Last week I had an appointment with a consultant for us to discuss how my mental health was coping with pregnancy. She asked me how I was and my response was: ‘weirdly…actually okay’. And I am. Despite The Current Climate and the unpredictability of the news from around the world every day, I am actually pretty happy in myself.
I’ve braced myself throughout pregnancy for hormones to unsettle me, for anxiety to take over, for some seismic negative shift in my brain. And yet, four days ago, this consultant declared my mental health to be ‘stable’, saying she didn’t think we needed another check-in unless things took a turn. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this word used to describe me in the last few weeks – the perinatal mental health team assessed me when I was referred at 12 weeks and they decided that no action was needed by them as I was ‘stable’ and that pregnancy had (so far) not caused any significant downturn.
All this got me thinking. I’ve not had a really bad spell of mental illness in over a year (barring a few weeks feeling rubbish in March-April 2020, when I think everyone was feeling similarly), I need less support from professional services and even my memory of being so ill is fading.
So am I…better?
I’d be lying if I didn’t feel slightly weird at that thought; it’s a bit scary to realise you might soon not need the safety nets you’ve relied on for more than two years, plus I started to feel a bit like a fraud. Should I still write this blog? Should I still describe myself as a mental health warrior on my Instagram bio? Was I even that poorly in the first place? Did I make a big fuss over nothing?
After some reflection, the answers to those questions are, respectively: yes, yes, YES and definitely not.
We ALL have mental health, as we all have physical health, and some of us need extra help to keep one or both healthy and functioning. I’ve been very ill in the last few years, and to a lesser extent at other points in my life, so I think I will always have to view mental illness as something that can flare up at any time, and something I will often have to live alongside.
So even though my day-to-day life no longer involves self-harm, trips to A&E, crying non-stop or nights wracked by existential terror, there are other things I now do daily that someone without the same tendencies and diagnosis as me may not need to. Some examples are:
- I take antidepressants daily, and I cannot imagine ever coming off them. They are necessary to my health.
- I have to take care of myself physically – regular exercise and early nights are essential to keep my emotions regulated and to lift my mood when I need it.
- Crying. I may not cry as often as I used to, but I don’t now feel like a failure for doing so.
- Being honest. Much of my good health relies on open communication with Tom and my family. Not just me telling them if I don’t feel right, but me trusting them to tell me if they notice certain behaviours or patterns creeping back in.
- Recognising my own ‘BPD’ styles of thinking when they crop up and seeing them for what they are. I literally have to do this every day to assess whether I am thinking realistically and fairly about situations.
- Using the strategies I learned in my Acceptance and Commitment therapy to create space between myself and unhelpful thinking. I use the skills my psychologist Stacey taught me every single day, they have even come in useful when making my birth plan and thinking about (eek!) labour.
So yes, maybe I am stable now, and maybe this is actually what ‘better’ looks like for me. But that doesn’t invalidate everything I went through, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I was not dangerously ill. Sometimes I still let myself think and talk about all the things that happened in 2018 and 2019, to remind myself that they did happen, and that I then did a hell of a lot of work to reach where I am now.
I am, quite rightly, proud of the progress I have made, and I will continue to write about my life through the lens of a mental health diagnosis, as I think it helps to dispel some of the murky myths about those of us with these kinds of labels.
Many people with mental health diagnoses can see better days, can find balance and can be responsible for managing their own health going forward. We are not weird or ‘other’; we’re just normal people who have been through some shit and want to get the most out the time we have.