easily won (though, oddly, these are often the bigger ones), but the battles still have to be fought. You can’t opt out.
Life tends to present many problems and uncertainties, which are tricky to handle without the added complication of mental illness. I find myself questioning my reactions when things go wrong — if I get angry, does it mean my mental health is worsening or is it a natural reaction? If I feel sad and disappointed when my plans go awry, is it “normal” or is it mental illness?
Logically, I know that my symptoms will fluctuate and that everyone’s mood, regardless of their mental health, fluctuates. In fact, many symptoms of mental illness are “normal” in moderation — it’s when they take over your life that they become destructive. For example, feeling unmotivated and lethargic once in a while is par for the course, but when I feel like that most days, it’s due to depression. I have to accept that the boundaries between mental illness and good mental health will always be unclear for me: I can never blot out my experience of mental illness, so it will always affect how I interpret my emotions and behaviour.
There are advantages to this continual assessment of my mood: I can gauge my symptoms and intervene before they get too bad. When I feel anxious or depressed or whatever, I can use my strategies to help myself feel better. I can also examine the circumstances of my change in mood and work out whether I’m reacting to a particular situation, in which case I may be able to find practical solutions. Being self-aware can be incredibly useful, but it’s not easy — it is both a battle in itself and a tactic for winning battles.
I find myself in a strange situation, because some days I feel extremely well and other days I still feel ill. Thankfully, the former are edging out the latter, but even good days present battles I hadn’t anticipated. Good days make me wonder if I ought to be doing more, achieving more. I question whether I am using my mental health problems as an excuse or if I’m just lazy. Pacing myself is a struggle.
I think perhaps the trick to winning these daily battles is to assess how I feel each day and act accordingly. There will be days when I can go out, have fun and act carefree. There will also be days when I zone out in front of the television and overthink every single aspect of my life. Some battles will be won in glorious fashion; others will, inevitably, be lost. I just have to keep fighting.