Mental Illness is a Lonely Experience
I remember clear as day when I had my very first panic attack. For me it with the introduction to my ongoing mental health problems. It was like the gateway episode into a whole plethora of other goings on.
I was sitting on the Sofa at my mum’s house watching TV. I couldn’t have been older than fifteen, and I remember the creeping feeling in my body that something wasn’t right, the slow feeling of dread that something inside of me was going drastically wrong. I sat upright, switched the TV off and for the first time listened intently to what my internals were saying to me. Everything was going numb, bit by bit, my hands, my legs, even my stomach — and oh god the feeling of dread.
I was going to die
And it wasn’t a looming feeling of death, it was an inescapable feeling of death, because whatever I was going to try and do I was going to fail and die. I remember running around the house like a headless chicken and asking, no, screaming at my mother to phone an ambulance. Poor woman didn’t know what to do, there was me running around in an extreme state of panic, on super heightened alert, but with no visual signs of body trauma. So we waited it out. Mum was scared, I was terrified, but eventually it calmed down over the period of the night. I didn’t get much sleep that day, and school was terrible the following morning, trying to keep awake.
We spent a good six months swapping doctors after this, none of them could adequately tell us what was going on. My feeling of death when actually there was nothing visibly wrong with me, not to mention that I didn’t end up dead afterwards. They just couldn’t explain it to us — I think one even told us to stop wasting their time.
Luckily, eventually, we were able to stumble upon a doctor that could adequately describe the anxiety spiral to us and explain exactly what was happening to me. He gave me a prescription to calm my nerves and sent us on our way. Of course it wasn’t any serious drug like diazepam he prescribed to me, more-so a very very small dose of Beta Blockers that would ease my mind that I had something to take rather than worry incessantly with no explanation.
It’s lonely. Going through all of this with no-one to understand it all.
I can’t express into words how lonely it can be going through mental illness. Everyone has their own opinion on the way you should be, how you should act, and how you should be experiencing the symptoms of your illness. I’ve been told that I should just pull my socks up and be a man, I’ve been told that I should just get a f*kin job, but on the flip-side I’ve been told there’s no way I could do a job, or that employment wasn’t for me yet.
Everyone has their little opinion that they always want to enforce on me because somehow they’ve all just become experts on mental health overnight. I get the same sometimes when I write these articles. Overnight psychiatric professionals come out of the woodwork to diagnose me in 2000 words or a little less. No one stops to think about how I think, no-one even considers me in the equation of all this. And it can be super lonely.
A lot can be said about walking through life where no-one can understands what you’re going through. Yes, some of my best friends have given me some of the greatest allowances when I probably shouldn’t have been given those “passes” but I had never actually had someone sit down with me and just listen to me, and at the end of it, and say,
“damn, I feel you man,” and then go on to describe other things that I can relate to.
It was hard, because some people I just knew were trying to put me at ease, but unless they had been there before themselves then there was still an element of totally missing the ball on some things. And that can be very lonely, walking through life, not being understood, being referred to as the weird friend that’s “okay” when you get to know me.
It was hard because not only people didn’t understand me but I didn’t understand myself either — what I had been taught to believe was essentially getting me nowhere in life. Work hard and you’ll be able to get where you wanted to in life. Well I worked really hard and where was I? A kitchen porter at a greasy spoon that pays just above minimum wage. No partner, no success, nothing to look back on as my own. Just a life decimated with failure and upsets. And not one to get me — you know?
We don’t often talk about the loneliness associated with mental health. I see it amongst my writer friends too, clambering to have their message heard, and then getting that rush of endorphins when someone — anyone, get’s them, or can relate to the message they are trying to spread.
I know because if I didn’t have my wife then I’d probably be in the same situation. None of my real life friends have had similar experiences to me, and although they get me, they usually don’t. That isn’t detracting from how amazingly steadfast they’ve been throughout my journey in life, but it’s still a lonely experience, and it’s an itch that’s hard to scratch when people around you haven’t had the same experiences as you.
There is an upside to this article and it happened to me when I read a book from Dr Robert Glover called “No more Mr nice guy” — and it essentially explained in crystal clear detail the type of problems I was having in my life and how to overcome them, and it was very clear in that I needed someone to help me along the way with the book. Luckily I chose a mental health charity.
I remember the first day when I was being interviewed for the project; a process to see if I was fit for their help, and in return that I could help them. They existed on an if you help me I’ll help you basis. I remember sitting down with the interview lady and she asked me what I wanted out life, and then did nothing but sit and listen to me for ten minutes, only asking a question here and there. I remember bursting into tears after that interview. For the first time in my entire life, ever, and since these problems had started, through the clinicians, the psychologists, the mental health hospitals — I’d actually felt heard, and related to for the first time ever. It was a weird, if not extremely gratifying experience.
And the rest is history after that. I embarked on a life-long journey into self-reflection and actualization. I really can’t say it was an easy experience; most of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my life have been the most challenging to consume. Some people will never accept their reality. Forever plodding through a life that resembles a religious version of Limbo.
And yet if you can take anything away from this article then understand that just being there for some people is more than enough. Even if you don’t understand their ways. There have been times in my life that I have been at my most chaotic, yet my friends have stuck by me all the time, no matter the cause. And I’m kinda indebted to them for that. Which is a good thing I feel. Friendship should be give and take.
Also published on Medium.