Lessons from mental illness


Depression and anxiety are hidden wounds many of us have to live with. I have written about my struggles with mental illness before, but I had never thought about what these obstacles have taught me. For almost two years now I have been trying – and thankfully succeeding – to get better, which means the long road is full of lessons. So here is a list of the things I have learned.

1)      If you feel lonely when you’re alone you are not in good company.

This is not an absolute truth – of course we all need human contact – but if you can’t stand being by yourself for a day or two you probably don’t like yourself. The thing about depression is that you hate yourself whether you are with a group of people or alone. In all situations you are boring, uninteresting and numb.

Learning how to be on your own and giving yourself value is probably one of the most important things in life. As we grow older and get lives, jobs, etc there will be less people to hang out with. Now I can spend long periods of time on my own without driving myself crazy. Of course I go out with friends and such but liking myself has helped me do that.

2)      The difference between being sad and numb

When my condition was very serious I was either numb or in pain, those were the only two states of emotion my body and mind could process. There was nothing else, though I cried and I cried. But I wasn’t sad, I was numb. I knew I liked my life so in paper I should be happy but the numbness wouldn’t let me feel good things. And that’s what caused the pain.

Today I can tell that crying and sadness shouldn’t consume you. Sadness isn’t a constant state, and neither is happiness. In a way my perception of feelings and emotions has changed for the better.

3)      Dogs keep you sane

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you probably know that I have a lovely Golden Retriever called Luna (pictured above). She is my sister and we look out for each other daily. Dogs can be emotionally soothing not to mention distracting.

Luna can tell if someone is in distress and if I felt really, really crummy I could count on her being there, if only to be stroked. She doesn’t talk – but the thing is that she doesn’t have to. Sometimes all I needed was company and not a conversation about my feelings.

4)      Sleep is poison, water and food are antidotes

I sleep a lot. I hate it, but I am really bad at getting out of bed. But when I was at the height of depression it was much, much worse – I wouldn’t get out of bed for days. I just couldn’t, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t have the strength to go to university, or to feed myself, or to even talk to my friends so I felt it was better just to sleep.

I was also never hungry or thirsty. But since then I have been sleeping a lot less, drinking a lot more water and eating a lot more food (I even gained a few kilos which, you know what, is great because I used to be underweight). I try to always have a glass of water near me, it’s comforting to know that water cleanses your body.

5)      It’s the little exchanges

It’s not that I used to be rude but being socially anxious resulted in a lack of social decorum for me. If I was pressed to say hello, I probably would but averting my eyes, looking down, feeling a bit trapped. But today I try – and I try really, really hard – to always say “Hello”, “Good morning/afternoon/ evening”, “How are you?”, etc etc.

It seems silly but small talk like this is important to practice. Even if I feel awkward I try to do it because most of the time the next encounter won’t be so odd. Also I find that most awkwardness is in my head due to social anxiety.

6)    Jealousy isn’t necessarily bad

I am jealous of people who can deal with social situations with ease. I am also jealous of people who have jobs I would like or who live in the same country as their significant others. And I used to think that was a bad thing because it feels so rotten and mean to want what some one else has.

But jealousy can be flipped into a positive instrument. It can be converted into motivation. It is only genuinely bad if you sit crying all day feeling sorry for yourself and not doing anything about getting what you want, just moping what other people have. So seeing people act ‘normally’ in social settings helped me try harder. So jealousy isn’t necessarily bad – and maybe other bad feelings like it can be flipped around.

How about you? Has your mental illness taught you anything?

Read my piece about depression here.
Read my piece about anxiety here.

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