Trigger warning: this article contains sensitive content involving self harm.
I don’t think one can truly understand the stark coldness of mental illness until they actually go through it. I remember it as this inexplicable foreign emptiness that came in nauseating, exhausting waves, but it’s not quite something you can explain, nor is it measurable. I don’t think it’s something that can even be fully diagnosed. And maybe all of that, and more, is the reason why mental health is so misunderstood in today’s sensitive world.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
Unfortunately, when mental health is talked about, it’s often either romanticized or trivialized instead, by the media and by those who have never fallen victim to its wraith-like claws.
10 years have come and gone since I actively started my fight out of its grasp, and with the recent World Mental Health Day (10/10), I think it’s about time I shared a little more about my journey in hopes that it can be a small beacon to someone struggling or help even just one person understand it better.
People need to know, and knowing stems from talking and listening.
Depression. Self-harm. Anxiety. Fragile, low self-esteem. I grappled with all of that, but I can’t pinpoint when exactly the weight started occupying my mind. It wasn’t as if I had a troubled childhood, or a fractured family. Sure, there were some external forces that stemmed from workload and pressure, but for the most part, mental illness crept in unannounced and uninvited, and after struggling with it on my own behind closed doors, I became scarily good at hiding it, and no one was the wiser.
Exhausting? Yes. But that, combined with the physical slicing through the skin and the sight of my own blood, somehow also granted me some emotional release. It quickly became a never-ending, addictive cycle: I’d be this pretense of a carefree adolescent until I lapsed into darkness, retreating into my room to cope amidst swirls of self-loathing thoughts and the satisfaction of seeing cold metal biting into flesh, re-opening scars and carving new red lines, negating physical pain with emotional pain. It wasn’t until one day during a tense argument with my mum that, finally feeling defeated, I wearily flung up my damaged left arm with all the raw wounds in full sight for her to see.
Her expression alone of loss and hurt was the first step in pushing me to accept that I needed a change. I still had and still do have trouble verbally reaching out for help, but that’s how I found comfort in music and writing, and even today, it’s been such a comforting outlet. I still encounter bouts of anxiety, and I’m still learning self-love, but I’ve learned to manage it better.
Sometimes the things I end up scrawling on paper make no sense to you, nor to me, but that’s the thing about writing. It doesn’t need logic. It is a way of feeling, of freezing, of putting raw and jumbled feelings and unfiltered internal turmoil into words, into something tangible. No more masks, no more pretense. It’s all completely human and wholly vulnerable, and that’s okay because somehow, by writing, I get to open a small window, spilling out some of the damaging weight that took up residence inside the mind. I learned to bleed without hurting myself or those that care about me.
In hindsight, balancing those two separate lives during my battle with mental illness was more draining and painful than any of the actual effects from it. That entire time, I thought I deserved the exhaustion, and that no one would understand, but the truth is that I actually needed all the help I could have gotten.
None of it was my fault. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. It wasn’t the media’s fault. It was no one’s fault.
It was something that had to be acknowledged, first and foremost by myself, and I had to take down my walls and recognize the strong supportive system I had around me. And this goes for you too.
Your pain is valid. Your struggles are valid. You are valid. You don’t owe the world anything. 24 hours tick by in a single day, but 7 billion people experience each second of each hour so differently.
I don’t think you can really control life, but you can manage how you respond to it, so I say embrace: Embrace everything. Good or bad, it’s all a part of you and one day, it will become your strength when you learn to shatter your walls and accept your fears and flaws, even if this abstract “one day” seems unimaginable at this moment. Even when you think you can’t count on anything else, just know that you still have yourself, and that’s enough, because you matter. Your whole story matters.
The rain will still fall outside. The skies will still darken. But the clouds will still part, and the sun will still rise. It’ll seem like an unattainable fantasy right now, but sooner or later, you will be alright. But in the meantime, realize that the internal pain you feel is as real as any physical external pain someone else might go through on a given day – a fractured bone, a blistering welt, a bloody cut, a broken heart – and it is okay to look for help and confide in a friend and talk about it.
But most importantly, you have to take care of yourself. Drink your water. Take your medication. Walk outside and feel the sun. Don’t forget to eat, and find a way to laugh. You have to trust in your journey and find strength from within, because sooner or later, you will be alright.
I’ve lived it. I know it.