Anyone who has a mental illness knows the road to recovery is a bumpy one. Today, Simon discusses his personal journey and offers an insightful anecdote about his experiences.
I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was 18 and in just over a week, I will be 37. When you say it like that, it sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?
Nearly 20 years of suffering with issues, problems, horrible experiences, not to mention hours spent sitting in therapists’ rooms (some good, some decidedly mediocre), pouring out my heart and often walking out the door feeling worse than I did when I went in.
Don’t even get me started on replaying conversations I’ve had with people, or things which happened ages ago which any normal person would have long since consigned to the dustbin of memory. But that’s the thing – I’m not normal. When you have depression and anxiety, you spend an awful lot of time, relatively speaking, not thinking very straight at all.
Let me get to the point. Some years ago, I joined an online mental health support group on Facebook. At the time, I was working in a job I didn’t particularly enjoy and was also struggling with various issues at home and it seemed like the obvious thing to do. I was a latecomer to Facebook and while everyone I knew circa 2008 or so was braying about how many friends they had or how many ‘likes’ they’d got for this, that or the other, I remained frostily aloof from it all.
‘I’ll never join it,’ I muttered darkly to anyone who’d listen, ‘It brings out the worst in people.’ Well, congratulations, former self, you were right. But only, as it turns out, half-right. So anyway, I joined the Facebook group, which was for people like me, who suffer from depression and anxiety. I was there for a grand total of about four years and eventually became an admin.
I became an admin shortly after returning to work, following some time off for mental health reasons. I was feeling vulnerable and I wanted to help others. My partner, being far more practical than me at times, asked if I was really ready for the responsibility. I said yes, of course I was and ploughed ahead.
During my time as an admin, I experienced the worst of human nature. Bullying, backbiting, emotional manipulation, cliques, on-line fights and power struggles. Yes, even in a group supposedly aimed at helping people through the storms and stresses of life, I saw plenty of behaviour which made me feel distinctly uneasy.
Let’s not romanticise this stuff, after all, nobody asks to have depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue. But just because someone has them, it doesn’t necessarily make them sympathetic towards, or supportive of, others. People in the community don’t always want to admit this, but I fear it’s something most of us know, on some level or other, and that is, sometimes, you feel alone, horribly, horribly alone.
The good news is, my experiences as an admin also brought me closer to the best of humanity. I saw kindness, compassion, empathy and humour, with people offering their time, for no reward, just to be of help to someone else. Sometimes it was as simple as just asking if they were okay, or what they’d been up to that day. Some of the friends I’ve made I’m confident will be with me for the long-haul and that’s more important than money or power or fame or any of the other things people often chase after in this rather confused world of ours.
There’s a line I’m very fond of from a song by Bob Dylan which goes ‘Friends will arrive / Friends will disappear.’ He sings it without a hint of self-pity, knowing that people enter our lives at different points for a reason and while some will leave the party, others will stay as constant companions along the way. Whether you are religious or not (and I am not), the best gift we can give someone is our friendship, our time and our love.
As for my past life as a mental health admin, I don’t regret my experiences although I must admit I have felt at times angry about the way certain things played out and sad that they did not go better. But I am also happy to have met the wonderful people I have and even someone like me, pessimistic by nature and cynical through choice, can see the goodness in humanity, the people in our lives who show what we can be at our very best. No-one lives there all the time, but it’s good to have friends who can take us there sometimes and remind us there are indeed better things. Because when we are struggling and the mental health monsters are attacking us, we are very often better together, providing it’s with the right kind of people.
And if you ever find yourself in a position where you are expected to help others, do not do so at the expense of your own mental health. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others and always recharge your batteries when you need to. None of us is inexhaustible. Avoid the twin perils of trusting all and trusting none and instead, trust those who deserve it.
Remember, we’re nearly always better off together in the long-run and that there is always someone willing to help. There are good people in this world of ours, even if it doesn’t always seem it. And above all, remember this – recovery is possible.
Did you see Jessie’s post last week about the meaning of life? It’s definitely worth a read.