When it comes to mental health issues the softly, softly approach may work for some, but for me a tough- love approach works better.
If I see one more meme about wrapping your friend in a blanket burrito when they are depressed, or self-care being about putting on a face mask and changing into your most comfortable PJs when you’re feeling low — I am going to scream.
Since I had my breakdown five years ago, mental health awareness has been everywhere. Although it is amazing that mental health is becoming a much more accepted topic of conversation, the way however that it gets discussed can be, in my opinion, somewhat patronising and coddling. We focus on making people comfortable as they wallow in their private misery, instead of encouraging them to get some real help. It is great that people are being more supportive but sometimes you need that tough love and a whole lot of laughter to pull you out of a difficult state of mind.
When I talk about recovery and self-care it is about forcing myself to go take a shower; it’s making myself go to a gym class and to work. It’s not — despite certain stereotypes — drinking every week and going to the doctor’s to self-refer myself for therapy, kicking and screaming the whole way. It’s the simple, everyday things like cleaning my room, leaving the house and looking in the mirror and telling myself to ‘grow up’, get over myself and remember the world doesn’t revolve around me. Recovery brought a lot of hard truths and made me hold myself to account for all the nasty things I have done or said over the years. Self-care is also learning to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously.
For me, support isn’t having friends that wrap me in blankets and stay in with me when I don’t want to go out. It’s having people tell me when I am being stupid and dramatic; it’s having people make plans with me so I must leave the house; and it’s having people tell me off when I get mean. It’s also the person at the end of the phone telling me to go shower and the friend that took a day off work to take me to my doctor’s appointment so that I wouldn’t back out. And, it’s the friend that when I said I wanted to die promptly made a joke about how my outfit choice was terrible and that I should make sure to choose something better in case I become a ghost.
It’s the people that are harsh and blunt and honest and that will make those off-coloured jokes that are jarring enough to snap me out of my thoughts, and that have helped me recover over the years. And I will take them any day, over the people who want to hug me and treat me like I need to be protected from myself.
When I was at my worst, I hadn’t showered in a week, my curls were tangled and matted and I wasn’t attending any of my university classes. The best piece of advice I got was my mum growling at me over Facetime to get in the shower, act like an adult and get to class before she flew to Groningen to drag me there herself. Harsh? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.
The last time I had a low period my friend dragged me out for food and proceeded to ask the waitress for children’s cutlery so that I wouldn’t be overcome with the urge to self-harm and put him off his food. The waitress went silent, the couple next to us side-eyed us warily and I think I laughed so hard I cried for the first time in a month.
When I start spiralling my best friend likes to remind me of all the bad haircuts I have had over the years. Which quickly snaps me out of the urge to cut into my hair or grab a sharp pair of scissors. This is the same best friend who made me go to the doctor’s as part of my New Year’s resolutions and nagged me so much that I did it just to shut her up.
Being depressed sucks. At my worst I can’t think or move and am constantly putting myself down. Some days I barely recognise myself in the mirror; it’s like I have a fog in my head and everything feels wrong. Small inconveniences can send me into a spiral of panicking and crying in the loos at work and I can barely muster up any enthusiasm to even enjoy food (and I love food). So, I am grateful for the people who support me. Who drag me kicking and screaming back from the edge and make me laugh at myself and at the world around me.
For those that prefer a softer approach, that’s fine. We all recover and need support in different ways. But for those like me, who need an iron hand with a sense of humour, it’s not about recovering ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’ — it’s just about doing it your way.