Slipping

Over the past fortnight, I’ve noticed that more people (myself included) have found their mental health slipping.

I’m very grateful for the fact that I have managed to move far enough along in my recovery that I didn’t spiral completely, but I know that not everyone is as lucky. I’ve trained myself to step back from the brink, but it’s still scary when you’re looking over the precipice.

If you’ve found your own mental health slipping a bit recently, I want you to know that you’re not alone.

For some, the sense of fear or instability is borne of the fact that we’re opening up again, after 18 months of lockdown. It was hard to get used to the sudden changes to our lives, routines, work-, and home-lives. It’s nearly as difficult now, to get used to reversing some of those changes, while accepting that some changes are here to stay.

For others, the fact that it’s back-to-school time is the cause of their current mental health slide. It’s bringing back memories of returning to school, when we were children ourselves. Even if school was a reprieve, or a ‘safe space’ for us.

Many people, however, aren’t entirely sure why they’re feeling a bit wobbly. If you’re one of those people, it might help to journal and ask yourself what’s going on for you. I’m a big fan of journaling, and I’m also fond of using my dominant hand to ask myself what’s going on, and then answering the question with my non-dominant hand.

There are a few reasons why I recommend this method: For a start, using your non-dominant hand slows your writing down. It ensures you take longer to answer the question, so you might find yourself accessing a response that didn’t immediately spring to mind. Secondly, it can help you to access emotions differently because you’re almost regressing – hand-writing with our non-dominant hands almost infantilises us so we connect with our emotions on a different level. It also helps to strengthen neural pathways, and can even create new ones.

Identifying the reason you aren’t feeling great now is the second step to feeling better (the first is admitting that you’re not feeling great). Journaling can be a great way to help with this identification.

Finally, if you’re feeling a bit wobbly, I would suggest you seek support sooner rather than later. Those of us who have slipped, slid, or stumbled in the past, know how rapidly the descent can come: I’d urge you to avoid the tumble.

An Onion Day

CW: Sexual Abuse

Today is not a good day. And part of me is delighted.

I cried today, for the first time since…I can’t remember when. I have shed some tears, and welled-up in recent weeks: Reading of people’s hardships, and triumphs, and sharing their joys and their sorrows on the other side of my screen how could I not?

But today, I felt miserable. Overwhelmed. I felt bad. By that, I don’t mean I felt ‘off’. I mean I felt like I am a bad person. Inherently, intrinsically, indisputably bad at the core of me. This is not uncommon for people who have histories of child sexual abuse; we feel that, if someone had done something so dreadful to us, it must have been because they saw the badness in us, and addressed it.  They knew they could abuse and rape us because it was all we deserved.

Today, through the tears and (for the first time in a long time, sobs), I was able to logically provide myself with reasons why:

1. Hours of reading and writing about child sexual abuse for my PhD work (enjoying the work, but acknowledging that I need to mind myself in the middle of it).
2. A ‘brother’ hopping on to Whatsapp for the first time in years to hurl abuse during the week (blocked and reported).
3. Being reminded several times before breakfast – by all the Mothers’ Day posts on social media – that most people have mothers who don’t set out to deliberately destroy them (mine’s a narcissist, so I have hundreds of stories about how she’s done this).
4. Not being on top of the housework (is any of us ever on top of the housework?!)
5. The voice in the back of my head that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’ll never be good enough, that I’m rubbish – the voice that’s silent more often than it whispers these days – getting louder.

My daughters noticed my tears:
‘Mum! What’s the matter?’
‘Mum! What’s wrong?’
They asked, alarmed, concerned, caring.
‘Onions,’ I responded. It was true. I had been chopping onions in preparation for cooking brunch. ‘I rubbed my eyes with onion-y hands,’ I expanded.
‘You silly goose!’ Ishthara used her favourite admonishment for me. ‘But at least it wasn’t chilli!’
I smiled and agreed with her.

Now,  I must go back to my girls and tell them the rest of truth. I must tell them that I was having a bad day. I didn’t, earlier, because I didn’t want them to worry. But I wasn’t doing them any favours. By thinking I was protecting them from my sadness, I missed the opportunity to tell them that sometimes, everything tumbles in, and through, you; and you need the cathartic release of tears.

All of that said, I’m taking today as a win because I am able to feel, to know, to realise that today is just a day. This sad day is just one day. Unlike (not too many) years ago, when a sad day would mark the beginning of, or be an unremarkable part of, weeks – even months – of sadness and weeping, and fear. Proper Irish fear – eagla – equal parts terror, and paralysis, and foreboding, and regret.

Today is a win because it’s just a day, and I know that. I have no fear that tomorrow will be the same. I know it won’t. In fact, the rest of today won’t even be as bad as the earlier part was. I am measuring how far I have come. I am grateful for the relief of knowing – as opposed to hoping – that this, too, shall pass. I am not condemned to months of misery this time around.

Today is not a good day. But today is a win.