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On the Days I Just Can't, This Is What I Need


Sometimes my brain can barely function properly.

Sometimes it takes every ounce of strength to get out of bed and move to the couch.

Sometimes taking a shower takes a Herculean effort. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. Even when things aren’t that bad, I feel terrible because I feel terrible. It shouldn’t be so much work going about the business of everyday life.

Why? Because I have a number of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

I’ve had many different types of therapy. I go to group therapy once a week. I learn “skills” as ways of coping with my emotions, interacting with others and improving my quality of life.

I practice mindfulness and meditation. Yoga, aromatherapy, dancing, taking a bath or reading a book. I know what to do to pull myself out of my funk, and I use skill after skill after skill when I feel myself getting low. Many times the skills work. But there are times it feels like all the skills in the world will not help me. My mental health conditions are caused in part by a chemical imbalance in my brain, and without medication to address the chemical imbalance, there’s no way skills alone are going to work for me.

I have one-on-one therapy, and I’ve been inpatient at hospitals as well. And I’ve noticed a viewpoint from the mental health community that really gets under my skin. I’ve heard this refrain in the hospital and among mental health professionals on an outpatient basis. They say people with mental illness have a responsibility to take care of themselves.

To me, this seems wrong. Granted, if someone is a bit sad or down, sometimes there are things that can help. Maybe it’s meeting up with friends and socializing. But there are many times I’m beyond that sort of remedy. I do it anyway, and then feel guilty when it doesn’t work. And then I feel shamed for not wanting to get well, for not doing enough to take care of myself.

Instead of blaming people with mental illness, why not improve their support systems? And if there is no support system, that would be a good place to start. It’s hard to pull yourself up out of the ditch alone. I’ve had to do it time and time again, and it certainly doesn’t help to be told it’s my responsibility to do so, and to feel like it’s my fault if I don’t.

If you see that I’m struggling, ask me what I need. If I tell you I don’t need any help, meals and child care are always appreciated. Anything you would do for a friend with a physical illness, I could probably use help with as well. Laundry, cleaning and errands are impossibly hard when I’m struggling, and it’s great when people step in and get a few of those things done for me. Even if I don’t appear thrilled to have the help, I really do appreciate it. When I feel better I will let you know how much it means to me. And that’s what I can focus on, feeling better, when I just can’t do anything else.

So on the days I just can’t, please don’t tell me to help myself, and instead find a way to lend me a hand.