Columnists / Rachel Hawkins

‘Life doesn’t come with a manual. Sometimes I wish it did’

By rachel hawkins, Sunday May 5, 2019

How’s your mental health? For me, that’s a question I rarely (if ever) hear.

You’ll get the, “How are you?” “You been well recently?” “What you been up to?”

But all of the above usually pertains to your physical health or your recent adventures. I often wonder how the person asking the question might feel if you replied with: “I feel really overwhelmed. Life is overwhelming me. I feel low, stressed out and like I can’t catch a breath purely down to my fast-paced thoughts.”

This is why I think there’s a still a stigma around the discussion of mental health. This is why I feel we still have a long way to go.

I had a breakdown at the start of 2015. It was the culmination of a year-long postnatal mental illness that I’d been fighting so damn hard. I didn’t want to accept how I felt. I thought I had the tools (denial, mainly) to fight how badly I was feeling. But I didn’t.

It took me hitting rock bottom a few days after New Year’s Day for me to get proper help. I was exhausted. Pretending was exhausting.

The wide grin I’d become so accustomed to forcing upon my face was becoming harder and harder to fake. I just wanted a break from the sadness, the anxiety and the terrifying thoughts. A break from my brain was all I wanted.

I got better. I’ll never ever forget that feeling when I realised one day life was good. It was almost a pinch-me-is-this-really-happening experience.

The year that followed my recovery from the breakdown was probably one of my best yet. It was the relief coupled with a real thirst for life.

Currently, I’m going through a tricky time in my personal life. It’s been a really hard few months. I’ve found myself overwhelmed, stressed, low, confused, worried.

You name a negative emotion and I’ve felt it. I’ve really felt it.

But this feels different to 2014/15. I have the tools this time around. The learned behaviours and coping techniques. I guess I also know this isn’t an illness, it’s just a difficult time with lots of change afoot.

I’m far more open about my mental health now than I ever have been. Don’t get me wrong, it’s in my nature to adopt the keep calm and carry on attitude. I’ve long taught myself to be like that, perhaps often to my detriment.

But I no longer feel like my mental health struggles are a dirty little secret and that I have to hide them away.

My battles with post-natal depression and anxiety, as horrendous as they were, taught me so much. They’ve provided me with wisdom and strength.

And while I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy, there are times I’m almost grateful for that experience because I know if I got through that terrible time in my life I can get through this tough time now.

Life doesn’t come with a manual. Sometimes I wish it did. Although I often wonder if I’d read it. It would probably be languishing underneath my bed along with a load of other books I’ve promised to read but are just collecting dust.

It would be nice to have something to refer to during times of crisis. A few bullet points telling you what to do to combat the problem that’s currently weighing you down like a 100kg weight on your shoulders that you lack the strength to remove. Tried and tested advice from people who have been there. Done that. Shrank the t-shirt in the wash.

April 29 to May 5 has been Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. If you or a mum you know is struggling, then please seek help.

Often when you’re depressed or anxious one of the most overriding feelings you’ll experience is isolation. You’ll feel like you must be the only person in the world with these thoughts. I remember that oh so well. But you’re not.

You’ll often worry that this is it now. This is your life forever more and you’ll never get back to your old self, or rather, you’ll never feel better. But you will.

Some useful resources:

Bristol24/7 columnist Rachel Hawkins lives in Kingswood and recently made the pages of the Daily Mail after sharing a keyboard shortcut on Twitter. Follow her at @ourrachblogs

Read more: ‘My unwavering fit to burst pride for Bristol, our incredible city’

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