This week 9th – 13th May is Mental Health Awareness Week and I’d like to talk about how, as with all aspects of life, your experience of mental health is unique to you – and how you should never let anyone tell you that your problems and stresses are not valid. I’ll also examine this through the eye of being an author.
For over 30 years now I’ve suffered on, and off, with eating disorder issues and these eventually led to a drink problem. At times I’ve felt on top of the world when I’ve been most ill, certainly with the anorexic aspects. I wanted to be thin. I got thin. Mission accomplished. The trouble is, as with any ambition, the goalposts always move. You’ve got a few pounds you’d like to lose. Getting into that size 12 is great. But perhaps you then decide a size 10 is better, and so on. Like being an author… you get published. Get into the top #100 on Kindle. Next time you want to get into the top #50. Then the top #10. You want foreign deals. You want awards. Your goals move so far away from your original one of simply wanting to see your book out there.
Like the anorexic who looks in the mirror and views themselves as overweight, an author who’s doing SO well can often see themselves as a failure, compared to their contemporaries, perhaps, or when that person at a dinner party asks if they’re earning as much as J K Rowling.
In 2016 I got sober and yes, I felt fantastic and still do on one of my many good days – but, unexpectedly, sobriety brought problems I never foresaw. Relationships changed – I wasn’t the same person. I lost friends. Instead of escaping into a glass of wine I now have to face my problems and triggers head on and deal with them – and deal with the fallout from doing that.
It’s like getting published – you think signing that first contract and stopping the gruelling submission process marks the end of a long and winding, difficult road, and it does, it’s amazing. But, like stopping drinking, it also heralds the beginning of another challenging journey. There are many wonderful moments ahead but negative ones can temper them – bad reviews, poor sales due to reasons out of of your control, deadlines that are stressful to meet.
During lockdown I had the best mental health I’d had for years, not the experience for a lot of people – and it’s taken a few steps backwards since coming out of the pandemic and having to once again face the stresses of modern life. It’s frustrating to return to a position I thought I’d left behind forever. Having longed for freedom when Covid restrictions went on and on, it’s been unexpected.
But it is what it is. I am what I am.
Never let people diminish the way you feel because the way they see you doesn’t reflect your inner world. Those who’ll say “But at least…” They think they’re helping but those words don’t reflect true empathy as they don’t acknowledge that you have valid reasons for finding your situation tough.
A slim person can have a problem with food or body image. A sober person doesn’t always find life 100% easier than before. A person who’s been in lockdown is allowed to find returning to their former unrestricted life challenging. An author who’s had success does have the right to sometimes feel down about their career.
There are no rules.
One thing I firmly believe is…
Peaks and troughs are part of life. Happiness and unhappiness are part of life. Reaching a peak makes us happy in a way it wouldn’t if we were happy all the time. And the passing of time teaches us that a trough will always end, just as it has before.
But if your trough is so deep you can’t see a way out, TALK TO SOMEONE. That’s what I did in 2016 and I’ve never regretted it. Most of the time I love life now and I love my career. I accept the peaks and troughs and am more successful at not allowing other people to define anything about me. As is said in AA, anyone else’s view of you is none of your business.
Often bulimics or binge-eaters aren’t seen as *ill enough* to warrant medical help, due to their BMI being classed as normal – due to a tick in a box. And yet the mortality rates amongst those suffering with eating disorders is higher than for any other mental illness. Whatever your challenges are, be them struggles on the personal front or with your job, always remember they are valid and you deserve the help to get better.
If you’re struggling why not choose this week to reach out? 🙂