Struggling with a mental health illness is brutal. Incomparable to any communicable disease, unrivaled in its ability to plot our own minds against us. The perfect weapon; seeping through our bodies until no part of our lives are untouched by poisonous tendrils. Mental illness attacks from the inside out until we become our own nemesis. It isn’t until the fog recedes that we can see rock bottom and our own proximity to it. Whether you’re just tipping over the edge or you can feel the dirt bottom beneath you, the same question runs through everyone. What happens now?
There was a time when discussing mental health issues was completely taboo. A straitjacket and a one-way ticket to the loony bin were requisite among those who suffered. My God, do a quick search on women’s mental health treatment in the 1800’s. If you didn’t suffer from anxiety beforehand, that should do the trick. Thankfully, it’s now common knowledge that anyone can be afflicted with a mental health illness. Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent, although The National Institute for Mental Health reports 1 in 6 adults in the U.S. are afflicted with some type of mental illness (NIMH, 2016). Society is changing and the stigmas are slowly fading, yet it’s possible to feel just as isolated by our disease as we would locked in a white padded cell.
It’s that loneliness we have to fight the hardest against. While it may only be one battle in a seemingly endless war, it’s arguably the most important. Personally, my anxiety has caused many disturbances in my relationships. Friends get tired of you making excuses to not get together. Family will always love you, but it doesn’t mean they always understand what’s going on in your head. Heck, there are plenty of times even I can’t figure that one out. The easiest solution was for me to just quit trying to communicate. Isolate and avoid. When the offers to hang out stopped coming and the phone calls to check-in diminished, I didn’t think there was anyone left to help me. Helplessness – a truly terrifying feeling. My muddled vision couldn’t see a single soul for me to lean on. I couldn’t even fathom helping myself through the last crisis. What do you do?
You wait for that fog to clear, that’s what. You buy time until your brain stops playing tricks on you and reality is in clear focus. Think of it as a war strategy; Lull the opponent into a false sense of security and strike when the defenses are weakest. Only in this case, it’s a match of you versus yourself. You repeat over and over that no matter how many physical beings are present in your life at that moment, you will always have yourself to rely on. Because you are strong enough to pull it together. You can make sure you’re never really alone again. Nobody can take that power from you. Remembering to be your own friend, your own support system, your own voice of reason will show you that loneliness is a farce, one of the many games our mind plays with us. If we’re unable rely on ourselves first and foremost, then there isn’t a stable foundation to build other relationships and support systems on top of. They’ll only be stacked precariously on top of each other until you crumble and everything comes crashing down.
I’ve been at that point where my foundation wasn’t sturdy and life was in shambles. My brain insisted I had no one on my side. I’d pushed everyone away and it was too late for that to change. This is termed ‘rock bottom’, folks. I eventually realized being down there sucked – to be quite frank. Only then did the self-reliance kick in. I knew I was the only one who could search out the toeholds and climb out of the pit. Guidance was given through a counselor and approved medication, but it was me who kept pushing myself up that rocky cliff until I emerged at the top. A perfect place to rebuild those relationships I once thought irreparable. I knew it would be a struggle, but this time I was also aware that my mental health didn’t own me, and I didn’t have to let it bully me into feeling alone again. Now and forever, I will have that secured foundation, my ability to be there for myself, to rebuild on.
Self-reconstruction is a rigorous, time-consuming process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, time doesn’t fly, and nothing permanent happens overnight. But if your broken relationships were genuine to begin with, you can repair them. Family and friends…they are your support group. You’ll become that strong person you strive to be. We may have to put in effort to regain their trust that we’ll show up when they need us, just as they’ll do in return. We might learn we need to trust ourselves first. Once that happens, it’s impossible to ever truly be alone.