It's hard to share and describe what mental illnesses feel like, it's hard to be understood and to understand.
Over the years, I've learned a lot of 'theory' about mental illnesses- ways of improving life, tools to cope.. I've walked with others through their journeys, had my own experiences, and found great value in the destructive and empty nature of disruptions within brain activity- which is what mental illnesses are- a disruption in regular function, that causes symptoms which are unhelpful and undesirable. I've also heard a lot of unhelpful opinions.
I recently had a dream, which reflected a lot of how I've been feeling recently. I wanted to share the dream, to give an image of just one person's mind without going over my life story.
My biggest fear has always been of being alone, particularly at night.
In the dream I had been protesting on the street, and got arrested for it. My punishment was to be lead in to a snowy, remote field, which had a long thin dirt track, that lead up to a small shack about half the size of a car. I looked down and I had sandals on my bare feet, with a rag dress.
It was starting to get dark, the guard opened the lid to the shack revealing 2 wooden shelves that were beds, about 3foot long. It had an open side that forced you to look over a wasteland and watch the impending doom of the surrounding landscape- which was plagued with regular earthquakes and constant drought. There was a permanent nuclear like light, looming in the distance that would make sure you couldn't sleep.
The guard wasn't harsh, but merely brought me to the shack because I had no other place to go anyway, trapped there by my own mind but not my own choice.
When she left, I wondered around and after a while was in a busy street, full of people. I needed to find the other person that was to be in the shack with me, and was thinking about whether I could persuade them to sleep somewhere else- I had a car after all, and was no longer in the remote place. I was keen to sleep in the car and not anywhere near the dreaded shack.
I saw friends in the street, who were nice but oblivious and soon disappeared when I couldn't keep up with them.
I tried connecting, but the street wasn't interested. I found my 'roommate' in a shopping mall. They wouldn't look at me and tried to avoid me. I wanted to elongate the night, in order to put off going to 'bed'- I was scared of the nuclear light and the earthquakes. We went in to a nearby store and while walking around, I asked my roommate if I could drive us to a hotel and pay for us both to stay there. (I wasn't very keen on that idea either- I didn't want to be with her *anywhere*). She just said no. So I looked around the shop for supplies- food, fire wood... it was just full of sweets and crap, and I had no money.
Then I forced myself awake.
Mental illness to me, feels like an unfair & undeserved sentence you are handed, regardless of trying to do and be good. It feels alone and trapping, with a constant sense of unknown, impending, uncontrollable, scary circumstances on the horizon. Something you can't choose or not-choose, and with often limited resources at your disposal against the inevitability of 'her presence'.
Everything I've ever learned about triumphing over mental illness, is held in 3 words- don't be alone.
DON'T be alone, don't BE alone, don't be ALONE.
Our broken minds can tell us a lot of unuseful things. One bad experience can be extrapolated over other good things. Isolation can seem like the best plan. We can feel trapped. We can believe we're not good enough nor deserving of healing or recovery. I can't describe everyone's experience in a paragraph, it's subjective.
But regardless of the flurry of people who are able to say, "oh cheer up, snap out of it," and not see why that's wrong, mental illness is very common, very normal, not your fault and not all your problem. With increasing understanding and openness, we can disable the stigma and silence of having malfunctioning thoughts and feelings- in order to build up a generation that is able to connect and support each other, through new perspectives.
Open up so that others can open up. Be honest so that others can be honest. You'll find that you're not alone, and then when tables are turned they know you can be relied on to understand. Redefine what life's purpose is.
Because life's not a shopping mall... we're not here to be happy all the time, to get what we need in order to look 'together', and passively ignore the needs of the human experience.
Rather, perhaps a more helpful perspective for a progressive generation, is anti-image.
It seems like the unspoken narrative is that those with mental illnesses are attention seeking, negative and undesirable to be with. NONE of these things are true, nor should be accepted. Labels create identity, take action to define things according to your own truth.
Those with mental illnesses are fighting harder than anyone can see. They're strong enough to confront unchosen weakness and they're finding true value, beauty, truth and meaning by trekking through the dirt and grime. They are never shallow and have a lot more to offer than many give them the time of day for.
Healthy minds- educate yourselves, and be there for your fighting friends.
Fighting minds- stay open and honest, find tools to fight the lies in your head and don't do it alone.
Supporters- support your loved one and find support for yourself, you are so needed.
And well done to everyone, cause life never promised to be easy, and the image people show you on instagram is a facade- you are not alone.