Now I’m sure that everybody who has ever experienced mental health problems has struggled, in addition to the basic issues, with how to describe their particular situation. It’s incredibly challenging trying to share something when you have no idea if the other person(s) with whom you’re trying to communicate have any point of reference. When you refer to the physical, you can generally start with some common ground: notwithstanding special visual issues, you assume that everybody else sees the same object in the same way. This becomes trickier once you move to away from simple observation, but with physical injury and illness there is still somewhere to jump off from. It’s not unreasonable to assume that one broken leg will have a certain amount with another, even though there’s no way to experience, and hence to know what somebody else’s pain is like. Of course this assumes a willingness to empathise – it’s perfectly possible to simply deny the reality of another’s pain. But this is unusual in the case of their being physical symptoms.
With mental illness you don’t even have that starting point. You rely entirely on the rest of the world to accept your description of what is happening inside your head. And all too often, your attempt to talk in terms the rest of the world can grasp backfires, because it allows people to file it away in neat boxes that they are already familiar with. Maybe you are sad? – well who isn’t at some time or other? Or if depressed, they immediately look at meatworld factors, like how your job or family life is. To be fair, I was equally guilty of doing the latter. I only took myself to speak to a doctor about the situation once I’d looked at every aspect of my day to day life and failed to find a mundane cause (not that I’m bragging about how great my life is, or was at the time).
Anyway, if the best way to describe something to somebody who hasn’t experienced it (and maybe cannot) is by finding something similar, surely the next is to talk in terms of difference. So I’m going to try and describe the various different forms I experience.
Today’s is hopelessness. There’s an underlying layer of exhaustion, but my lack of will is more based on a feeling – that obviously doesn’t square with my rational understanding – that nothing I do will change anything. This was much greater last night, and is kind of fluctuating now, hence I’m actually writing this. But it’s still there at the back of my head. Will just have to see what happens after another night’s sleep; could be up, could be down, could just fix itself for no apparent reason. But then that’s part of it – nothing I can do will affect the course.