I had a something of a mental health crisis last week. With the challenges of Covid-19 lockdown and the general state of affairs we’re all living in, everything became overwhelming. I’d been trying to power through some pretty dark thoughts but eventually they just took over.
Around the time I was teetering on the edge, still just about holding it together, I bumped into an older neighbour in the supermarket. Excited I shouted Barry! Barry!! Through my facemask, like some Barry Manilow fangirl until he finally recognised my eyes. It’s funny how exciting it is to recognise someone you know, in the weirdness of the supermarket shop.
We chatted for a while, 2m apart of course and through our respective facemasks – his worn curiously below his nose – we exchanged pleasantries and neighborhood gossip.
Barry asked me “how is it that you’re always so cheerful? Every time I see you, you’re like a ray of sunshine”
I chuckled and shook my head. A ray of f**king sunshine eh? If only he knew how I’d been feeling recently, how low my mood had sunk.
“Oh” he said deflated ” is it all an act love?” His eyes looked so sad.
I thought about it for a second and then said no, it’s not. He’s not the first person to ask me if I’m ways positive. Normally I make a joke about smoke and mirrors or that you have to laugh or you’ll cry anything to avoid telling people why I always have a smile on my face.
how is it that you’re always so cheerful? Every time I see you, you’re like a ray of sunshine
But this day I told the truth. It’s real, I really am cheerful, positive, and I really am always happy to see people. I get sad aswell but I’m pushing the happy to the front and centre to get through until the world makes sense again.
It was a light and fluffy version of the truth but the truth nevertheless – he seemed happy with it and so was I. It would be another week before I really embraced what I had said and what it meant. Another week before I remembered that what we say, what we do, what we think, becomes who we are and how we live.
One of the coping mechanisms I developed while recovering from PND was to carefully curate a schedule that would keep me busy and positive. People facing commitments that would require me to smile and be charming because the more I smiled, the more natural smiling became. The more I laughed at people’s jokes, the happier I was. The more I created with my own hands, the more powerful I felt. The more I helped other people, the more I became the helper and not the victim. And the more I told myself I was getting better, the more I did.
I’m not one of those ‘no bad vibes’ people. We need to talk and be honest about our feelings and state of mind, even when those conversations are dark and difficult. But at the same time we need to be mindful that repeated phrases become mantras. I can’t cope, I feel terrible, everything is bad – these words becomes the whole truth if you say them often enough. But they’re not the whole truth.
what we say, what we do, what we think, becomes who we are and how we live
Even in the darkest of places I’ve been able to see some light. Even when I was at the absolute edge, I could hear my daughters giggling in another room. The dark part of my mind told me how much I was letting them down, how they’d be better off without me, how I didn’t deserve them. But the light part reminded me that they are of me. That I made them and they’re awesome, I worked hard for them and deserve them, that I love them and they love me.
The darker thoughts may have taken the forefront for a while, but they aren’t the whole story. The more natural opportunities we have to speak on the positives, the more those words become our mantra – and there lies the problem. That’s why lockdown has come very close to breaking me recently.
As the World begins to open up again, people return to their ‘happy places’. Phill’s golf competitions have resumed, the queues for McDonalds are miles long and there are bargains to be had in department stores. But these aren’t my happy places. My happy places won’t return until the very end.
I miss voluntary work, community centres, galleries, craft groups. I miss market stalls, political meetings and eating in restaurants. I miss getting into people’s spaces, hugging them, making them tea, ruffling children’s hair, being called Auntie.
I took medication to treat PND but without all of these activities carving out a new mindset, I would never have got better. And without them now, the scales had begun to tip the other way again.
Barry’s comment about me always being happy unsettled me at first. It made me feel unseen – like nobody had noticed that I was in pain. But the more I think about it, the more I’m reminded that this is the role I created for myself – this is who I want to be. And if after four months without my coping mechanisms, people still see me as a ray of sunshine, then I haven’t lost myself completely.
This isn’t forever and as I keep telling my girls, everything will be ok.