Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darknessDesmond Tutu
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. While I think more is needed than conversation and awareness – perhaps, better access to healthcare, more acceptance of those with mental illness and less stigma around their being among us – with today’s prompt being ‘hope’ I am using this blog post to do what I do best, share with words.
I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, more simply known as GAD. I suffer from panic attacks as part and parcel of this, though thankfully not frequently at the moment, and I experience seriously low mood at times too.
Mental health is getting talked about more and more, and rightly so – it affects daily lives just as much as chronic physical illnesses. My best friend has severe asthma: she avoids heavily traffic-congested areas if she can help it, as the fumes can upset her breathing for days. My mum has bad knees: she aims for low-impact activities as far as possible to avoid pain. I actually found it quite hard to pin down what I do because of my mental health because it’s become so entrenched in my normality. I will scroll on my phone to avoid feeling like I should be a more interesting person in a room full of people. That’s not me being rude, that’s me trying my best to stay put and keep my head above water in a world that other people seem to navigate effortlessly.
I feel the need to myth-bust here, because despite the widening conversation around mental health, there are still so many myths and misconceptions.
Anxiety is overthinking every tiny aspect of your life as much as it’s obsessively worrying that everyone around you thinkn you’re a horrible person. It’s believing you’re not worthy of anything good that happens to you and it’s a tightness in your chest even when it started out like a great day. It’s an invisible, untouchable barrier, that the rest of the world is on the other side of.
Depression is not always sobbing uncontrollably for days on end, it’s that same lack of self-worth as before but instead of prompting frenetic activity to make up for it, it ties you in place and sucks your energy reserves dry. It steals all your spoons, it makes taking a shower too difficult and it makes stepping outdoors an insurmountable expedition.
The worst is trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s a long-term, maybe lifelong condition. Mental illness can be a chronic illness in its own right, becoming something to manage rather than something to cure. There are countless psychiatric medications but not one of them is a miracle drug to permanently take away the weight of a broken brain. (Don’t get me wrong though, I am high-functioning because of my medication! It’s not a cure but it can be an extremely effective management tool at times!)
You might be wondering how all of this is in any way linked to the theme of ‘hope’. But in managing a long-term condition, one of the most important things to have is hope – what’s the point, if you can’t believe that it won’t always be difficult? Sometimes it will be beautiful too, and in my job, quite a lot of the time it can be spectacularly so.
The primary school is an endless bank of hope.
Children coming into Reception have bubbles of hope around them. There is something magical about the thought of all these four year olds starting school every September, realising that every single door is still open to them. Where will they be in six days, six months, six years?
Year sixes leaving every summer are hopeful again – sad to leave their norms, their teachers, their friends sometimes, yes, but they’re about to take steps in a direction they don’t even know yet.
Hopeful things happen every day.
How could I not be hopeful, when even on my most anxious days this year, the smiles and innocence of my class seemed to banish that worry to the corner?
How could I not be hopeful when I work with incredible, kind, wonderful, strong women making things happen for their classes and for each other, every day?
How could I not be hopeful, when so far every single rough patch has come to an end with me motsly in tact and ready to pick up where I left off?
There are so many reasons to be hopeful, because even in dark times there can be moments of light. This is easy for me to say, when I’m not crushed by those dark times – not to say though that everything is perfect! The feelings come and go, but hope has to remain.
Hope has to remain, especially at the moment when everything is so uncertain.