Mental health: Six things I’ve learnt in 2022

If you are experiencing mental health issues, you are not alone. You are never alone. Here are some things I have learnt over the first six months of my ongoing mental health journey.

Good mental health and wellbeing is something that you may well not fully appreciate until you learn how fragile it is (if you are or were lucky enough to have it in the first place). I say this from experience. I have found myself on an unexpected mental health journey this year.*

I didn’t realise how little I knew about mental health issues until I had to deal with my own. I am certainly not claiming that I now know everything there is to know about mental health issues, nor that I ever will.

My mental health journey began six months ago this past week. At the start of all this, I felt overwhelmed by and unable to cope with the turmoil in my mind, and sought medical help. The doctor diagnosed me as suffering with mixed anxiety and depressive disorder (I didn’t know that you could stack up conditions in this way, but it turns out you very much can). I was prescribed antidepressants for the first time in my life. A few months later, when the anxiety came back strong, I was additionally prescribed heart medication. I continue to take both to this day.

My progress through this mental health journey has not been a straight line in a single direction. Perhaps no-one’s is. Rather, there have been bad times and good times. Seeming breakthroughs – wonderful moments of renewal – followed in short order by stumbles, setbacks and long stretches of little to no change or improvement.

I want to share here some of the things that I have learnt about mental health issues over the first six months of this ongoing mental health journey, in the hope that they might be of some small help to even just one soul out there.

1: There is help out there

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Dealing with a mental health issue can be feel lonely, isolating and frightening. This is especially true in the earliest stages, if you have yet to seek help or receive a formal diagnosis. The sunshine can feel a long way away. No matter how lonely, isolated or frightened you might feel in the face of a mental health issue, always remember that help is out there. Once you ask for help, you will be amazed at the forces that come to your aid. As I wrote in Into the infinity of thoughts:

“At the start of this past week (Monday 28 February 2022), I finally acknowledged that I have a serious problem, and called in my issue to my local NHS practice. I am so pleased that I did. Help is out there. My treatment is now underway. It is not over yet. It has barely begun. But I feel that I am at last moving in the right direction. Even if I left it too long before calling it in.

“Gentle reader, I urge you to take your mental health seriously, to acknowledge what your mind might be really trying to tell you, and to take action or even seek help, if that is what is called for. Anxiety and stress need to be taken seriously, before they become overwhelming.”

2:  Be honest with yourself and with others

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You may well feel as if you can cope with what you are going through. You may well be able to cope. Up until the moment when you can’t.

The first step in my own mental health journey was to be honest with myself. I had to acknowledge that I had a problem, and that this time I would not be able to soldier on through heightened stress and anxiety as I had done so many times before. I hate to feel that I am being a burden on others. I had to overcome this feeling, and find a way to put into words the anxiety that I was feeling.

I resolved to be as open and honest as I can about this mental health journey in the words I write and share on this blog. Trying to put all this into words is not easy. It is frightening to me to be this open, this vulnerable. I am trying to write about difficult times while I am in the midst of them. I am doing this in part to make sense of what I am going through, but mainly in the hope that it might be of help to someone else.

3: More people than you would ever guess are dealing with mental health issues…

You are never alone. Over the past six months, I have been amazed and humbled by the number of beautiful souls who have contacted me with kind and selfless offers of help, or of a sympathetic ear. I have also been surprised by how many of these beautiful souls have direct or indirect experience of mental health issues. Gentle reader: I am certain that this will be as true for the folks of your acquaintance as it was for me with mine. These beautiful souls may not telegraph their experience of mental health issues to the world in all they do. But, if they have offered to help you in the first place, know that they will be open, honest and sympathetic to you. They want to share what they know, to help you through this.

4: …but general understanding of mental health issues is not always high

Not everyone knows a great deal about mental health issues. This year has been a steep learning curve for me. I realise now how little I knew about mental health issues, even as recently as the start of this year. Indeed, general levels of understanding about mental health issues are not always high. Over the past few months, I have at times spoken to people who seem to expect those suffering with anxiety and depression to be in a constant state of visible and perhaps even melodramatic distress. All weeping and anguish, all the time. Each individual who suffers with anxiety and/or depression will have their own unique experience, and their own way in which it manifests itself in their behaviour. It may not be detectable at a surface level. It may not even be obvious to the poor soul suffering with these conditions.

5: Recovery will not be rushed

At times in my mental health journey, there have been wonderful moments of renewal.

What are these moments of renewal? Nothing can compare to the joy and relief of that moment a few weeks into your treatment when the medication starts to take effect and – if you are lucky – you get to experience your first taste of feeling ‘normal’ once more. Perhaps you might even feel happy again. But renewal can be misleading. Renewal must not be confused with recovery. Just because you feel like your old self again, it does not mean that the path to recovery has reached its end. It is more than likely that your mental health journey will be a protracted and unpredictable one, full of twists and turns, stumbles and setbacks. Recovery will not be rushed. Recovery will take as long as it needs to.

But it is a journey that must be seen through. You can make it. You will make it. If you ever doubt this, please remember that there are good, kind souls all around you who want nothing more than to help you. Please let them know what you are going through. Please do this kindness to yourself.

6: You are not alone

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You are not alone. You are never alone. No matter where you might find yourself on your mental health journey, others have been there before you, and still more will follow you on this exact same path. Each can help those who come after them to navigate this path.

These past six months, I have been overwhelmed by the supportive voices who have gone out of their way to tell me that I am not alone, and who have been there to offer me or to guide me towards the help I need. To each of these beautiful souls, I offer depthless gratitude.

May you be nothing but kind today, to others and to yourself.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.

RESOURCES

  • Mental health (NHS) Information and support for your mental health from the NHS.
  • Information and support (Mind) Resources from Mind, the UK mental health charity.
  • NAMI Homefront (NAMI) Online resources from US charity NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • SANE Australia Visit the site of this “national mental health charity making a real difference in the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues”.

FOOTNOTES

* I have written about my ongoing mental health journey in the following posts: Into the infinity of thoughtsRenewal; and No words?Mental health first responseGlorifyIn our darkest hours; and At the heart of thingsNo feeling is finalRelax harder.; and Anxiety: Your own worst enemy; and All these moments.

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