I don’t look sick.
If you were to see me out and about, you would likely see a pulled together individual. I’d be cracking jokes, enquiring as to what people have been up to, and you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m doing a great job of navigating my way through my mental illnesses. In fact, at the weekend I was talking to people about my mental health and had three separate conversations with people who were surprised to learn I struggled with it.
This made me think: is that a good thing?
I don’t want to ruin a social event by showing the world just how terrifying I am finding it. Believe me, there would be no better way to throw a wet blanket over proceedings than to let people know what is running through my mind when they are chatting away to me. That said, I want to share how hard it is for some people, as I feel this is how we will raise awareness and understanding of mental health. I also feel it would be good for us to know how many people out there are struggling with the same battles.
When I went out on Saturday, this above photo was “me.” Makeup on, hair done, joking about while clutching Albie (my “Anxiety Blob”). I was out for about three and a half hours, and I’m quite proud to say I held it together for that time. Anyone who knew me well may have been able to pick up on my constantly moving hands (so my shaking wouldn’t be as obvious) or the occasional catch in my throat (as I reminded myself I needed to breathe), but to everyone else I kept my secret hidden.
The thing I want to share is that behind those three and a half hours was some serious preparation. The week prior to it had been a tough one. My anxiety had been sky-high, and my motivation to join the real world each day was low on the good days. I have been trying to record my reality of mental health, and the following photos were taken in that week on two consecutive mornings when I was really struggling to get on with my day.
On these days I did yoga, I meditated, I went to therapy on Tuesday. All week I journaled, I practiced gratitude, I had time curled up on the sofa trying to rest. I ate healthily and I drank lots of water. I did every conceivable thing I could to try to “feel better.”
Sometimes I find it most unfair that doing all these things and putting in the effort doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The truth is though that while it does not make me “better,” it does stop me from getting worse.
It is also worth being aware that it is not only gearing up for an event like this that takes planning and consideration. The aftermath needs to be planned in too. I was so mentally exhausted after being in “I’m OK!” mode on Saturday, that Sunday was a washout. I spent it on the sofa, in trackies, watching Harry Potter (the first, second, third and fourth films). This may sound like a lovely lazy Sunday to many, but Sunday is the only day Mr. BuBakes and I have together every week. I wanted to be out with him, doing fun stuff and laughing – the reality was that this was never going to happen.
I guess there are a few main points I want to get across from sharing this today:
1. If someone who battles with their mental health can only commit to “maybe I’ll come along” then often it is not that they aren’t bothered, it may be that they literally do not know if they will be able to manage it.
2. If that someone does manage to come out, be flattered; it must mean a lot to them and a great deal of work may have been done in getting them there.
3. If this is the case, the occasional squeeze of the arm and a “you’re doing amazingly, how are you feeling” goes a long way.
4. If the person needs to suddenly leave, let them know that is OK, and that you appreciate the time they spent there. No doubt the second they go they will be berating themselves for not being able to stick it out for longer, so the assurance that their time spent out was valued goes a long way in stopping the shame cycle.
It is hard for everyone to truly understand how everyday occurrences can take so much, and that’s OK. No one expects those without a mental illness to simply “get it,” but people acknowledging it is a wonderful thing.
In a previous blog post I wrote:
“Sadly I know there have been comments by people questioning how I can do all my baking and set up BuBakes when I am “sick,” and to those people, I can only say that they perhaps don’t understand the kind of “sick” I am. That’s absolutely fine — I didn’t understand it before, and I still can’t fully get to grips with it now.”
… and two years on this is still entirely true.
My sickness is still one that is hard to explain. It is one people still can’t see unless they know what they are looking for, and it is one I am still getting to grips with.
I think I will be constantly learning about it for the rest of my life, and that is OK — not only because my self-discovery will be ongoing and that is a wonderful thing, but also because it means I can continue to share what I learn as I learn it, in the hope it may help raise awareness and understanding of mental health.
Lots of love to you all.
Follow this journey on bubakes.co.uk.
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Unsplash photo via Cody Aulidge