What would you say is your biggest mental health struggle that you deal with on a regular basis?
You know when you drop a feather and it floats slowly back and forth, wafting its way down to the ground? Follow the feather’s trajectory, and it’s a fair descriptor of my trajectory through depression – a gradual descent to the floor (read, rock bottom). Thankfully, blissfully, a welcome breeze recently blew in and picked up my metaphorical feather (is this analogy working? idk). Anyway, now I’m working to harmonize with the life gusts that lift us all up and push us all down. The downs still come on strong, but I don’t swoop nearly as low into the depths of hopelessness and self-loathing as I once did.
How open are you with other people you interact with on a regular basis about mental health, how does shame play a role in this?
Generally, I’ll share just about anything…if the other person shares first. If someone gives me a tidbit about their mental health, I’ll go with it, as is my way in most discourses. Many of the people I’m closest to also deal with mental health concerns, and, being fascinated by the workings of the brain and its chemicals, I’ve learned enough to talk about medications and emotions and neurotransmitters for hours.
But regardless of the topic, it’s very seldom that I say much of anything at all if another person hasn’t initiated the conversation. This holds true regarding mental health though other things holding me back may include (Exhibit A):
- It’s dark shit, and most other people have enough dark stuff in their lives without me dredging up more
- I don’t want to appear weak
- People might get bored
- I have no patience for people who fish for attention, or for those who speak only of themselves; I fear becoming like the humans who bother me most 😬
- A weird cycle of guilt for feeling sad because I live a cushy life compared to most, then feeling guilty for feeling guilty, etc, etc.
How has mental health changed, for better or worse, your relationships with other people?
I’d actually never thought about mental health making a relationship better – that’s a lovely thought – and true, upon deeper reflection. People who undergo similar brain tribulations forge a connection that is quick and deep. In a best situations, it’s almost like a hazing ritual – you’re all screwed-up, but you’re screwed up together, so it’s okay (not a PC statement, but whatever). My closest friends can truly empathize with how I’m feeling, and understand my grasping analogies. Alternately, I suppose some connections of this nature could become tangled and venomous.
There are always the people who just (eye roll) Don’t Understand. Retrospectively, many wonderful relationships could have been saved, had I only made the other party privy to my current state of despair (see Exhibit A). Still, there is a select population who will just say you’re lazy and spineless and regard you with small dose of supercilious contempt. My relationships with that group of people have mostly come to a close.
What different coping mechanisms have you tried, what has helped what has hurt?
That’s another thing I’m still really working on – I haven’t quite found anything that lifts me out of a bad day just yet – once I cross a certain threshold, I’m out for the count. So right now, I focus more on preemptive measures to keep myself away from that precipice. It took a long time and a lot of humility to admit it, but for me exercise is an incredible boon. After two years of denying thinking I could get away along without breaking a sweat, my brother kicked me back into gear, reminding me that “Smiths just need to run!” How right he is.
Talking about how I’m feeling is another way I steer myself away from distilled misery, but it has to be with the right person. I’ve definitely been hurt or angered after sharing with someone who isn’t a good confidante fit. Luckily, my amazing mother possesses wisdom and compassion beyond compare and I turn to her when I feel clouds rolling in. I’d also be remiss in my British heritage if I didn’t tout the curative properties of a strong, hot cup of black tea with milk and sugar. Truly magical.
Image via Kevin Farzad
How do you perform self care and self love?
I practice self care through setting aside “time for me” (shocker). In many respects, life’s too short to spend in places you want don’t want to be. I’m still figuring out a balance between social commitments, time flying solo, and like, work/laundry/jury duty etc. If it’s any indicator, I would joyfully spend as much time getting ready to go out as I actually spend at an event… that ratio seems to work for me, and people can say what they will – they’ve obviously never known the divine pleasure of a good sheet mask.
Self-love is a tougher one, because my particular mental health tribulations manifest as encompassing self-disgust. When I first love someone, their surface level flaws becoming inconsequential. More enduring though, is love that heedfully persists when flaws permeate far below the surface, to places they cannot be overlooked or ignored. I think only when you know someone very, very well can the second kind of love come about, and I’m working to know myself in that respect. It’s just like, a little more intense – ya know?