This blog looks at my work as a photographer, artist, workshop leader and community engagement. It also looks at my life living with a mental health illness and how I deal with it.
Sometimes I write in a cathartic way, hoping that by doing so I will find a way to heal, to show others that there are many sides to me, to become the solidarity that others may require in their own struggles. I have no idea how many people read my words, but I hope some do, and they see the sides to a personality that is affected by an illness that maintains its grip, and come out with more understanding or the willingness to share themselves.
This post is looking at the last couple of months, and how it has been difficult for me to process amidst the whirring of an illness that doesn’t quit.
I have found myself losing people again, and it has hit me hard. I am not good at dealing with loss, I try to understand why, and if I could’ve done something different to avoid it. The last 2 months has seen me lose what once was a brilliant network and most of the people in it, against my own desires; a best friend who no longer has the patience for the cyclical nature of my darker days; and other friends who are triggered by my more dysphoric days, my openness to talk about them. I have to focus on those who still care about me, and can see past the broken parts and remind me that I am not all that bad, actually I am quite a fun person to be around. It is difficult, because my main aim is to be well, to not have this part of me that insists on ruining everything. Believe me when I say, that my ideal existence would have me on an even keel, not second guessing how long a period of feeling good will last, or when the next severe episode is going to happen.
Trying to show people this and help them understand what I am experiencing (which is an illness, not a personality trait) is becoming frustrating, not just for me, but for them too. I can see their position, how long do they have to put up with me? Why do they have to put up with me? I never used to talk about how I was feeling, the only emotion that was strong enough to come out was anger and that for me, is the most negative emotion of all. But finding people who understand or listen has been both a blessing and a curse.
At the moment I am well, I feel contemplative, I felt the need to also write when I am in good places too. I have a lot of brilliant things happening in my life, my calendar is full of projects, meet ups, outings, social gatherings, I am not short of folk in my life. But I do live in a fear that this will all change, and the only person to blame for this is inside me.
I get to the point where I trust too much, I give too much, and I guess I expect there to be some return in friendship too. I also believe that my ethics and the way I would treat a friend who is ill, would apply to all, certainly ignoring them is not a method I would employ. But we all have different ways of dealing with mental health, and I know it can be tiring being friends or living with a person who is ill.
Mental illness sure is a lonely beast, as much as the support is there, the beast dwells inside, sometimes resting, sometimes furious, but never seen by the outside. So when my illness insists that all around me are being duplicitous, that I am not wanted, that all everyone sees is my negativity, then I start to believe that is what I am – but it is not me, it is the beast controlling my thoughts, twisting them, whispering to me that nobody cares, they all want to leave you. I know this isn’t necessarily true, if there are people who want to ‘unfriend’ me, I know they are the masters of their own lives, lives which I imagine will be less rich without my presence in it. I know how to be witty, and caring, and look out for others when they are also riding with the beast. I know that I am not my illness, that I am bigger than it, and it is only a small broken part of me. I know that I have done some amazing things in my life, and I have determination, courage, and the will to get things done for the greater good. I know I am good at planning and organising and people rely on me for those skills, especially for the great trips we go on.
I also know how difficult it can be for others to spot when the beast is taking away my confidence and replacing it with panic and anxiety. I know that no matter how much I try to explain, and in those moments when I overcome by the illness, it is much worse, I simply do not make sense to myself, how am I meant to explain to others. Forgive me because I am not in control. Forget the paranoia and reassure me that for the days I am good, they are worth being.
It is hard to imagine sometimes, how it is to walk in others shoes. But we can read their words, listen to their thoughts and hope we just offer the friend a shoulder or an ear and that will be enough.
This is an open letter to all my friends, those I have known and those I am yet to meet. Mental Illness is not who I am, yes it affects my life, but it does not define me. Do love me, regardless, if we are friends, there is a pretty good chance I will be loyal, caring and interested in your life. Do forgive me if the beast is cruel, it lashes out to those who are closest (I think it believes you are untouchable). Do reassure me that I will get back to the person you love spending time with, it’s only temporary. Don’t tell me I’m too sensitive, or it’s all in my head, because duh! of course it’s in my head, and I’m only sensitive because the beast is making me feel that way. Do let me be the best friend I can be to you, because I really appreciate all who have seen me rise up out of the dark only to pulled back under, again and again. Do encourage me, that my path to recovery is far from over, but what I am doing to help myself is going in the right direction.
I spend this time, trying to understand myself, so that hopefully, you and others can find solace and understanding in themselves too.