The thing about mental illness is that you can be travelling along in your every day life largely unaware that the wheels are falling off.
I am a mum of three, a human being with various ambitions outside of motherhood and never enough time to feel like I can be much good at any of it. I am perpetually tired. I am spread too thin. This is my normal day and so not feeling 100% is my standard operating mode. So if I am accustomed to not feeling at my best, it can be tricky to detect when this flicks over into something more serious.
I struggled this winter. After a series of major life events (moving house, Bren changing jobs), the particularly brutal Melbourne winter knocked the wind right out of my sails. Just at the time when I really needed to be preparing for our wedding and getting the new place in order, I felt stuck. I procrastinated endlessly. I craved (and ate) comfort food. I had no motivation to exercise. I did very little writing. And the culmination of all this stagnation was a deepening sense of self-loathing. I felt lazy and hopeless, unattractive and uninspired. I was flat-lining.
But the wake-up call was delivered via Netflix. Harlow was going through a massive Strawberry Shortcake phase and I found myself bizarrely drawn to the series. The animation was bright and cheerful, the voices bubbly and cute and the stories always had happy endings. In one episode, Strawberry Shortcake laments having too much time on her hands because all her chores are done. In fact, she thinks of some cleaning task to complete in her home only to discover she has already done it the day before. I listened to those words, the unmistakable ache of envy heavy in my chest.
And that's when I knew I wasn't okay.
It wasn't just a "Oh, wouldn't that be nice!" thought flitting through my brain. I wanted to crawl into the fantasy land and never return. I literally ached to BE Strawberry Shortcake.
I don't profess to be any kind of mental health expert but I know THAT'S NOT NORMAL.
Everyone's warning signs are different. Admittedly, mine are a little kooky but hey, when I'm feeling low apparently saccharine sweet animated characters are my jam. And it makes sense. Sweet and simple is the antithesis of my own life. And when the world is bearing down on me, escape is a very natural response.
My mood started to pick up once the sun started to shine a little more brightly and the renewal of spring seemed to offer a renewal of sorts to me, too. But with the wedding rapidly approaching, my anxiety is naturally ramping up. But I've been managing reasonably well until last week. Daylight savings has turned me inside out.
And it's given me some clearer insight into how my mental illness manifests itself in my day to day life. There are a number of factors I know that help to keep it in check; regular exercise, good food, limited or no alcohol and quality sleep. I've been great with all of those, but the lack of sleep has thrown me. Add to that the wedding anxiety that buzzes though me like a constant low level electrical current and it's been a bad week. I've had a bunch of appointments relating to the wedding and though each of those is fun and exciting, the culmination of all that activity leaves me absolutely exhausted.
I've learnt this, too. I tend to output enormous energy when I do things and then need to retreat and recoup. I need to find a way to honour that more often instead of thinking that 'soldiering on' is the tough thing to do. Staying mentally healthy is my first priority.
So last week was Mental Health Week and because my own mental health is wavering a little, it seems fitting that I am writing about it late! In fact, this blog has been a ghost town, initially due to the relentlessness of school holidays, but exacerbated by an over-active mind trying so busily to get a wedding together that it's almost impossible to form ordered thoughts here.
Life is a series of swings and roundabouts and our mental health tends to track along quite consistently with those bumps in the road. The trick is to identify triggers early so that we can take precautions against falling into too deep a hole. Like strapping a knee before a big game, we can better protect ourselves against stressors.
Though my deeply suburban existence sometimes feels like a choke hold on my creativity, the humdrum of everyday life is far gentler on my nerves. Life is anything but normal right now. I am preparing for the biggest party I will ever throw and it's intense. Thank god Bren will be by my side in this endeavour and in this life. He is my soft landing every time.
In the meantime, please excuse my absence for the next little while. I miss being here and writing. But I wanted to touch base with you guys and remind you that every week is Mental Health Week. It's real and it's important and if you're struggling, I want you to know that there is help available. There is no shame in reaching out. I am reaching out to you, fellow human being, with my own little story, in the hopes that you might find a safe space to share your own.
Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636
Lifeline - 13 11 14