Finding balance with mental illness

Anonymous (text)

Lisa Chen (graphics)

Today was a relatively good day. That is, in terms of productivity and feeling good about myself. At this given moment, I’m fine. I took my medication. I forced myself to exercise, cooked myself a decent meal, actually left my house and ran that errand I avoided for 20+ business days. I’ve managed to get out of that deep dark hole I found myself in yesterday. You wouldn’t believe that the person I was yesterday – anxious, extremely depressed, and motivation-deficient—is the same person as the one I am today.

Yesterday I stayed in bed until 8 pm (not even sleeping), was on day 2 without a shower, and actively neglected all the responsibilities and tasks I had piling up on me. The worst part is, none of this was by choice. I felt terrible and shameful. I wanted anything else but to be in that awful state of inactivity, where my mind and body did not cohere, but I was physically stuck. 

I’m in an endless cycle of ups and downs, short boosts of productivity: convinced that I can do anything if I merely “try harder”, and long periods where I am defeated, exhausted, and mad at myself for not pulling through with any of my goals. Balance and mental illness almost feels mutually exclusive. My life is characterised by a never-ending, volatile cycle of inconsistency, thanks to a combination of ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. I am sensitive, easily afflicted and exhausted, have slower processing speeds, poor time perception, and have problems making good, long term decisions, or just making decisions at all.

I deal with the consequences of my executive dysfunction and terrible choices (big and small) on a daily basis. Self-discipline feels nonexistent (at least not consistently), and motivation is ever so fleeting and elusive.

Courtesy of a sustained complex imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters and neurohormones, I am what I would sometimes describe as, a bit of a mess. Executive dysfunction makes achieving my goals very difficult. I’m the Hamlet of my own life, all thought (so much of it), yet no action. In fact, over the past three weeks, my mind has been preoccupied with the hundreds of ways I could write this. Yet it has been an ineffably arduous task to force myself to actually sit here and write. It feels as if the only consistency in my life, is inconsistency.

I’m being too hard on myself. I know. On a rational level, I’m completely aware of this. Yet this is my experience of it, this is how it is and feels to me, and it can be so difficult. However, it’s easy to complain about all the burden and the endless shame my ADHD and other mental health struggles have brought upon myself. It certainly hasn’t made life easy at all. But gradually, I am beginning to accept that this is the way things are. And that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. 

Of course I am not going to uphold neurotypical standards of productivity, goals, and lifestyles. I am never going to establish a perfect routine and stick to it everyday, it’s just not who I am, biochemically, or in any way. I should forgive myself for the hurt and punishment I have put myself through for this. I need to be kind to myself. Sometimes that is all we need when we are struggling. I need to do what is good for me, what energises me. I need to be kind and understanding to myself and what I need, and this will change at different moments.

I am learning that balance looks different for every person. In fact, why should anyone feel the need to conform to other’s expectations and norms, anyway? We all have distinctively unique experiences, personalities, and lives. Through my achievements and losses, in this endless process of trial and error, I have come to realise that balance is not a permanent state. Nobody will ever always be balanced, despite how social media makes people seem. In fact, social media is only a minuscule fragment of a massive picture. Being perfectly balanced, always, should not be a goal, as it is completely unattainable. 

Balance is about the bigger picture, and although it varies in extents, life is full of ups and downs for everyone. Balance is listening to your body, understanding, and being kind to yourself, regardless of the highs and lows. The light and dark are what creates this balance. Like any good painting, the canvas of your life needs contrast. There are bad days, and there are good. I need to focus on my good days, the same way I over-fixate and punish myself for the bad. That would be good for me. It will take time to fully internalise and accept all of this, but I think I am beginning to.

Disclaimer: This is only one aspect/perspective of my own personal experience, mental health, just like physical health, fluctuates and has ups and downs — Oh look, balance! 

Haru Sukegawa

a thing about Lisa