The common cold: A mental health analogy

Trying to get people to understand what it’s like to have a mental health problem who haven’t been there themselves is often a frustrating ‘banging your head against a brick wall’ experience. Understandably, people find it a very difficult concept to get there head around and stigma and invalidating, ill-informed senseless comments still linger around mental health such as ‘just get over it’ and ‘stop being so selfish’ etc.

Imagine yourself having a cough/cold. Or the flu,what you percieve to be the flu. Fluctuating between being bunged up and that endless stream of tears and (to be frank) snot (where does it all come from?!). How tiresome life becomes. How hard simple tasks can be. To you, you feel awful. You don’t want to do anything but get better. That is your body’s insticts kicking in. Rest, please rest. I will fight this illness if you rest. 

Now try and imagine how other people view you. Have you ever heard people say it’s ‘just a cold’ or ‘get over it’?

Imagine how you perceive other people with a cold? A bit of you may feel sorry for them, but is there some part of you that thinks ‘We all get colds, can’t you just get on with it?’.

My point is, what you see from the outside, is rarely what it feels like from in the inside for someone else. A cold is obviously different, in that every one has had a cold. Hence the ‘common’ cold. So empathy is a little easier.

Trying to empathize with something you have never felt is near impossible. It works with physical illness too. I am fortunate enough to have never suffered from cancer, or a heart attack or a stroke etc. etc. I don’t know what it feels like to experience these, I can’t even imagine. BUT what I can do is listen. Not judge, I’ve not been there. Try and let go of my preconceptions. The closest you can get to understanding something you haven’t experienced is to listen to the words of someone who has.

Listen. Take it for what it is, not what you think it is.

Pushing yourself to ‘breaking point’

The problem with constantly pushing yourself to breaking point, is that you’re constantly disappointed when you break.

Ever strive so hard to keep yourself busy, to keep yourself functional and ‘alive’? To keep forgetting? To keep running.  Keep. Running. Keep. Running.

My hand scrawls across the paper vigorously and the word ‘run’ repeats over and over again. I keep running, I keep panicking. To scared to even look at what is behind me. I am lost in that word, I am lost in the spaces between the letters and I hide there; nobody can see me.

I keep running and I keep hiding.

Keeping busy can be good. People are always telling you to do it. ‘Just keep yourself busy’ ‘Don’t think about it’ ‘Try not to think about it’. Have you ever tried NOT to think about something? What a strange paradox, surely any attempt to not think of something is only going to lead to more thoughts about that same subject.

One of the things I have found, though, with keeping yourself busy is it seems to have a bit of an endless snowball effect. Whereby you start to dust yourself in a light covering of snow and think ‘I won’t look at me, that’ll do. That light covering hides it all.’ And then the next day, you patch up the sections that have melted a little. You start to feel paranoid, like people can see your colours through the white dusting of snow. Slowly, you add more and more. You roll and you roll until you are so big and covered in so much snow you have no idea who is underneath any more; not even the faintest flicker of colour seeps through. At first, you thought this was what you wanted. To hide, to hide from everyone. But now you realise you’ve even hidden from yourself. You’re buried. But by this stage, you are so catastrophically encased you can no longer move to fight your way out.

So you are stuck there. Forever? Can you thaw out? Can you do it alone? You got yourself there, didn’t you? Can you get yourself out? Or does it take somebody else to pull you out?

What a hell to be trapped in side the case we made for ourself to be hidden in.

You cannot keep yourself busy forever. You cannot hide forever. You cannot run forever. Its implausible. Someday you might have to face up to things. Someday you might have to stop in your tracks, to look at the footprints that chase you there. You might have to turn around and walk back up those some tracks and retrace them. Look for what’s chasing you. You may find that the footprints that followed you stopped a while back, and it has just been a set of feet identical to yours you’ve been running from since.

Remember your self affirmations: you are not bad, you have done the best you could in the situation you were in. Remember that snow is beautiful, but that you are beautiful beneath too.

Don’t face things alone. Don’t be disappointed in yourself.

Accept your own footprints for what they are, you took that path for a reason.