My mental health journey has been a long and winding road so far. For a long time, when I thought about the future, I would feel overwhelmed. The thought of getting through the rest of my life completely exhausted me. I felt heavy when I thought about all the years stretching ahead. I was so tired at the mere thought of struggling through for another 50 years.
I remember feeling scared to tell people that I felt that way because I didn’t want to worry anyone. So I would make comments alluding to how the future seemed exhausting then laugh it off when I realised other people don’t feel the same way.
I desperately wanted to feel happier but I didn’t know where to begin.
I moved countries thinking the wrong city was the problem. I quit jobs thinking the wrong job was the problem. I left relationships thinking the wrong partner was the problem. After an initial novelty period, the feelings followed me with every new move.
I knew that I had a good life. I knew I had every opportunity available to me, a supportive family, loads of friends, frequent holidays, plenty of disposable income. Rather than make me feel reassured, this just made me feel worse. Guilty. Why do I struggle to be happy when I have everything? What is wrong with me?
I spent many years not talking about how I was feeling. To anyone. I felt that my social role was to be the fun/funny/upbeat friend so opening up about how I was feeling wasn’t “on brand”.
At 23 or 24 I finally went to the GP and I scored top marks on the depression survey.
The word depression made me feel trapped rather than understood. It was like being given a life sentence. Did that mean I would I always feel this way? If the problem wasn’t something I could fix with a move, a new job, or a breakup, then how would I ever feel better?
That doctor prescribed me antidepressants but I never took them because I “didn’t want to be on antidepressants”. I felt ashamed and frustrated at myself. I’d heard stories, and I was scared that being on antidepressants would make me numb. I didn’t want to feel exhausted by life anymore, but I did want to feel something. So I just kept on carrying on.
I made sure that my life was hectically busy so that I’d have no time to stop and think or feel. This was subconscious, of course, and I’m only aware of it with hindsight. At the time I just thought I thrived in a fast-paced, non-stop lifestyle.
The Inevitable happened.
At 26 I had a breakdown. I was at work one Monday and I just…couldn’t….anymore. I just simply couldn’t. Someone asked me a question and that was it. I burst into tears. I left in the middle of that work day and was signed off by my GP. At this point I went to see a therapist for the first time and had weekly sessions for the following eight weeks. (I’d go back to therapy again for six months when I was 30.)
That breakdown was the start of things improving for me on my mental health journey. It was by no means a light bulb moment where everything suddenly got better. But it was the start. It was the first time I properly admitted that I needed help. It also showed me that my friends were there to support me, and that they didn’t need or expect me to be chipper and fun all of the time.
I slowly slowly slowly, but surely, began to change my life. It would take me years to dig into this, but that’s the first time I started to consider that maybe my mental health was (at least partly) within my control. I became more conscious of my alcohol intake; I began the hard slog of rewriting some of the internal messaging I’d grown up with about body image; I began to change the way that I spoke to myself. As my self worth increased, the decisions that I made for myself (inside and out) started to shift. My self confidence began to bloom.
You can read more detail about the changes I made to improve my mental health. (Opens in a new tab).
Where am I at now on my mental health journey?
It’s been around 9 years since that first visit to my GP and my mental health these days is stable. I don’t think that I will ever be someone who feels exuberantly happy every single day. Some days, sure. Other days I just feel kinda….flat. This could have something to do with my hedonic treadmill, or set point (opens in a new tab).
However, I do feel excited about the future. Even on the days where my anxiety is simmering, or my energy levels are low, I don’t feel the same dread I used to when thinking about the years ahead. It no longer feels like I need to “get through” the rest of my life. When I think about everything still to come for me I feel a happy gratitude. I can’t wait to live it all.
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- READ MORE: Torchlusspanik: The Fear of Running Out of Time
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