By Alisha –
I’m super passionate about mental health. When you read this, you may not think that. You may even suspect I have a great divide between whether mental illness is even real or not. And that may be true.
However, I know mental health is real, and that is my passion. I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the best possible quality of mental health. I don’t want to see souls leaving this Earth because they never got that opportunity. My passion for mental health is incredibly selfish. Selfish because I love the way I feel when my mental health is nurtured. Selfish because I do not want to lose anyone else.
I was diagnosed with my first mental illness way too young. And one followed the next; I was diagnosed with quite a few mental illnesses before they ever correctly diagnosed my migraines.
The irony of the entire situation has always been that most of the mental illness diagnosis I have received was because of the chronic migraines I experienced. It’s always been a bit of a bittersweet chuckle to me, how doctors could not understand and connect that my behavior was because of the physical pain I continually experienced.
However, with the years I have learned that most people, as much as they may try, cannot understand someone else’s pain or journey and I have learned to let go of any judgement of someone, whether from my past, present or future, who falls in that category. We all learn and heal and evolve at our own pace.
Having this realisation now doesn’t mean that the physical pain and symptoms I experienced from chronic migraines didn’t drive me into dark depths of despair. Because it did. Being in constant pain, having a continual uncomfortableness about your body, experiencing pain because of a beverage or humid air or bright lights are all things that constantly nagged at me. Sometimes the mix of pain and emotional turmoil went so far that I would be crying for days or weeks and then finding myself saying goodbye to myself in a bathroom mirror. The only thing that pulled me through every time, was asking myself, “Will this, out of everything you’ve been through, really be the straw that broke the camel’s back?”
And my answer has always been “no.” However, I know that that no doesn’t come easy, for many people it doesn’t come at all. The mental space where I’m at now is where I have realised how I can prevent that severe depression. How I can avoid that angry outburst. How I can see that all the parts of me deserve love and the more I love and nourish them, they start weaving together, like one whole being. It’s messy and beautiful and painful all at once.
While I’ve tried treatment for some of my mental illnesses, I never truly believed in any of the diagnoses they gave me. Throughout the years, symptoms of all surfaced, and for the most part, I moved on, never quite healing it and somehow holding my head above the water, but it’s only until a couple of years ago that I started genuinely healing these wounds, instead of just dealing with them.
For me, dealing was much like my chronic migraines, I took my medication and cried deep tears at night, letting the pain spill into the cold tub. As I grew older, I adopted coping mechanisms, one perhaps worse than the other. I do not regret anything or see any of this in a negative light; I cherish that I’m lucky enough to see the lesson. I do sometimes still revert to old habits; however, it keeps getting less and less.
I realise I needed to go on this journey to learn to truly heal from something. And for me, healing doesn’t mean I will never feel sad again, or I’ll never have a migraine again. No. Healing is perhaps the healthiest coping mechanism I have. For me it means I create space and take time for myself. I feel my emotions and pain, I sit with them, but this time I care enough to make sure the tub water is warm.
And I care enough to go beyond the surface. I never accepted all the chronic and mental illness diagnosis that doctors gave me because I always said that there is more to it. Something deeper, beneath the surface, the roots, that need to be healed. I never understood why doctors didn’t see what I knew. That everything is connected. I didn’t understand how a pill was supposed to “cure” me.
I hold no judgement for anyone taking medication; I still take medication for anxiety. Without it, I cannot move. I am so paralysed by fear that I’ll sit in one position for hours, pain building, thirst building, blinded by fear. I recognise the value in western medicine, but I also recognise the importance of intellectual, mental, physical and spiritual health. I realise that I must work at improving all these aspects of health continuously to truly feel better, even if it is not a cure-all.
Mostly, I realise that the thing that has helped me heal most is my ability to be present and to cope without addiction or dependency on anything but myself. And this is precisely why I share this. If it could just guide one person, even just ignite a faint spark, to start looking at your physical and mental health holistically, then my gratitude is endless. Because that is what it took for me, just one faint glimpse and then one more and eventually I couldn’t ignore the light anymore.
And it’s been ground-breaking for me because before, I would smoke or drink or have a cup of coffee or blast the music or eat. I would always have something that helped me cope. I couldn’t choose between restaurants for lunch without having a cigarette. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do tonight without a cup of coffee. I couldn’t be myself without that bottle of whisky. I couldn’t speak my mind without getting angry. I couldn’t go a day without pain medication.
And today, I can. And the journey is slow and even more painful at times than it may be to just swallow the pill. However, it is worth it. Because my tub is warm and I don’t stand on a ledge anymore.
I now have a coping mechanism that is entirely independent of everything and everyone else and I truly believe that maybe, if everyone had that, that opportunity to nurture and tend to their mental health, then we would have a lot more love and laughter in this world.
And sometimes I still fail to only use my myself, my mindset for coping with challenging moments. I lose my cool or get incredibly sad. I feel myself spiralling back down, but I’ve learned how to stop it, how to turn that downward spiral around. Sometimes it completely transforms my day, other times it just keeps me from getting into that dark space. Sometimes my pain improves and other times it gets worse, but my mindset about my entire situation is bright and beautiful and I am able to see the blessings and love everywhere.
I wish I could put it all in a package and share it with whoever needed it, because it’s such an interconnected process that I simply cannot say, “do this”. I know that journaling helps, I know that turning to my thoughts and digging up where they come from, what is really driving them helps. I know that loving myself, the “good” and the “bad” helps.
I know that understanding behind anger hides sadness helps. I know it doesn’t help to eat chocolate or have a drink. I know that choosing to see solutions, even if not ideal, instead of problems, helps. I know that breathing helps, really deep belly breaths. I know that completely letting go of judgement helps. I know that choosing to see the possibilities and love in every situation instead of all the misery helps. I know that spending time in nature helps. I know it is my mental health that helps me. So maybe mental illness is real and mental health is the antidote after all.