“Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean that it’s not real?”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Many people with mental health issues will have heard these famous words: “it’s all in your head”. Many, many, many people. To which I say, well yeah, it’s called mental illness, so it’s not going to manifest itself in my butt, is it? But the most hurtful part about these words is the fact that people don’t “believe in” mental illness because they can’t see it. That it’s not real.
Which is ridiculous, of course. Because it feels very real to us. And not just in our heads, where the war rages on. It can get very physical at times.
You see, we have a chemical imbalance in our brain. And since our brain is the captain of the ship (I like to think of him with a nice hat), it’s only logical to conclude that when the captain is sick, the ship ain’t going to fare too well either.
So when I say “I can’t do it”, I don’t mean “I don’t want to do it”. I don’t mean “I can’t be bothered to do it”. I don’t mean “I’m too lazy to do it”. I literally just mean “I am physically unable to do it”. Because that’s what I’m feeling in my bones. Because my brain tells me so. Because I’m left with no energy.
Anxiety and depression are full-time jobs, man. They eat away at your mind, your memories, your perception of things, and your energy levels. I am always tired all. the. time. Everything always takes up three times more energy, and I always take at least 2 days to recover.
So when you see a nice picture of me and then tell me, “Oh, you look good, so you must be feeling better” or “You’ve been out, so you must be doing better”, it tells me that you clearly don’t know what it’s like. As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I’ve come to believe that mental illness is a chronic thing. That you can learn how to manage it and live with it, but that it will never go away. It will always be lurking in the shadows, waiting, and it’ll hit you full-force when you least expect it. Just as a reminder that they’re still there and still have power over you.
So when you see a nice picture of me, you just see that one second in time in which I put a smile on my face and had my picture taken. You don’t see the toll it takes on me to get out of the house. You don’t feel the energy seeping from my every pore. You don’t realise how much I pay for these outings later. With pure fatigue and headaches. With back aches and tired legs. With mental drainage and loss of concentration.
And then I haven’t even started about panic attacks, which can often feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. Or like you’re dying of a heart attack, take your pick. Crying, hyperventilating, throat closes up, not being able to breathe, heart rate speeds up, stomach starts churning, intestines turn themselves into knots, sweating, hot, cold, hot, cold. And at the end, there’s nothing left. You’ve been completely drained of everything that’s made up of you.
Now tell me again that it’s all in my head.
A little self-care for after panic attacks/crying:
- have a glass of water
- eat something (sensible, not junkfood)
- take a shower
- change your clothes
- go for a walk
- watch a TV show/movie
- talk to someone (my inbox is always open)
- listen to music
- play a game
- hug someone
- find comfort in a pet
- know that you’re going to be okay