Mental illness often makes me feel like an outsider; as someone who is always on the periphery and not quite part of group. Oddly, this doesn’t actually bother me as much as some people might think it would. Yes, it can be quite a lonely existence sometimes, but I’ve always been a bit of a loner, someone who keeps their own counsel and has learned to depend on myself. If you were to look up “introvert” in an illustrated dictionary, you’d stand a fair chance of seeing a picture of me there as a definition.
Like a lot of people with mental illness, I spend a lot of time “inside my head”. I reflect on things, turning them over and over in my mind; often trying to work out how I could have dealt with a particular situation more effectively. Sometimes, however, I recall something that I’ve done well and focus on that. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens just often enough to stop the lights from going out completely.
I spend a lot of time looking inwards. Self analysis can, all too often, be synonymous with self criticism which, in turn, can lead to self loathing. It is definitely all too easy to fall back on the negatives.
Opening up to people is not something I find easy. Over the decades I have built up “protective” walls that have become nigh on impenetrable; and yet the darkness can always find me. The very walls that I put up to keep the hurt out can trap me alongside my pain. Letting people in to help me share the burden does, however, carry its own risks.
So far, the picture I’ve painted has been one of almost unrelenting bleakness; the truth is, however, actually very different. Nothing is absolute; there is never total darkness. The never ending cycle of prolonged dark with intervals of light cuts both ways. On the one hand, there is a sense of the inevitable. Whatever happens, you know that ultimately the storm clouds will roll back over head and you will need to retreat into the protective shelter of the cave and the cold, dark comfort of its embrace. The reverse, however, is also true. The sheer fact that you have been here so many times before is evidence that the sun will rise above the horizon again, however briefly, and that is what provides us with the strength to continue.
I am very much aware of my mental state at any time. It’s as if I live in a permanent state of mindfulness that alerts me to the dangers ahead; allowing me, where possible, to plot a safer course and, when necessary to take shelter and hide away from harm. It is an inner perceptiveness born of three decades of experience. It is a form of flight or flight response from what lurks inside my own mind. It’s a point of balance on an unstable foundation.
For me, self-care is, in the main, something that happens unconsciously in the background; it is ingrained into me, a part of who I am. When my mood darkens, it become a more active thing; forcing me to live day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour and, when necessary, occasionally even minute-by-minute. I have learned to accept that, sometimes, it is simply all about damage limitation, battening down the hatches, withdrawing as far from the world as possible and letting the storm run its course.
Sometimes, “inside” is the safest place to be…