Bad days come and go far too often. Sometimes, I know why. Grief, I can understand. I know it well enough really and, hard as it can be, it is comforting in its predictability. It means I’ve lost something. It’s painful, but there is a justification for it. I can mourn. I can get closure. I can think about moving on, even if that takes a while. Same thing goes for lesser feelings of sadness. Disappointment at not meeting goals. Anger when something goes wrong. Fear when something could go wrong.
All of that makes sense. There is a clear direction, a cause and effect that can be followed and understood. It might not seem like it at the time, especially when the cause is out of my hands, but I can look back and at least comprehend why I why feel a certain way. But then, there are days when everything is going right – and it still feels completely wrong. Those are the really bad days.
I could be having the best week of my life, no question about it, and suddenly wake up the next morning feeling like the weight of the world is pressing down on my chest. Getting out of bed becomes a chore, one that needs to be broken down to make it easier. Slide the duvet off. Sit up. Put your feet on the ground. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. In an instant, what should be second nature is turned into the most daunting thing imaginable.
Forget having a productive day. Forget going about my daily routine. Forget work, forget studying, forget eating. Taking a step is now an achievement – and when I fail to do even that, I feel completely worthless. All the people I know are there for me every other day suddenly seem like strangers who would be better off without having to deal with my problems. It’s just easier to curl back in bed and not bother any more. But sleep is evasive, so my eyes stay open, the occasional flutter of their lids and the shallow rise and fall of my chest the only signs that I am not a cold, clammy statue.
This is what mental health problems can do to a person. Coming from a part of the world where the only two states of mind are sane and certifiable, it took me far too long to understand that these struggles are not uncommon. They are also extremely subjective. There might be broad symptoms for depression or anxiety or any of the other issues that can affect someone, but that does not mean any two people with the same diagnosis will react in remotely the same way.
People I care about – the same ones I feel toxic towards when I have those bad days – face these challenges too. Some are still dealing with grief from a time long past. Some are having to hide who they are because the world is unfair. Some are losing sleep because complete strangers are getting the chance to determine their future happiness. Some have a myriad of little problems that are creeping up on them. Far too many are not getting the help they deserve.
Maybe it’s the unpredictability of mental health issues that makes us unwilling to talk about them. Maybe we don’t want to acknowledge that something might be wrong. Or maybe we are too used to thinking that if something about us is different, the only acceptable solution is to fix it or hide it, not to accept it and manage it. The truth of the matter is that society still views mental health with disdain, and that judgement makes the situation even more harmful than it should be.
Bad days come and go far too often. They are terrible, but they are not terrifying. What is terrifying is that I still have to feel grateful about being given the chance to talk about my problems, that being able to share my feelings still makes me feel lucky. There is something intrinsically wrong with how we are raised to think about mental health. It is time we changed that, not because it will make us happy overnight – it is not that simple – but because it will make us okay. Right now, okay is a great start.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs in the UK from 11-17 May. Opening up about my problems to friends and family, and to professionals when needed, has changed my life. If you are reading this post, please take some time to take care of yourself and your loved ones, whether that is through professional help or simply opening up to someone you trust.