Percentages are a funny old thing.
For many of us university students 1% can be the difference between a 1st and a 2:1; a 2:1 and a 2:2.
They can measure the effort you put into something, like when you promise someone you’re going to ‘give it 110%’ to prove how super keen you are.
They measure how close you are to something, like when you’re driving and the sat-nav tells you you’re 75% of the way to your destination.
To be 100% is to be the optimum, to be whole, to be at your maximum potential.
It’s also pretty damn unrealistic in the context of mental health.
I had a bad week. I sat some exams, had a bit of a relapse, and have been experiencing new and revisiting symptoms ever since. My eye sight became altered by my medication so that the things that were already slightly blurry in the distance are now noticeably so. I started having headaches quite regularly, although it’s difficult to tell whether that’s a side effect of my gradually altering vision, due to anxiety, or due to God knows what else – all I know is that it didn’t really stop for a good two weeks post-exams at the start of the Easter holidays. I’m not motivated and I don’t panic. I’m in a state of not really caring – I would have been perfectly happy to turn up to an exam having not revised at all and there’s no sense of urgency to write my final essays or revise for the final exam that is looming in less than 2 weeks. Oh, and my nightmares, those dear lovely little things that cause me very physical pain when I wake up – they came back, and were worse than ever. They’re completely unreal, but they feature people who are very much real, who I love, who upset me in my dreams and who it pangs me to think about in the context that I dreamt about them. Every time when I wake up I’m not completely sure if it’s all been fabricated – it takes a while to realise that it’s all made up by my little brain.
When I sat my exams, I struggled. I did what the sensible voice in my head told me to so and emailed people, told them I had been having a tough time, and they were, as always, incredibly understanding. But there was one little thing that niggled away in my mind, something that I’ve had said to me before, way back in January, when I decided to defer said exams that were sat the other week.
I have been asked on more than one occasion if I think I should take ‘temporary withdrawal’ – for any of you not familiar with this, it’s when you say you’re too unwell to continue with the academic year, and start over again in the next. I’ve never been inclined to do this, and that’s not just because of the question as to how I could afford to finance another year of seriously overpriced postgraduate study (so astronomically high that had I not been given a scholarship to cover part of the course fees this year there’s no question that I would not have attended Warwick).
The reasoning behind suggesting to me that I should take some time out and come back next year is that it will give me the chance to fell more ‘100%’ – but does 100% mental health even exist?
There are many occasions where you might have that feeling of ‘this is great, nothing can get me down today’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel the same way in a few weeks time. Mental health fluctuates constantly, often uncontrollably, throughout your lifetime. For some it fluctuates more than others, some are able to control it whereas for others it’s a constant battle between the part of you that tells you there’s no hope and the other part that tells you to keep going. There may be the occasion when you do feel 100%, but for many with mental health issues 100% seems a bit of an unrealistic goal that will take an unpredictable time to get close to. When you spend so much of you’re time feeling low (let’s call it, what, 30% maybe?) then 100% seems like the impossible dream. In many cases, settling for just not feeling like you’re worthless everyday (let’s call this one 70% for the sake of my percentages analogy) is enough.
Just because you’re not ‘100%’, doesn’t mean you’re not better. Maybe one day I’ll have that 100% (there have been the odd occasions when I’ve felt it was possible), but if I’m honest, I’d be quite content with 70%, because it’s a damn sight better than 30.