Sometimes, living with mental illness is just about living. There are days – whole weeks, if I’m lucky – when I’m fine. I move through my day and no one who looks at me can see my symptoms, because they’re quiet. They don’t see the way my depression makes my short-term memory shot all to hell, the struggle of concentrating on anything, the way my brain jumps around and jumbles words.
Then, there are days like this weekend. Days like Friday, where I forget my laptop at home and manage to travel an hour across London before realising I’m missing the weight of it across my chest and I don’t know where I’ve left it, causing a series of panic attacks that force me to go home because I can’t focus on anything else until I know where it is.
Days like Saturday, where a day of poking around bookshops turned into a series of attacks, every ounce of my focus constantly on my own mental health and avoiding the humiliation of crying in public. I dissociated in a comic book store when a child shoved me, listened to my Welshman speak without processing a single word, and snapped like a brittle twig when forced to walk the busy road towards Green Park.
Days like Sunday, where I break down crying for reasons I can’t recall and say horrible, true, perceptive things because my guard is down, and I feel so terrible that asking for confirmation of my worst nightmares is a form of self-harm. Days when I soothingly, repetitively run sharp objects down my forearms and cry until I can’t breathe, and I am on edge all day long regardless of how much sugar I eat or how many cuddles I receive.
There are days when the upside is drowned out by the roar of the bad. Days when looking for a silver lining is impossible, and I have a firm desire to bite the next person who says some variation of: ‘it’s just your anxiety talking’. The fact that this is all in my head does not make it hurt any less. It’s worse, because you cannot see what is happening to me.
Here’s the thing about bad days that no one ever really says: sometimes, it’s ok if the only thing you do today is live. Sometimes, it’s fine to stay in your PJs and eat too much (though, hypocritical as it might be, I do always feel better when I’m eating well). It’s fine to suffer, and cope, and that’s all you manage to do. You’re not inspirational, you’re not achieving against the odds. Your mental illness is two ten-pound weights strapped to your ankles, and some days, you’ll be able to walk, maybe even run, carrying them.
Other days, you’ll be in deep water and your entire focus, all of your energy, will have to be on not drowning.
It’s ok. It’s ok to suffer, but unless it’s legitimately making you feel better, I’d recommend you try not to wallow. Yesterday, my worst bad day in a long while, I managed to go for a run. I haven’t run in months, and I decided to make it as easy as possible: I did a couch-to-5k programme, just like I did years ago when I started running. On one hand, it felt like a huge concession to how unfit I’ve gotten that I had to start over, and on the other it felt like a massive relief not to aim too high and fail. Today, I can run for a minute and walk for 90 seconds, and it will be an achievement to be proud of. Today, I’m carrying those ankle weights, but I’m trying to get stronger, so they might feel a little lighter.
I still felt weird, afterwards. Snappy and needy and sad, but I’d achieved something. A small something, but it was mine, and I held it tight to my chest for the rest of my RuPaul-on-the-sofa Sunday.
Sometimes, you’ll have a bad day. Take a deep breath, and then another one. One foot in front of the other.
Take courage, and know that you’re not alone in this.
With love, always,
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