Mental illness is exhausting – there’s no doubt about it. It’s like having a new puppy that demands constant attention and never grows up. Every time you think it’s settled for a while, it wakes up and cries, or demands to be fed, or wees on your new rug. It can be – and is – tempting to let mental illness dominate your life. It’s a full-time job so I can’t possibly fit anything else into my busy schedule of worrying and wondering what the purpose of life is, right?
But it’s not right. Nobody is so owned by their mental illness that they cannot break free. That they cannot start building a life when their physical health permits. It’s harder to go backwards when you have responsibility. When you are accountable to someone other than yourself.
In my experience, if you minimise the attention you give to something, eventually it will start to shrink. As per, I’m not saying that this is an easy task. It’s not easy to ignore the small mental health puppy and its constant yapping and mewling. It’s not easy to ignore something that is demanding to be heard.
In the beginning, make a choice not to isolate yourself. Text people to find out what they’re doing – you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve forgotten about day-to-day life. Ask people how they are. Ask people whether they’ve got plans for the weekend. Maybe even ask someone if they might find their way to joining you in John Lewis for a piece of cake and a cup of tea. You’ll be surprised by how willing people are to welcome you into their day.
Start small. Give an hour a week to something you care about outside the confines of your brain. Join a watercolour group, or a yoga class; find a library and go there to read. Do something that isn’t sitting on your bed, or on the sofa and worrying and thinking and devoting your life to something that you hate, and is slowly decaying everything you are, have and were.
Find a charity you care about. Most are desperate for people who are able to share their time. You’re lucky: you’ve got lots of it. Donate some to someone else and find out about something new. Meet new people; have a purpose for getting up in the morning and eating breakfast. Start to make a structure for your day. If you like it, ask whether you could volunteer more often. If you have a bad day, explain it to them and have a day where you revert to spending an hour in the library, or take yourself to the cinema; go to a charity shop and buy a book; knit something; ask a friend if they fancy a cup of coffee.
Learn again about what you love. Search the internet for opportunities to have a nice time. Take what you’ve learned so far and analyse it: what have you discovered about yourself? What is it that you love to do? Work out how you can make it into something you do every day. Find a job with people who have a lunch break together. Go for an interview, just to find out what it’s like. Ask around for people who are looking to slot someone in for a couple of hours a week. Ignore the thoughts that are telling you you’re not good enough; that you need to spend more time cultivating your mental illness; that you are different to everyone else and recovery is not for you. Explain that you’ve been through some awful things; that you’re trying to rebuild your life. Squeeze your eyes shut whilst you wait for the interviewer to tell you that they definitely don’t have space for someone like that. Open them again when you realise they’re not going to say that.
Buy something to wear for your first day. Choose a new pen; pack your lunchbox. Tell people you definitely can’t do it and believe them when they tell you that you can. Revel in the nerves because they are normal. Learn something new. Introduce yourself to people. Tell them you’ve been in hospital or having a breakdown; tell them that you’ve been in Bolivia for twelve years if you want. One of the incredible things about work is that you can be whoever you want to be. Extremely shy? Make people laugh at work. Unsure about everything? Be an expert in your job.
Ask for two days a week. Three. Four. Feel strangely proud when they say yes. Realise you’re not doing a bad job. Realise that your mental health isn’t holding you back for the first time in years. Let yourself have bad days. Feel the extreme tiredness at weekends and just sit at home and watch Netflix knowing it’s OK because you’ll be back on form by Monday. Make friends with your colleagues if you want. Dare to think about why they might possibly like you.
Look back. Realise what you’ve achieved. Fall into the rhythm of your new life. Embrace who you are and who you were and where your roots lie. If you don’t try, you can’t move forward. If you don’t try; you can’t succeed.