Living with mental illness: Falling down and getting yourself back up again

Mental health blogger Fiona Kennedy talks about getting yourself out of a rut before it's gone too far

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write an article this week. It’s been a particularly challenging month, and I’ve been feeling like something of a hypocrite because I’ve neglected to do pretty much all of the lovely self-compassionate bits I’ve been writing about.

Why? Because I was tired. Because I felt overwhelmed. Possibly because a change in medication may have impacted on my mood somewhat. But mostly, it was because I just chose not to.

I told myself I was letting myself off the hook when I chose not to get up and fit my yoga in before getting the kids up for school, or that sitting down with a couple of episodes of ‘Stranger Things’ instead of a much needed early night was being self-compassionate. I’ve made no effort to do the breathing exercises recommended by my psychologist.

I’ve been living on a steady diet of cereal and bagels, because it’s so much easier than putting in the effort required to make decent food for myself. I’m too tired to exercise, so spending hours faffing about on Twitter and Facebook will be a much better use of my time... And on and on it goes.

The end result? My mood plummeted and anxiety levels shot up. Guilt came to the fore again in a big way, over anything and everything.

The little voice at the back of my head that says ‘I just couldn’t be bothered’ got louder and louder, and I’ve been putting everything on the long finger, including getting this article written. But this morning I remembered something and it might sound a little strange, so humour me!

As I was trying to find the motivation to get myself out of bed, I thought about my future self. How would I feel in a couple of hours time if I let the morning drag by in a haze of doing the bare minimum? Would I be pleased with myself? Would I feel I had accomplished anything? Or would I be handing over yet another stick to beat myself with?

So I got moving. I got showered, I got dressed, and I got the kids to school. Coming home every other morning this week has usually ended in my either heading back for bed or faffing about online. The house was up in a heap with washing in various stages of processing all over the place and a nice carpet of dog hair on the floor. I made the decision on my way back today that I wasn’t going to let that continue, I was not going to let that little voice get any more of a hold over me.

When I came in, I ignored the internet, put on some music and got moving. After all the time I’ve spent putting it off, less than half an hour made a huge difference. My house is cleaner, and I feel like I’ve achieved something. When I get very anxious, having a lot of clutter around me makes it 100 times worse, so even making the effort to just put stuff away has made me feel calmer. I’m now quite grateful for having done that, because it’s given me back that sense of control that has slipped through my fingers the last couple of weeks or so.

It is too easy to give up. Despite it being only a relatively short period of not looking after myself and giving in to the slightly less helpful strategies of comfort food and Netflix, the slide was happening. I’ve been aware of it and ignoring it, because the effort of doing the right thing felt like too much. I really, really resent it. Giving in is easier in the short term. But what about the long term? If I had continued with the pattern of the last week I’d end up in the bottom of a depressed hole in no time, and if I think the effort I have to put in now is demanding, the effort from those depths is infinitely harder.

So when I don’t want to look after myself in the present, I (when I remember) look to how I will feel in the future. Is future me going to be really annoyed that I’ve wasted more time? Or is future me going to be grateful that I tried, that I did what I could to improve a not very pleasant situation?

Right now, I’m grateful to me. I feel like I’m taking control again. I’m proud that I’ve caught the slide before it turned into a free fall. I have a lot of work to do to get myself back on track. Regardless of whether or not the change in medication has been exacerbating the situation, if I don’t take responsibility for remedying it, things will only get worse.

My husband has a quote that he uses quite a lot; I’m not sure of its origin but I suspect it’s been around for a while – ‘fall down seven times, get up eight’. At this stage I’m probably closer to falling down 700 times, but I’m going to keep getting up, because what happens if I don’t? Well, that’s just not going to end well for anyone, and I am the only one who can take responsibility for that.

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Fiona Kennedy writes regularly about mental health issues on her blog sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information at www.yourmentalhealth.ie