or, in other words, the upsides of my mental illness. before you start showering me with insults and claims that i’m trying to glamorize mental illnesses, please read the whole article. while i usually focus on the negative sides of living with a mental illness, and i’d certainly do anything to be able to rid myself of that thirsty beast that sucks all the joy out of my life, today i want to focus on the things those years of dealing with depression and anxiety taught me and how they influenced who i am and what my priorities are.
quite paradoxically, my nerve-wrecking, nausea-inducing mental illness has taught me to chill. it has taught me to ease up and let of go of stressing about things that i used to think were super important (however, it made it even worse for me to let go of people, but let’s not ruin this nice article with that topic now). but before i dig into that more, allow to me start off with a classic complaint about our society, without which no article of mine would be complete, am i right?
we’re constantly told we have to be on 100% of time; always busy, always social, always smiling. well, i call bullshit. i’m a bit too tired to go into a super angry rant about how capitalism is stealing away all of our time, so let me put it in a much simpler way: there is a constant pressure on all of us to be active, productive, and charming all the time, which, according to me, detaches us from what our minds and bodies really need and want. while trying to live up to the incredibly high and pretty much unattainable standard, we lose touch with ourselves and do things not because we really want to do them, but because we are “supposed to” be doing them.
i used to be like that too. it is no exaggeration when i say i used to be obsessed with being busy 24/7, getting myself into new and new projects, combining work and studies, going out here and there. i remember when i first moved to Berlin in 2014 and discovered how many diverse events were happening in the city almost every day – i felt like i couldn’t give up on anything, so i’d sometimes go to even four different exhibit openings and a concert/party a day. moving to Berlin for the second time in 2016 really startled my anxiety, and i kind of cracked. i had no energy, i had no appetite, all i could do was sleep. i felt bad for being in this vibrant city and not really doing anything, not going out, not participating in anything, but after some time, that guilt started to wear off.
it took me a long time and a lots of breakdowns while standing in front of my wardrobe, unable to get dressed for that event i was supposed to be at an hour ago, to realize that perhaps forcing myself to go somewhere or do something even i have promised so might not be the best idea. i had to start seeing a psychiatrist and finally get my own struggle with mental health validated to accept that now, and for some time still, i just do not have enough energy to be as active as i would like to be or other people expect me to. i had to come to terms with the fact that i have quite a limited capacity of, erm, social fuel, which fluctuates a lot depending on my general mood and mental and physical health, and i need to adjust my plans according to it, even if it means changing them last minute.
that finding was quite ground-breaking to me, to be perfectly honest. suddenly, i realized i no longer should put the needs of others over mine and rather should carefully listen to myself. i also had to accept that the mental illness has changed me a lot over the past few years and that, for example, some “higher culture” artsy activities (like going to concerts or exhibition openings) don’t really interest me anymore, while some “lower culture” things (like binge-watching The Office or taking quizzes on Buzzfeed) do now, and that it does not make me any more uncultured or lazy. i had to acknowledge that i’ve become much more introverted and that i indeed needed a lot of my time to be able to cope with everything. i learnt that i needed to be able to say no without feeling sorry.
having identified these new needs and limits, i’ve embarked on a journey of deciding what i was doing with my days/life in general based on how i really felt, and not what other wanted me to do or the society perceived as more noble or interesting. i’ve started listening to myself and have given up on going to trendy events or postponed/cancelled many plans ever since, which, ironically, made me completely rid off the FOMO i used to have, because i realized that even if you miss an event or two or more, the world just keeps spinning and nothing really happens. and that the friends that really care about you will understand.
look, i’m not saying you should cancel every single plan you have whenever you feel too lazy to bother and never go out, but i want to stress that those struggling with chronic mental illness don’t need to feel bad for having to take some time off to be on their own. it’s been a long and tough journey, but i can see how much progress i’ve done as well as the positive results it has brought – i am much better at identifying when i need to step back in order to prevent a calamity with a capital C.
it is quite crazy that i learnt to be gentle and kind to myself only through my experience with mental illness, but hey, it’s a fucked up world we live in. now, to round off my article, let me just give you a lil advice: screw whatever you are “supposed to” do. do what you need to do.