2020 has perhaps brought our mental health into focus sharper than ever before. It’s been one hell of a year: from hoarded toilet rolls, to a greater appreciation of Netflix and becoming far too familiar with the Amazon courier, we’ve all had to deal with our world being flipped completely upside down.
For some of us, although unsettling, this change in events and world of unpredictability isn’t necessarily something new. In fact, my brain is oddly comfortable with chaos.
I live with complex PTSD – link to information here, a condition that seeps into every pore of my being. It took years for me to get the diagnosis: although I have always been an anxious person – the sort who would cry themselves to sleep over something trivial – I tried to squash this ‘undesirable’ part of me away. I wanted to deny it, so I tried to stuff away my bubbling anxiety and overwhelming sadness into a bottle and cork it, keeping everything crossed that it wouldn’t suddenly explode and spill over.
Turns out I was only prolonging the inevitable; and last year, the cork finally popped.
My body and brain had had enough. Getting a diagnosis – particularly when it comes to mental health – is simultaneously freeing yet terrifying. Knowing there’s a reason for the way you act, behave, and think about yourself makes the blow a bit easier to deal with. But with this realisation also comes a hell of a lot of hard work: work that you have probably been putting off for months.
For years, I’d been dealing with a plethora of symptoms: anxiety, hypervigilance, the need to be constantly busy, unrelenting fatigue, OCD…the list seemed endless. Living my everyday life was like walking through treacle. The thought of visiting new places filled me with dread: what if things got too much? What if I needed to sit down, or have some time out? The unknowns only added to my anxiety, and my reluctance to be out and about.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the AccessAble app gave me options: it gave me the chance to use the accessibility symbols to filter for venues which have the provisions to allow me to have some quiet time. AccessAble gives me the choice, and the chance to take control of my surroundings, no matter how my mental health is that day.
Mental health recovery has been hard. I am learning more and more about myself almost every day. I am slowly coming to terms with that fact that my progress will not be linear. There will be peaks and troughs throughout, where I’ll no doubt have to experiment with medications; and – eventually - how to soothe my trauma-fuelled brain. I will be living with complex PTSD for all of my life, and no amount of bottling it up will make it go away.
It’s a sad truth for us to recognise, but many of us will have to deal with mental illness throughout our lifetime. And I know that as the world continues to be turned upside down and flipped on its head, many more of us will struggle with our mental health more than ever before. 2020 has been one wild ride, and it is more important than ever for us to be kind to ourselves – and to each other. I just want people to know that, ultimately, they are not alone. Mental illness does not discriminate: it doesn’t ‘pick you’ based on who you are or where you’re from. Taking that first step and acknowledging that you need help is a really tough reality to confront, but I promise you that taking that first step – no matter how you do it – is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.
And now, more than ever, kindness is the most precious gift we can give.
Heather Lacey has cerebral palsy and cPTSD, and took to social media to find solidarity and support from people like her. This led to the creation of her blog nosuperhero.co.uk, where she documented her experiences of mental illness, fatigue and chronic pain with the goal of spreading awareness, empowering and educating her readers.
Read More: Heather's Blog nosuperhero.co.uk