Headspace #10

Hey everyone! So this week Headspace turns 10 blogs old – and there have been over 1000 visits to the blog. I’d like to thank everyone who has written about their mental health experiences – if you’d like to share your experience do get in touch. Today’s post is a great one – it covers coping with life after University and has some great observations at the end.

Accepting Reality

I don’t really know where to start – so I’ll go from the beginning, I guess. I’d just finished university, and thought myself a well informed realist about how difficult breaking into my field would be. To quote a rather appropriate lyric – ‘ I never thought it would be easy… I didn’t know it would be this hard’. I had no idea. 6 months later I was doing a job I hated and facing the reality that what I needed was to further my education – which I couldn’t afford. So I worked away for minimum wage, in a situation a lot of people find themselves in – overworked, understaffed, underappreciated and stuck where I was. I had a few days off over Christmas- which if anything seemed to make things worse. I came back, and like putting back on a pair of painful shoes after resting for a while, it seemed worse than before I had a break.

It all came to a head one day – I was stood doing washing up during the breakfast rush, and it was like I was watching what was happening on a TV, or through someone else’s eyes (disassociation, my GP later called it). The next thing I knew, I was crying, shaking – I just hated being stuck here, being nothing but a warm body for an institution to work into the ground and replace with the next one in line where necessary.

It was downhill from there, really. It was a rather brutal combination of anxiety, which kept me afraid of leaving the house and depression, which kept me from seeing the point of trying. I stopped doing things I enjoyed – partly because I just didn’t want to anymore, partly because I simply couldn’t bear it when I did manage to go do something, and I just didn’t enjoy it. Feeling like that about something I used to love was heart-breaking, and I couldn’t bear it.  It took 3 different medications and 2 years to find something that worked for me – but even this didn’t make me ‘better’ – it lessened the dark feelings, but it lessened everything else as well. I was flat, somehow. It wasn’t until I saw a light at the end of the tunnel – a new loan scheme for MSc students – that things started to improve. I went abroad for an internship, got a place on an MSc program, and half way through that, finally, finally came off antidepressants 3 and a half years after starting them. I was happy – I could see a future, I was fulfilled learning about what I’m interested in – I’ve always loved learning.

Now, I’m afraid. I’m afraid because I’m staring down that dark tunnel again – facing the idea that all my investment in myself – all the internships, volunteering and education advisors say is needed to do what I want to do – isn’t getting me anywhere. I’m scared, because I can feel the bad days creeping back in. I’m scared, because I don’t want to go back on medication- with everything I have, I don’t want that.

One thing I’ve battled with is – this is just life. It sucks. Thousands, millions of people have crap jobs, have career goals that are never realised – so why can’t I just deal with it like they do? I want to be happy with what I have – a home, friends, a partner. It’s not that I’m not happy with those things – and I appreciate them, as I know it’s a lot more than a lot of people have. But after a while, these things fade as the black cloud that follows me turns them from bright, vivid points of light into faded watercolours.

I think this is something I’m going to battle for the rest of my life. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to stop focussing on where I want to be, and learn to value where I am. Saying that is easy – making yourself feel it is not. And for anyone out there with the ignorant suggestions – ‘think positive! Go for walks! Don’t let yourself focus on the bad!’ – please, please educate yourself. That’s not how mental health works. Just because the problem is with what I’m thinking, it doesn’t mean I can just decide to think myself better. Funnily enough, the idea had occurred. It doesn’t work. And for anyone out there battling mental health – baby steps. If you find comfort in that kind of thing, look up the ‘boring self care’ hashtag. Sometimes we have expectations that are too high for our recovery. Healing, self care – it isn’t all big gestures and running 5k for charity. Sometimes it’s taking your medication on time and brushing your teeth. Maybe you didn’t manage either of those things today –  but that’s ok. You are doing your best. The black dog (a good video on this topic) will try and convince you that you could have, should have, done more- but don’t listen. This is your battle, and no one can dictate how you should be acting. There will be better days – we just have to battle through each moment as it comes to get there.

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