Ever since I allowed myself to accept the actuality of my mental illness – I realise I haven’t posted expressly about this, but those of you who have been with me for a while could probably see where the cable car that is my mental health was headed – I’ve had to readjust my expectations of myself.
How did I get here?
Well, that’s a loaded question, because the truth is that it was, in all honesty, a whole witches brew of things which eventually led me to the place I find myself in now, but I could probably break it down to a few starting points.
This is not an exhaustive list.
1. How intrinsically bound my self-worth is to what I perceive as my usefulness. For example, did I work hard, parent well and clean at least two rooms of the house today? If the answer is no then I’m just a hopeless shitshow of a human being and I don’t deserve to feel in any way accomplished about anything. Anything short of a full house is a failure. Go directly to jail, etc, etc.
2. The fact that my position in the world compares unfavourably with the positions of pretty much everyone I considered a friend during my teenage years. My former friends are doctors, teachers, lawyers and architects. And I… well, for a long time I was in retail and now I’m a part-time admin bod. The phrase “could do better” was made for people like me. I’m a classic under-achiever, or so I tell myself, repeatedly, as I compare myself to everyone else and come up wanting.
3. I still don’t know what my place is in either society or the world as a whole. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever do anything noteworthy and, despite my knowledge of the fact that the vast majority of us live and die very quietly without ever changing the world, I nonetheless find the fact of it hard to accept.
4. I struggle financially. There. I said it. I don’t need to elaborate on it; it is what it is, and what it is also happens to be irrevocably tied to my self-worth.
There is more, but all of the channels eventually flow into one another to create the turbulent tides of my mental well-being. Or, I suppose, lack thereof.
So where do you start? Once you’ve sat yourself down and objectively identified the key areas of your struggle, where do you begin the process of unpicking the threads?
Well, one of the main things which feeds my negative self-image – and, therefore, my anxiety – is my lack of confidence in my parenting abilities (See 1). This is not all in my head; despite my best efforts I am not often the mother I always hoped to be.
So, this is where I’m starting. For three days now I have not raised my voice at my children. Because what I’ve realised? Is that shouting doesn’t get me anywhere. They still ignore me when they want to; all shouting does is give me a headache and a sore throat.
I’m also determined to stop scolding myself for not being the perfect homemaker. Am I going to die if the shower doesn’t get cleaned today? Are the children going to contract a deadly disease linked inexplicably to the crumbs under the toaster? Is my husband going to walk out on me for not vacuuming the rug today?
No. No. Possibly, but probably not.
If I choose to accept that I’m tired instead of fighting against it and I sit down and I read a book whilst my children play outside, this is not neglect. It is not neglect of my home and it is not neglect of my children. It is simply the recognition that, while sometimes inconvenient, my needs and self-care are also important.
Something else I’ve done is sign out of my Twitter account with the intention of not signing back in again until October. Not because I find that Twitter is particularly detrimental to my mental health – although at times, it certainly can be -, but because I feel that it’s important, at this juncture, to disconnect somewhat from the online world. Just for a while. Of course, part of me – specifically the anxious, perpetually terrified part of me – is afraid that once I log back in, my notifications will be clogged with trolls and negativity and bile, but I’m not in control of that and, as such, can’t do anything about it.
The problematic part of this process is the guilt. People – particularly, but not exclusively, women – feel a lot of guilt. Guilt is toxic. It is poison. And it breeds at an exponential rate inside us if we let it and eventually eclipses everything else. I know this because guilt and I have been on first name terms for quite some time now and we have a very intimate knowledge of one another. We are constant companions. Without my daily self-torture of guilt, I doubt that I’d have any idea who I am, but what I am willing to bet is that I would be happier. Healthier. Less of the individual elements that make up my daily struggle and more of myself.
All of this is not to say that at any point in the future I will ever be fixed. Mental illness requires a constant process of recovery and there is no specific end. It is transient. It goes through dormant periods and it goes through active periods. It has triggers and it has treatments, but it will never be gone. All of that being said, I believe that setting aside our guilt about everything we haven’t done, said or achieved and learning to forgive ourselves for not always being the best version of ourselves, even if we can’t do it all the time, can definitely do a lot to help during the times when our mental health battles feel especially overwhelming.