Relapsing. It’s a scary word for someone with mental health issues.
The past week and a half has been really weird. Because I’ve been doing things, just not the things that I really should be doing. It’s been the sort of week where the lack of planning and scheduling has hit me badly, and I’ve realised I’m going to have to become one of those people who maps out their days weeks in advance to be able to manage things properly.
Because of not really having planned things out, because there have been many meetings and appointments and lunch dates with friends that aren’t a weekly fixed point, it’s been difficult for my brain to thing straight at times. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed all of these random little things (they’re actually the things I love the most about university life), but they’ve meant that when I’m not doing these little things, when I’m sat doing nothing, I feel guilty. Because I still have the voice in my head saying “You should be doing more”, and I agree with it. I should have done more work this week (academically speaking), but because of the lack of planning I haven’t.
I said this to someone yesterday – my mentor (aka someone else at the university who will help me, is at the other end of an email whenever I need her, and who emails me all these things that will help me plan and identify the things which are still making things difficult, one of the many people who is helping me to slowly but surely recover).
I told her that I was worried about relapsing. Because that day I was really tired, and I am today too (but not as badly as yesterday). It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with, having been depressed-exhausted for the past two years. It’s a really scary feeling, because it makes you think that you’re taking a step backwards, that it was all a rouse to get your hopes up that you’d get better. It’s scary to think you might have to admit that you’re back where you started and that you’ve given false hope to people who are willing you above all else to get better.
But the thing I realised as we talked about this was that there’s one big, important, massive difference between depressed me and me right now: I can tell that I don’t have to feel this way.
There are always going to be days when I’m tired, find it difficult to concentrate and generally just feel really rubbish. We all get them, I’m just not used to them without depression rearing it’s ugly head. I genuinely can’t remember the last time that I was tired without the side note of “there’s literally no point in you even trying to do something useful with your time”. Because I’m trying to do stuff. I’ve been outside. Multiple times even. I’m eating and drinking. I’ve made phone calls to make appointments that I’ve been putting off (phone calls which my lovely little anxiety problem didn’t affect for once – that’s a new one). I’m adjusting. Adjusting to life where there’s not one constant emotion ruling above all else, pushing any other possible feeling to the sidelines. I’m not always going to be happy. But I’m also not always going to be sad.
On those bad days when I feel like I did when I was really depressed, it’s important to be able to spot the differences. Like yesterday. My appointment with my mentor was at 10am (not early for anyone in the real world but for a postgrad who doesn’t really plan their days out and only has afternoon lecturers, not a typical start time, although I”m trying really hard to change that). I barely slept because the weather’s been so bad and I kept being woken up from the wind and rain. But there’s one difference: I got up. I was exhausted. I didn’t really want to. The weather was still as terrible as it had been all weekend and going outside in the rain isn’t the best way to start your day. But I got up. I tried to function at the very least. I didn’t do what I would have been my typical depressed response and send an email saying I couldn’t make it, and when I was asked if I wanted to change the time of my appointment in the future I said that I wanted to keep it the same so that there was a reason why I needed to be up. Depressed me wouldn’t have done that.
When you’re trying to recover from mental health issues, when you’re scared that you’re slipping back into old habits that will undo all of the steps you’ve taken to get to where you are now, it’s important that you’re able to spot this differences, even if they’re only tiny.