If any of you have been following my posts (thank-you), you may remember that I said at the end of my last post that I would be discussing how to approach the issue of self-injury with someone. I did get sidetracked this week, but that post will still be coming.
As I’m writing this it’s the first day of spring, and a beautiful day in Boulder, Colorado. I’m sitting outside; it’s sunny and a warm 17°C (64°F for my centigrade illiterate readers). Sitting out here in these conditions makes me feel that much worse for Clara Hughes out on her Big Ride in the cold, blowing snow (For those of you not aware, Hughes is doing a 12,000km, 110-day ride around Canada for mental health awareness. To answer your question, yes, she is the baddest badass there ever was.)
Spring is a time of new beginnings – blossoms blooming, a return of leaves on trees, animals all twitterpated (a nod to throwback Thursday with a Bambi reference) and the subsequent too-cute-for-words baby animals. I love spring. I also dread it nearly every year. Despite all this wonderfulness with new beginnings, warmer weather, and longer days, every year, like clockwork, I find myself in a slump come spring. I know this goes against the more common trend of the winter slump, but ask anyone I know and they’ll tell you that, for better or for worse, I’ve always been more of an against-the-grain kind of girl.
I’ve got to be honest and say that I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this because it is putting myself out there. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate, if she’s saying this happens every spring and it’s spring now, what she’s really saying is that she’s in a slump? This isn’t something I do much. Like many, many other people who live with mental illness, I would generally prefer to suffer in silence. Don’t reach out because what if there’s nothing there reaching back? Or what if there is something? What would they do if they knew? How would they react? Would they think any less of me?
If someone like me – a vocal mental health advocate who sports a “No Shame” tattoo in honour of mental health anti-stigma – still has this nagging internalized stigma, I feel as though that’s a pretty good indication of how persistent and powerful these external societal messages are that indicate that mental illness is something that we ought to be hiding. I also know that since becoming an advocate I’ve felt an additional pressure to be someone who is recovered, which for me meant no slips. But the reality is that mental health is an ongoing work in progress (a statement that, I believe, even those without a mental illness can agree with) and that perfection, whatever that even means in this context, is a pretty unreasonable expectation, particularly when you do live with mental illness.
The fact is that a slump or slip or whatever it is you want to call it, doesn’t mean that I’m automatically going to be back to when I was at my worst. But there is a greater chance that it would get to that point if I let my internalized stigma dictate whether or not I reach out. I really don’t want that to happen, and I know that my family and friends really wouldn’t want that to happen. So, here I am, saying that things aren’t 100% right now. If I can manage to put this out there for the whole internet to see, I have every faith that you, out there struggling with not being at your best and trying to go it alone, can let just one person in. You may just be surprised at how not alone you really are. Mental illness can be an extraordinarily isolating and lonely thing that makes you feel as though you need to power through this on your own. Between the symptoms that create self-deprecating thoughts and behaviors and the societal stigma, it can often be really hard to get past these thoughts. But the reality is you are not alone in this (I’m your evidence), and you don’t need to do this alone.
About Tracy Deyell
Tracy Deyell is a Ph.D. student living with major depression and bulimia. Follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds'd blog, or follow her on Twitter.