*trigger warning: self harm (just not as you know it).
It’s Mental Health Awareness week this week and I’ve known for a while that I wanted to speak about an aspect of my struggles with mental health with the hope that it may reach some of you that are having the same struggles. One thing I’ve learned since having this blog is that no matter what I think I’m dealing with alone, someone else is dealing with the same thing.
My mental illness manifests itself in many ways. Mostly it looks like it does on TV. Sitting in silence. Not getting out of bed. Sadness. Crying. Followed by a bout of hyperactivity. Other times it takes the form of a type of self-harm that I’m sure you’ve not heard of before, unless you experience it yourself.
This type of self-harm is complete self-neglect.
It’s a hard thing to admit. That your mental health leaves you in such a state that looking after your physical health just doesn’t figure in your daily life. That your body is your mind’s wasteland.
What does this form of self harm look like? It looks like me. Bitten nails. Dry skin. Mascara stains from not properly cleansing. Other than that it’s pretty hard to spot. Unlike other forms of self harm, where scars are often visible or at least covered by clothes, this form is less recognisable.
I neglect myself in different ways. In the depths of a depressive mood, I may not shower for a day or two. Gross, right? But it’s what my brain tells me I am. Gross. In a depressive mood I will bite my nails until they are raw. If you spot polish on them, it’s a sign I’m doing alright. When I’m feeling low, I will fill my body with the most disgusting foods. Two dinners? Not a problem. I know when it’s really bad. It’s really bad when I can’t stop picking at and itching my skin. When I let my eyebrows grow out to hideous proportions. It’s really bad when I don’t mind leaving the house with greasy, scraped back hair and clothes that hang from my body to cover anything. To drown me.
Other ways that I neglect myself may not be physical. I will not pay bills and ignore the calls until the stress of the monkey on my back forces my head to hide under a pillow. I will frivolously wank away money until I’m living on Supernoodles and my chest tightens harder each time I open my banking app. I will quit jobs. I will quit relationships. I will do anything to make myself feel terrible. It’s self harm, but maybe not as you know it.
For most people, basic self care such as answering the phone, organising your day, putting on perfume or drinking the right amount of water is natural. To *not* do these things is unfathomable. For those with mental illness, when your brain is continuously unfathomable, even the most basic aspects are an effort, a thought, a chore and sometimes an insurmountable undertaking.
This isn’t new for me. I have been battling with this for as long as I can remember. In fact, a life without self-neglect is not a life I recognise. Yes I have strong periods. They can last days, weeks or months. During these periods, you’ll see me with clean hair every day. I’ll wear outfits I’ve felt confident in putting together. My nails will be painted and there’ll be money in my bank. I’ll spring out of bed, ready for the day. My bedroom will be tidy and I’ll be ploughing through my to-do list like there’s no tomorrow. But with these highs, comes those lows.
Why am I writing about this? And why now? Growing up, I had this picture in my head that by the time I was 30, all of this would’ve gone away. I didn’t understand mental illness. I blamed it on the situations at the time. But by 30, I’d be a grown woman and I would’ve grown out of this. Except I haven’t. Because you don’t grow out of mental illness.
Now I’m 30, I’m finally looking at the rest of my life. And this time not through the eyes of a teenager. As some of you regular readers know, this year has been a year of self discovery for me. I love myself more than I ever have. And with that self love, there finally comes a desire to stop the self-neglect.
I’m taking practical steps every day to take care of myself. Whether that’s to light a candle before bed. Or use an expensive face mask. Or even just to brush my hair. One act a day of self love is the least I can do to make up for the years of acts of self hate.
I can’t promise that from this day forward I won’t display some of the behaviours I’ve listed above. I can’t even promise that I’m not doing some of them right now. But what I can promise myself is that I understand it’s the time to do something about it.
We are all put on this planet to be happy, to be loving and kind creatures and if we can’t do that for ourselves, we’re not going to be able to do that for others. Each time we wake up we get a choice – to change or to stay the same.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. My choice is to change what I’ve done before in the hope that I’ll convince my mental illness to stop using me as it’s barren and neglected wasteland.