One thing I have found as someone who has experienced mental health distress for some time now, is how the world feels like it is passing me by.
I have often wondered, how do I adjust to the world changing around me? My family and friends seem to generally move forward with their lives, not necessarily without issues, but in a forward direction nonetheless. They have experienced having children, buying houses and work changes, but my life feels like it is going around and around like a washing machine and I am inside it peering out through the glass. The same cycles, the same—or often worsening—distress, feeling totally disconnected from the world, not meeting new people, not trying new things. I feel like I have been impacted in a way that’s outside of my control. Endless stress, uncertainty and fear…and I feel like I have had no space to push back. I think a lot of people feel trapped and fearful, but I feel like those of us who experience mental health distress experience it on a whole different level.
And I wonder, how can I stay connected to society when it is changing but my life is static or going backwards? I think that mental health distress has stolen so much from me and my life, and fundamentally tested those that I care about. Like if only my symptoms could dissipate, I could get on with life. It could got back to changing alongside others, in ups and downs, but largely in step with what is going on around me.
I came to a realisation recently, and it took me quite by surprise. Maybe I had been so focused on one dimension I had missed opportunities to make change without realising. With that realisation in mind, I started to focus on what helped and supported me, not just what I thought others wanted me to focus on. My focus on pleasing others and endless quest for symptom reduction had become the be all and end all. When I began to focus on what helped and supported me, a space of possibility started to emerge. A space where, through small goal-setting, I had sometimes managed with the support and encouragement of others to make some tiny changes for the better. Then some slightly larger ones. I still needed to be careful and pay attention to signs that I needed to pull back often. I also had to resist temptations to try to change everything at once, which is always my instinct to make up for lost time. But in this space, I began to see that I actually could change one thing at a time and give myself time to learn from it, and adjust.
And then, when I started to see small cracks and changes occur, I began to stand back and notice that actually things have changed for me, I have changed as a person. I just thought I was going around and around while others were changing around me. I never had the confidence and space to fully reflect on how my experiences have changed me—not simply the loss and tragedy I have experienced. I began to realise that it is often hard to quantify. I can’t point to the standard life successes, but I am definitely more resourceful, more empathetic, and more purposeful. I have experienced small changes through small goals and adjusting slowly. And through those small changes I have started to see that I have changed in some positive ways that I am only just beginning to explore.
Wellways Peer Consultant