Recovery is not linear.
We know this. As a community, we state it to ourselves and to each other over and over again- as often as it’s needed.
We know that we will face setbacks with our mental health. Bad days, bad weeks, meltdowns, major episodes…they’re almost inevitable.
We know that our mental illnesses will change over time, as we ourselves and our circumstances change.
We know that what helped us before might not help the next time. Triggers lose their power and new ones emerge.
We know all this. At least…we think we know it. Do we truly believe it, in our hearts- at the times we need to believe it the most?
An all-too-common experience
I thought that my mental health was getting so much better.
Things had been going so well recently. I could feel myself getting stronger and healthier and more resilient every day. I was finally brave enough to start my own blog– and I named it “The Brave And Strong” as a reminder of the direction I was going in.
It’s true that I haven’t had a major episode of depression or anxiety in three years. But minor ones? My little “meltdowns”, as I call them? They just keep happening.
I’ll be honest. It’s…discouraging. To put it mildly.
Recently, a fight with my family triggered a week of pain and questioning. All my carefully-crafted daily routines fell apart and my concentration and motivation plummeted.
I started questioning my living situation. I questioned if I should even maintain relationships with my family at all. I was on real estate websites all day, looking at places further away from them. I felt that things were never going to improve, with them and within myself. What was the point of it all?
Once I’d recovered, I wanted to write a post about it all. To write about my frustration of still being so vulnerable to my family’s lack of empathy and understanding of my illnesses. About how intensely disappointed I was in myself, for letting such a silly thing have such a large impact.
And then I realised something.
Everyone reading my post will already know exactly how I felt. You’ve all been there, too.
The questioning, the fear, the self-criticism
The thing is, we all have these meltdowns. We probably have our own names for them, of course, and what triggers them will be different for all of us.
What happens during them, however- how it feels, what it looks like- is eerily similar for so many of us.
Maybe it’s an event at work or with family or friends that sets you off. Maybe it builds and builds and then erupts- or maybe it’s a sudden switch.
The questioning begins. Why am I like this? Why does this keep happening- why aren’t I just better already? Why can’t I just snap out of it?
The fear takes over. What if I’m always like this? What if I have to be on medication/in therapy forever? What if my illnesses hold me back my whole life?
The self-criticism. I’m so stupid for getting upset over something so small and silly. I’m weak. I’ll never get better.
And, of course, my favorite. How dare I be this upset when so many people have it so much worse than me?
Logic plays no part in a meltdown
We know, logically, that none of this is true; it’s our illnesses speaking, and our underlying fears taking over.
Logic, unfortunately, plays no part in a meltdown.
If, like me, you’ve been dealing with all this for a while, you’ve probably learned some hard-earned lessons on what helps (and what doesn’t!) during a meltdown.
You might know, for example, that such episodes are profoundly physical; hormones and chemicals, your brain’s reactions. It’s not “all in your head”, and you can’t just turn it off. Afterwards, both your body and mind need time to recover.
You probably know that mid-meltdown, you need to use every trick you have to keep your stress levels down and to help you relax. Your self-care techniques need to come into play. You need to eat healthy meals and maybe take vitamins.
Maybe you’ve told yourself that a meltdown is not the time to be making decisions- about anything. About your mental health, about your living conditions or job, family, friends- even decision about how you feel.
And yes, maybe you even know that because we and our illnesses change over time, what happened during your last meltdown and what helped might be different this time; you might have to adjust.
Most importantly, we know that after it happens, we need to forgive ourselves and move on. Meltdowns are one part of our journey towards recovery. Each one is a chance to travel further in that journey.
Our minds go blank
Sometimes, we remember these lessons and can make use of them. We take care of ourselves during and after the incident.
…other times, we can’t remember them at all.
And that, to me, is where the real frustration lies.
Imagine spending years rehearing a certain set of phrases in French. And then when you finally get to Paris- when the moment finally arrives- your mind goes blank.
You know it all. You just can’t remember it, can’t use it, in the moment.
I’m feeling a lot better about life now that I’ve recovered from my meltdown. My daily routines are back in place and I’m motivated once more. But I’m just so damn frustrated, because in my mind, I failed.
I gave in to my internal fears and let the questioning take over. I made things so much worse for myself.
Why couldn’t I just have taken a step back and let myself have those feelings, without acting on them?
Why did I let myself browse apartments all day, and draft long letters to family members in my head?
And why, now, am I still being so hard on myself?
I know better than that. I know that recovery isn’t linear.
…except, in the moment, I didn’t believe it.
We’re stronger together
I think as a community, we are great at supporting each other during meltdowns.
If you interact with the mental health community- on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs- you will see examples every day of someone having a hard time, and of the support and encouragement, they are given.
We are the voice of logic and comfort, when we can’t be that for ourselves.
We need to keep doing it.
When we see someone struggling, we need to remind them that recovery isn’t linear; that there is a light at the end of the (very twisty) tunnel, and that they need to be gentle with themselves.
We need to get that message out there, continuously; post it, tweet it, pin it. Say it to each other, to our friends, to ourselves. Paint it on our walls. Wear it. Get it tattooed on our arms.
(…okay, maybe don’t run out and get a tattoo. Or do, if you want. I kind-of want to.)
We need to say it so often that it is always visible, somewhere in our community, so that no-one need travel far without seeing this message of hope and understanding.
We need to say it so often that it becomes more and more deeply entrenched in our own minds, that it becomes second-nature, that we believe it.
Maybe then, when we go through those hard times ourselves, we’ll hear that voice giving us that message.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll believe it.
Today’s blog post has come from the lovely Jess (@thebraveandstrong). This piece isn’t just beautifully written but it tells us all the things we need to be reminded and that it’s okay not to be okay. Jess says “I write to empower and inspire fellow long-term sufferers of depression and anxiety”. You can download her Free Ebook: 20+ Ways to Build Stronger Mental Health Everyday! or vist her blog (which I’ve written for) at theBraveAndStrong.com.