March 18, 2017

But There You are Again: An Open Letter to my Mental Health.

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I woke up this morning and you’d reared your ugly head back into my life.

I have a million reasons to be sad, and yet none of those things seem to stop me in my tracks the way you do. Your highs leave me feeling like you’ll never strike again, so sure of myself and the ability of my routine to stomp out your unpredictable patterns.

But there you are.

During the highs, you are the voice in my head telling me to add another activity or start a new project. You are the reminder that, “I can do anything,” and I push myself harder—just to try to get ahead while I can.

But then your other half comes to play and I’m in the dark again. There is no morning routine strong enough to keep this side from coming out to play.

I know if I tell anyone you’re back, they’ll start to ask the questions:

“Do you know what you’re depressed about?”

“Maybe you just need some fresh air and exercise.”

“I get sad too, sometimes.” 

My brain registers all such questions as white noise at this point. I know the remarks are usually coming from a place of love, but there is nothing more isolating than hearing a loved one offer you suggestions when they really don’t understand what’s going on in your head.

I love my morning routine; my meditation, yoga, and tea are staples of my day. I enjoy working out and eating well, but these things do not keep the monster at bay. They can only help to chain the monster in the basement of my mind.

I’ve got 10,000 “real” reasons to be sad, yet none of those can knock me down like you do. Hell, going through a divorce and watching my dad go through chemo for the third time was nothing compared to the blows you deliver.

When I least expect it, you are like an unsuspecting knight with a joust, knocking me clear off my horse with a crowd of people laughing at my downfall. Perhaps the laughter of the crowd is merely you, trying to whittle my inner fire down to nothingness. Perhaps the laughter of the crowd is those around me, watching me desperately try over and over to win a battle that is so clearly rigged.

I can’t remember the first time you came to visit me, as most of my life has been plagued by highs and lows. With no clear indication of whether these resulted from teenage hormones or a trying mental health diagnosis, many have known my volatile mood swings and equated them simply to my personality.

I know now though: You are not my personality, and you are not me. You are the circus performing a show in my mind that plays out for the real world crowd in my daily life.

You are the reason I never stray too far from my routine. Yet you are unpredictable and the reason I also venture into the unknown on a daily basis.

“Maintain a routine. Meditate. Practice yoga. Exercise. Eat well. Drink plenty of water. Get regular sleep.”

This is the mantra my mind repeats; this is the mantra my life depends on.

Since I choose not to keep you at bay with medicine, I am left to battle you with love and self-care. Sometimes though, not even this is enough to keep you away. When you inevitably arrive, this mantra gets harder to repeat. Time seems to move ever more slowly, the routine seems to be ever so draining. Doing all the things that I love has never felt so fake.

But I soldier on. Maybe for the sole reason that if I stop, I’m afraid I’ll never be able to start again. This lifelong battle, the one I’ve only been conscious of for the past three to four years, never ends. I am reminded of this when you come to visit.

When I’m high on your mild mania, I forget that you come with a dark side. I am reminded only of the vivid colors and exciting “go-go” attitude that comes along for the ride. I am like a surfer. I fearlessly navigate the choppy waters of my daily life with routine while using these heightened emotions to delve into my creativity. This is the time when the most beautiful artwork is born. This is the time when I feel on top of the world.

I stick to my routine and come up with paintings and essays, and I am filled with plans and ideas for the future.

But today, I am not visited by your ever-so-lovely (all the while tiring) mania.

Today, your other half, depression, has reared its ugly head.

I am helpless to do anything about it other than acknowledge its existence. To see you, depression, for what you are, does not make you go away—but it does take away your power.

It is in these moments, the mantra for routine and wellness is abandoned and the self-care survival kit kicks in.

I tell myself: “Meditate if you can, sleep if you can, eat if you can, write if you can. Do whatever you can do. Start there. Move slowly. Love yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if your routine looks different today.”

So today I am trying hard to write these words, knowing it’s the only way to find my way back to the balance.




Author: Zahra Ali

Image: Courtesy of Author

Editor: Travis May

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Zahra Ali