A lot of people, myself included, would say that mental health issues isolate the sufferer. They make you believe that you are a burden to everyone. They make you feel paranoid that everyone is talking about you. They make you question your self-worth, and sense of identity. You lose sight of where you fit – if you even fit at all.
There is no question. Depression and anxiety make the world a lonely place. People I have known who have been victim to these illnesses have often lost their careers, their friends, even their family…
and I am just as surprised as you are that there is a ‘but’.
I have had my whole life completely crumble to the ground around me, and lost ten years’ worth of career. I have hit rock bottom, been admitted (twice!) to a mental health unit, and undergone eight rounds of ECT. I have lost friends that I have had since childhood, and learned that my belief that I was of no value to anyone, unless I was giving something more than myself, had provided a platform for others to treat me as if that were the case.
The first few times that I tried to change the way I thought about myself, and subsequently what I was prepared to accept from others in the way they interacted with me, the outcome was (as I feared it would be), negative. Those people walked away from me, and I was left questioning whether this new-found sense of worth had been tremendously misplaced. But I kept with it (if you’d met my psychologist, you’d know I didn’t really have a choice!), and yes, I had a few people who decided that my friendship was not something they wanted, if I was going to voice my feelings. And that’s ok. We can’t all get along with everyone – and I was simply learning that the person that these people had had a relationship with was, in fact, not me. And when I embraced the real me… it turned out that the friendship wasn’t such a good fit after all.
What this sense of isolation did for me, as I began to feel better, was make me ache for connection. I was becoming confident in who I was, and the types of relationships that I wanted to foster… and I found myself taking chances, and making decisions, that I never would have taken before, to seek these friendships out.
I put myself out there. I said ‘yes’ more often. I went to functions with complete strangers… and it was terrifying.
But it was worth it.
And suddenly, the illness that had stolen so much… was the catalyst for giving something back.
I have spent the last year building true connections, with the most amazing people. I have been completely surrounded and consumed, by people who lift each other up, cheer each other on, and are right there with you if you happen to stumble along the way.
I have shared my story about this beast that I have wrestled, and it has opened the way for people to come into my life that have been there; that have wrestled that beast too… or, that are gallantly still fighting.
And for us… the players at the boss level in this game… things look a little different. Things feel a little different. And whether we have passed that boss level, are not yet ready for the battle, or are right in the thick of button bashing that beast into oblivion, we all seem to share an understanding.
We share something deeper. Something bigger. Something real.
Maybe it is because we have seen how easily darkness can contaminate light. Or maybe because we have a renewed sense of just how easily life can be taken. Maybe it’s simply because that superficial small-talk layer of connection fails to exist when you are looking into the soul of someone who has felt so deeply what it is like to be without hope.
Whatever the reason… my illness; my beast… he has served me. This boss level has boosted my armour, and upgraded my weapons. Instead of starting the next level on a road filled with enemies to defeat… I have started it on a road filled with people to love.
People who love.
In the words of Ingun Black-Briar from Elder Scrolls V, ‘we’re made up of thousands of parts with thousands of functions all working in tandem to keep us alive. Yet if only one part of our imperfect machine fails, life fails. It makes one realize how fragile, how flawed we are.’
Once you realise this, you realise that we are all in this imperfect game together. We need each other. We have to forgive the flaws in others, because we need them to forgive the flaws in us… and trust me, none of us are without our flaws.
So, I might have depleted health levels, and a low ammo count… but this boss level?
I reckon I’ve smashed it.
And just like that…