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Advice to my mentally ill self

If you have seen any of my videos on the subject of mental illness you will know that during the last 20+ years that I have been living with mental illness there have been times when I have been on medication, and times when I have not. The last 4 years have been one of those times when I have been on medication - and at the moment I find it very helpful.

This morning as I was popping the tablet out of the foil, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I could be the person that I want to be without the drugs. Of course I know that this thought in itself is a sign that the medication is working, and I would never (at least never again) come off medication without the supervision of a medical professional. It was a fleeting thought, and I have no intentions of changing my medication for the time being.

But this did then make me think about the fact that after all these years, I am now at a stage when I can think objectively about my illness and the impact it has on me (and also those close to me). That has definitely not always been the case. So I started to wonder what advice I would give to myself 20 years ago, and therefore what comments of value and support could I put out into the world that might be helpful for someone else to hear?

The main thing I would say is this.

When I first became very ill, I didn’t know anyone who was openly talking about mental illness - let alone their personal experience of it. Therefore, I felt extremely isolated, and in a strange sense felt that I was somehow the only person that this was happening to. This turned what was already a horrible experience into a horrible experience with panic and dread attached to it. It didn’t know where this was going; I just knew how awful it was and thought that this (or something even worse) was going to be how my life was going to be from that point onwards. The neurological illness was being compounded by emotional trauma - and I went into a tailspin.

Over the years I have grown to understand that “this too will pass”. That those brutal episodes of depression that punctuate my life do in fact go away. Sometimes quite quickly, sometimes not - but at some point, that crushing darkness fades and I feel OK again.

And that is so liberating.

Because when they hit - and its horrible, just horrible - I know that at some point I am not going to feel like that anymore. That enables me to accept it, sit with it, sit it out. Of course that doesn’t diminish the intensity of the depression - but crucially, it doesn’t make it worse.

So that’s the thing. That’s the thing that I wish the 59 year old me could have told the younger me when I was in the grip of something that I completely didn’t understand. That this isn’t you. This isn’t what your life is always going to be like. It will be sometimes - but not all the time, and there will be lots and lots of the times when you will be happy and peaceful.

If you are living with mental illness, maybe in the middle of a bad period right now, I hope that this message gives to something to put in the locker for next time (because let’s be honest - there is likely to be a next time). The message that wherever you are now is not where you will always be. That this too shall pass.

And that’s an amazing revelation.

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