It’s been a year and a half since I had a psychotic episode and ended up in Mount Carmel. Back then, I thought I would never be able to have a conversation without bringing it up. It affected every fibre of my being.
Today, mental health still plays a major role in my life. I check in with myself on a daily basis and I adjust my plans to suit a lifestyle that supports my mental well-being.
But I have days, if not weeks, without thinking about my traumatising experience - something I thought would never happen.
And I’m doing better than a year ago. Here’s how I know.
It isn’t the fact that I no longer wake up afraid of reality, or that I am making a living out of what I love doing, or that the pandemic no longer isolates me from my friends.
I still, inevitably, have my ups and downs. I still have mental breakdowns over things that weren’t worth a cry. I did shed some tears when my dog, Sir Godwin, wasn’t allowed at a pool party when I arrived there.
But the problems I face have become situational rather than mental. The twists in my mind still exist, and I have good days and bad days. But when someone asks me how I am, I reply in a way that describes my current reality.
Now, my reply is: “I’m good. I like my job, my mum is visiting, and though I’m busy with work I still have enough time to see my friends.” Instead of: “I managed to wake up today, I went for a walk around the block, and I don’t necessarily feel like dying.”
If I think about what I want from life, it no longer is “I just want to make it through the day”, or “I want to feel alive”. Instead, it’s: “I want to achieve my goals, I want to make the most out of my time here, I want to give back to the world.”
And if I have a bad day, more often than not it is because I didn't sleep well or because of something that happened at work - rather than my brain chemicals being all over the place.
I no longer feel detached from the way people talk about things. When my friends were talking about university, their holidays or something their friend did, all I could wonder was how they managed to get through life and spend energy on these things at the same time.
Dragging myself through the day was my main task. I found myself in an internship that killed my spirit, and I couldn’t possibly be in the office from 9 to 5. I think I may have managed three days in total.
I couldn’t perform simple tasks, not only because they seemed incredibly dull and irrelevant to me, but also because my mind needed way more time to recover.
That’s what defined my 2020. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as I found myself in a psychotic episode at the start of the year. Never had I expected me, out of all people, to lose my mind - yet here I was.
Dealing with mental health issues in the midst of a pandemic that is famed for negatively affecting people’s mental health may not sound like the most enjoyable situation. For me, however, COVID-19 forced me to take the time I needed to properly recover.
It took me about a year to return to my stable state of mind. With medication, therapy, and lots of self-care, I found my way back to myself. It took a lot of rest and hard work at the same time. But I couldn’t have avoided this. I couldn’t have done it differently.
These days, my mental health still plays an important role in my life. I stick to a steady sleeping schedule, I avoid drinking a lot, I try to eat healthy and I force myself to go outside at least twice a day. I also have Sir Godwin, my rescue dog, who rescued me more than I rescued him.
My mental health ‘gap year’ made me aware of my mood swings and helped me cope with the way my reality depended on the way I felt. From feeling elated to dropping down in dark holes, my mind used to be all over the place.
Therapy helped me through most of it. While my medication keeps me from swinging between erratic highs and suicidal lows, it was my psychologist who helped me find ways to minimise the swings myself.
Another thing that helped me find my way back to myself was yoga and meditation - ‘mindfulness’, if you will. Understanding the way your mind and body are one, rather than two disconnected parts of you, made me understand the way my mental health had deteriorated so much.
I learnt the importance of taking good care of myself, as well as watching my moods. When do I feel good, and when do I feel too good? When am I just having a bad day, and when do bad days turn into bad weeks?
The other day, someone asked me what I do to manage myself better. I wish I could simply put it in a post. While self-care can easily be simplified, it might just be one of the hardest things there are.
Taking care of yourself goes beyond drinking enough water and making sure you eat three meals a day. Stay hydrated by all means, but also listen to what your mind and body tell you.
While taking baths and putting on a scented candle are lovely ways of self-care, the real journey takes a little more work than that.
Mental health is like physical health: you need to keep it up. You can’t exercise once a month and expect to be fit. You can’t take a bath once a week and expect your troubles to dissolve like bubbles.
It is important to ask yourself how you are feeling on a daily basis, especially if you struggle with excessive mood swings like I do. And it’s even more important to take the steps you can to make sure your mind is healthy.
I trained myself to take care of my mind and body, and on the way I learnt to get rid of nasty voices. These things take time, care and effort. And it’s no guarantee that I will forever be fine from now on.
But I’m giving it all I’ve got. And so far, so good.
Drop me a line to let me know how you're doing - I'd love to know.