There comes a point, in every mental health spiral, where you have two choices:
- Give up
- Don’t give up
‘Giving up’ – taking to bed, falling to pieces, thinking about ending it all (I’ve tried all three) is, usually, the infinitely more appealing option.
It’s certainly easier. When I am in the grip of depression, doing more than the bare minimum is impossible. If it wasn’t for my partner, I would eat nothing but scrambled eggs and the house would fall into disarray. My hands ache and my brain fogs. The connection between my brain and fingers feels slow and stupid; I can’t grasp concepts, much less turn them into words without immense effort.
It is hard beyond comprehension to make good choices when depression or anxiety has you in its grasp, and your resilience is battered by winter and the world around you. It is brutally difficult to fight your brain chemistry and the lead in your bones to even go outside.
But at some point, it’s the choice you have to make. Nobody else can do it for you. You have to figure out a way.
(In an ideal world, the onus wouldn’t be on the individual at all. I absolutely believe that various global, structural, society-pervasive issues are to blame for mass ill mental health: financial precarity, neoliberalism, the tech industry… But we don’t live in that world; we don’t even live in a world where you can reliably get hold of some NHS funded CBT. So here we are, back thinking on the level of individual choice).
Of course, the pandemic has made that harder than ever. Not just because, you know, we’re in a pandemic – but on a structural level. Things that make us feel good (cuddles, friends, gyms, football matches, gigs) are off the cards. And every day is an assault of bad news and uncertainty.
It stings a bit, even as I acknowledge all of the ways I am immensely lucky. Frankly: I’m pissed off at the fact I spent so fucking long working on my mental and physical health – I went to therapy and took my tablets. I worked out that my PhD (working from home, or libraries, alone) was only ever going to make me miserable. I figured out that gluten makes me foggy and anxious. I travelled and discovered that for me, home is best, but always with plenty of time out in the world. I finally settled into a committed exercise regime. I found a brilliant workplace with people whose company I enjoyed, that made up for the fact I didn’t have a community in London.
For a few short years, I was so happy I was delirious with it. I used to sit on the 19 bus from Exmouth Market to Finsbury Park and think: how was I ever suicidal? My life is exactly what I want it to be. Imagine if I’d missed all this.
And now it’s gone, that life. I find myself dwelling on it, like a sulky child. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, the way we were taught: if you put the work in, you get the result out. It’s silly, of course; life never stays wonderful, just as it never stays terrible.
But at any rate; I’ve not been so good, recently. I’m at the end of my tether. Last week I cried – bawled, really – several times without much provocation. Work felt impossibly hard but not working (that is, sitting and thinking) felt worse. Every joint in my body was sore, and my hips ached, and I couldn’t see for the life of me that things would feel better.
I know that, once again, it’s time to choose – and I couldn’t choose the old things, at least not for now. So I have to make different decisions. I’m choosing running, which I hate. I’m choosing less sugar. I’m writing lists of things I can do and achievements I can tick off. I’m trying to do acts of self care, like skincare, even though I feel unworthy of nice things.
And I’m trying to find alternatives: I can’t have the world and the people in it, just yet, so I’m listening to more podcasts. Yes, we’re all sick of zoom socialising, but I’m going to try and speak with more friends. I’m choosing small things, small joys, like turning my face to the sun. Or waking up and checking on the almost sprouted bulbs I planted last autumn.
I’m remembering that actually, we’ve come a long way since then. And for now, I’m not giving up.