[Trigger warning: Mental Health]
The aftermath of trauma feels different for everyone. For me it felt like the world turned grey, that happiness was out of reach – I could see it, like I was looking through a shop window, but I could never touch it – and what little I had was slipping away, but I had no energy left to reclaim it.
‘Why does everything feel so wrong?’
‘That’s how I feel all the time.’
I will never pretend to know how people with mental health conditions feel. But what you don’t understand, unless you’ve been in the situation, is how difficult it is to seek help – you want to pretend that nothing happened. And move on. And it feels like a personal failure that you can’t just do this. I hate feeling fragile, but all I wanted was to be wrapped in bubble wrap until it was all over.
What did I do? I cancelled everything – apart from the necessary – for a week. I slept a lot. I didn’t do a single thing I didn’t want to do. I let myself get distracted, but also cry.
And I told people. Which was worth it. Apart from professional help, I was met with so much kindness. Friends offered to come over with ice cream and a movie, or hang out, with no pressure to actually be social; people were understanding about plans being cancelled and projects delayed; someone I barely knew then offered to let me talk about the whole thing over the phone, which I sorely needed; the world didn’t slip away while I was resting.
This (belated) world mental health day, what is clear to me is the kindness of people around me. sometimes I wonder how much human kindness can keep pushing against the way life keeps giving us pain to deal with, but you know, even if it doesn’t stop everything, one moment less of pain is one moment less of pain. And I think it’s good to take comfort in these things.
But this isn’t enough. There are broken societies and norms – sometimes people struggle and finally seek help, only to find that they can’t obtain it because of money, resource limits, etc. Sometimes people can’t approach their family for help because there’s still stigma, or that’s the cause of their pain. Sometimes mental health, even if it’s bad, is just not the most serious issue they have to deal with.
I was lucky both to have an excellent support system and existing good health, and for this to be relatively impermanent. But not everyone is; the causes of mental ill health are not just individual, but systemic. Fighting poverty is being pro mental health. Fighting inequality and harmful societal norms is pro mental health. Fighting systems that hurt people – from the day they are born – is being pro mental health.
Love your friends and family, but also fight for the ‘world’ in World Mental Health Day.
By Alexis An Yee Low