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Subverting Expectations for World Mental Health Day

think World Mental Health Day is great. I know some people are of the ‘we shouldn’t need a specific day to talk about mental health’/’it’s pointless because everyone forgets about it the next day’ schools of thought, but I’m a little more optimistic. We have to start somewhere, and if that means talking about it for one day a year, that’s better than talking about it for no days a year, right? 

More importantly, ultimately, I believe it’s achieving its ultimate goal: to destigmatise mental illness. Every year, more and more people are talking about it, including high profile public figures. When young adults – arguably those most vulnerable to struggling with their mental health – see their favourite celebrity or influencer talking about their mental health struggles in the public sphere, they are more likely to feel less alone, talk about their problems and seek help. 

However, I have one small – SMALL – quibble with it, which is the homogeny of the discussion surrounding the topic. For the most part (of course there are some exceptions), the discussion centres around how people struggle. The days that they don’t get out of bed, shower, or eat. The dark days where they couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. And don’t get me wrong; I can see why. They are the days that stick in your mind. I know – I’ve been there. I recall distinctly, at 17 years old, my mother having to physically drag me, in my pyjamas, to the GP to get help. I was a shell of my former self. I remember sitting down with her and telling her I don’t see myself reaching 18. These are the memories that stick in your mind, to be sure. 

But – for me at least – these days were temporary. I see significantly less discussion around the days that follow. The weeks of nausea as your doctor tries to get your prescription and dose of antidepressants right. The jarring adjustment to life back in the real world. Realising that, actually, I will see 18, and 21, and a lot more milestones and not really knowing what to do with that. 

But what I’ve seen almost none of is the boring bit that comes with recovery. To expand on the now well-known analogy of depression as a black dog (learn more here), what about when the dog is asleep? It’s dormant, but still there. You can’t spend your whole life waiting for the dog to wake up, but you live every day knowing that, at any moment, it can. Every stir makes you flinch. I am, for all intents and purposes, “recovered”. I am off my medication. I wake up, shower, make my bed, go to the gym and socialise on an almost daily basis. If you’d have told me three years ago that this would be the case, I’d have likely laughed in your face. But every time I have a low day, I panic. Is this the start of the end of my world – again? 

Usually, no. My bad days are manageable and proportional to my circumstances. But the fear still strikes each time. While the drama makes for good content, it is the slow slog of long-term recovery that, in my opinion, is the hardest. If you can relate, I can’t tell you when it will end or even if it will – I’m not there yet myself. But I can offer consolation in the fact that you aren’t alone. 

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