During my first year of university, in those sweet halcyon days of yore, I was advised that I might benefit from a small course of therapy. Those weren’t the exact words used, mind you, it went more like ‘Lol Adam, you crazy’ but I got the message and was lucky enough to be at an institution that (seemed) to give a damn about mental health.
After being given a lovely form to fill in explaining what I was feeling, a really terrible but efficient way of initial screening, I soon found myself in weekly counselling sessions wherein I would laugh and joke my way through the time, enjoying spurious banter with the counsellor before being told off for my blatant deflection tactic and made to face a home truth or two.
All in all, a positive experience.
As we start to slowly emerge from lockdown (despite all the evidence suggesting it’s a bad idea but hey ho) it’s a perfect time for everyone to quickly pause to think. Evaluate where we are, what we’re doing, and, most importantly, what we want to do. Because after 16 months of sporadic lockdown, illness, incompetence and death, we all need a mental health check. What my friends and I have lovingly dubbed the ‘coronacoaster‘ has taken it’s toll on all of us, whether through the stresses of a new way of living, the reaction to the sadness around us all, or the lack of any control over our worlds.
As normality threatens to return, early it may be, there’s still one question that lots of us need to answer: was normal good enough?
See, I don’t think ‘normal’ was particularly good for our mental health either. We work too much, care too much, get nibbled to death by the dozens of things we have going on like wet bread in a duck pond, and the systems in place aren’t good enough to support our issues.
We have a chance now to stop, if just the briefest of moments, and try to decide what we want. Not just as individuals but as a collective. There’s a crossroads before us, down one fork is a return to the old ways and down the other is something new. Do I know what it is? Nope. Can I guarantee it won’t be hard and shit? Nope. But it’ll be something we made and can improve on. It’ll be ours, not the status quo inherited from the ’90s.
The risk is that if we change nothing, we’ll just continue to drift, mulling along in neutral. I know I feel that I am somewhat. And it’s not because I look around at the scattered remains of the hobbies I picked up and discarded during the last 16 months (we were going through some stuff, allow yourself to have just made it through and be proud of that achievement), but because as we’re beginning to have our freedoms rewarded back to us, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the drive to get back out, to push myself, to develop, and yet feel that to stay still feels awfully like admitting defeat. It’s practically a step backwards when I know I have this chance to do more.
I think what I’m trying to say is that I want you, me, all of us, to embrace this opportunity to make something better for all of us. Easy words, hard in practice. But it’s a nice thought.
When I finished my round of counselling, the lovely man who had been listening to my rambling (and applying a rather pleasing mix of cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and PDM inspired psychodynamics) told me that it seemed to him that I was very likely a sufferer of manic depression. He couldn’t clinically diagnose me but he strongly recommended that I visit a GP as he very much thought a bipolar diagnosis fit my symptoms. He stressed, again, counsellors are not legally able to diagnose their clients (never patients, because that denotes a medical practice and feels really clinical) but if we had to be pushed he’d say the odds were definitely on that I would benefit from a medical diagnosis and medication.
I never went.
I know why. Despite the knowledge that my life could be made infinitely more stable, I’d be able to do more and perhaps finish a project or two, I was scared that it wouldn’t be a difference I’d like. That having ‘manic depression’ on my medical record would limit my chances, the meds would ‘letterbox’ my moods, just as much robbing me of my glorious highs as much as it blunted the debilitating lows. But most of all, it was the fear of something new that could be better but was an unknown.
I should probably start taking those risks.