Many thanks to Lucia for sharing this.
Dear mental health,
You and I first got to know each other when we were ill around age 16. You moved into my life as mental illness without me really inviting there, and very quickly became a thing to be feared and unfortunately something to get rid of.
You were a bad influence on my life early on, getting me into trouble and finding ever increasingly bigger things to do to get my attention. But I carried on, trying to ignore you, being scared of the things you made me do and think, and worst of all it seems, I was powerless to stop you being part of my life. There you were, eating with me, squeezing into the same bed as me. Everything I did, you were there too, like a physical shadow that, along with the dark, came with a coldness I couldn’t quite shake off.
That was part of the problem, wasn’t it? You weren’t quite real, and it was only really me that could see you separate to me, and forever trying to fight you off, even though you weren’t really a person, but a thing, like the dog poo stuck to the bottom of my shoe that I couldn’t get off and everyone blamed me for the source of the smell. “mental illness” (as I called you then), we were inseparable to everyone else, no one could see beyond you to me, and it made me worse somehow, that my person hood was somehow swallowed up and meshed with this thing that I was trying so hard to get rid of, but no one else saw us separately.
I tried really hard to get rid of you. I went to counselling and tried various different things to try and get rid. I was crying and frustrated when none of them worked and because they made me feel worse, and you became bigger, more scary and attached I stopped trying.
I remember when it changed though. Although it started suddenly, it took some time to change forever, as these things do, and of course there were still difficulties along the way, where I still hated you, ignored you and wished you were gone.
We had a difficult day that day, and as we sometimes did when we were having difficult days found ourselves in a hotel room by the evening, hiding from the world, and I was trying to hide from you too, but as always, you came with me. I had got frustrated and got angry at you, getting myself all worked up in the mix. I ended up crying, and I started to notice my crying had an echo. I looked up and noticed, for the first time a small girl crying across from me. That’s not to say you were really there, or that I was seeing you as an illusion either, more that, for the first time I could see you, mental illness, for what you were, what you represented. For me, you were a small girl crying, hurting and really upset, and I wanted to look after you and make it all better.
When I started to get to know you and actually understand you, and why you were with me, was when we both started to get better. We worked together, not against each other, to solve the problems I was having with you being around, and you grew up too. You became a mature part of me, wise and thoughtful and generally good to be around. Getting to know you was difficult, but it became very important as it also meant I got to know myself too, and we got better.
You still had that streak in you, and you still do, that needs and sometimes craves attention. But I have learnt, and you have accepted that the sooner I give you that attention, and the more positive attention I give you, the less of an issue it becomes.
Of course, we didn’t do it on our own. I went back to therapy, with a different attitude this time. I no longer wanted to destroy you because I learnt that although your name of mental illness seems quite scary and at times you still are, you are still a part of me, and there is a reason you are there. When I find that difficult I remind myself of the hurt and crying little girl you once were and under all that bad stuff that’s what you are, and that’s how I should treat you.
I remember the day you decided to move out from living with me. I was quite happy, but soon became quite lonely without you there all the time. However, I knew that this new way of being was much more healthy, and it’s not like you are gone forever.
You only live next door to me now, but it works so much better. We are friendly neighbours, but each with our own space and separate lives. I go to places without you now, I have learnt to be myself again. We still talk daily, and I love to tell you what I do now, and we are still welcome at each other’s houses, the difference is that we have a lot more respect for each other’s space and know that it doesn’t mean anything bad.
When you moved out from my life, we decided to change your name from mental illness to mental health. It was symbolic of how you have changed from being a negative part of my life to just being a part of it.
I hope we continue to grow together and strengthen each other through working with each other and not against each other.
..and no offence, but I hope you don’t move in again…