Not ill, not well

I think most of us know the statistic that one in four of us will experience mental ill-health in their lives. What this means is that for most of us with mental ill-health, we don’t live in a state of illness all the time. My health oscillates between periods of feeling really unwell and really well. But most of the time, I float somewhere in the middle – I’m not ‘ill’, but I’m certainly not well.

I still identify as someone with a mental illness and I still face challenges almost every day when my brain tries to sabotage me. It might be that I leave a gig early because it is too crowded for me; I might not be sleeping through the night; I might experience extreme, paralysing bursts of anxiety. But on the whole, I get through life. My relationships, work and sense of self are relatively unaffected.

These times are hard. My biggest mental health challenge is understanding, interpreting and regulating my emotions. And when they’re just a little ‘off’, it’s really hard for me to know what that means. When they’re a lot off, it’s easy: I’m sick and I know what I need to do to fix that. When they’re not off, it’s great: I’m happy, loving and productive.

But floating in the middle, I spend the time questioning every flicker of emotion. ‘Normal’ sadness prompts a question about whether this is depression. ‘Normal’ nerves make me worry that it’s anxiety. ‘Normal’ happiness makes me concerned I might be too happy.

My anxiety makes me a control freak, and my past experiences of serious illness has left me terrified of my health escalating. These are the emotional scars that remind me that even when I am doing OK, I am someone who experiences mental ill-health and I have to look after myself. Hyper-vigilance is a part of my life, and it can be exhausting; something that in and of itself keeps illness at the forefront of my mind when it need not be.

Image credit: @bethdrawsthings

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