It was an important day. As I realized it was looming closer, I felt nervous. It’s a new world, and I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Would there be a parade? Cake? Party hats? Some enlightened epiphany followed by an overly verbose explanation of my new-found paradigm?
I have been self-harm free for one year.
And it was just a day.
That’s beautiful to me. My mental health is still a struggle; it is still something to contend with every day. Just like a regular year I’ve had relationship and family struggles. I’ve faced excitement, disappointment, fear, and every other rush of emotion I’d had to contend with before. I faced all of that with the weight and pressure of my depression hanging around my neck.
But I did it without caving in. There were times I came close. I won’t try to lie and say some days I wasn’t tempted. I legitimately missed hurting myself, and it was much worse on the bad days, when my head was so loud that nothing could cut through the noise. Hurting myself had always helped. I hated that feeling good was so reliant on making myself hurt, so I did my best to fight the urge every time it came. I made it, though, and it’s the longest stretch I’ve gone without hurting myself since I started self-harming when I was in my teens. Here is something I never would have guessed: it doesn’t feel like progress. Things seemed easier when I was hurting myself, but it was just a quick fix. It doesn’t feel like progress because I’m foregoing immediate gratification for long term health. It’s much harder than hurting myself, but you know what? I’m proud of myself.
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to just sit here, patting myself on the back though. A lot of people helped, and on the bad days they helped more than any kind of stubborn determination I had. I couldn’t have done this alone, and that’s the whole point: I didn’t have to do it alone.There were people who were directly involved, offering me comfort and engaging me in conversations (and arguments) when my depression-addled brain couldn’t accept things, like my own worth. There were a lot of people who had no vested interest of my well-being who were involved in maintaining it, and that’s what I would like to talk about. Yeah, I’m excited and proud and happy and shocked that I did this for myself, and I’m hoping for another year of success, but as a lot of people who struggle with their mental health understand, every step forward is notable progress, and so I’ll be happy with one day at a time.
Overcoming a harmful facet of your mental health isn’t easy, and there are plenty of people out there struggling with their mental health and even just social fallout from their mental health. I urge them to continue fighting for themselves, and to be proud of every step forward, and not ashamed of any steps backwards. It isn’t easy. The stigma of mental health is a huge barrier to the conversation, a massive obstacle to treatment of all those in need, and it is so easy to internalize a lot of the stigma we face. We are working against our own views, our own brains, society’s ignorance and misunderstanding, and the pressure of wanting to just feel okay. That’s a hard battle to fight, and everyone needs to know they aren’t fighting it alone.
Finding a process that works for you is important. By process, I mean a way of working through the bad stuff in your head. It may be trial and error based, and it definitely is a daunting task. The hardest part is changing a harmful process to a healthy one. For the longest time, hurting myself was the basis of my emotional processing. I would internalize everything, and then I would hurt myself. It was unhealthy, but over time I began incorporating healthy outlets into my process.
For me, it was always very personal. I wasn’t comfortable including other people in it, and even now it’s a struggle to include my loved ones in conversations about my mental health. It requires a level of trust and safety which can be hard to establish when you suffer with mental health issues. It takes a lot to admit that you’re not okay, even to someone you trust. It’s slow, and difficult, but being able to think through the worst of it helps to alleviate the length of bad days.
Finding outlets is good too. For me, I was fortunate enough to have two very successful creative outlets which allowed me to manage myself in a healthy way: writing and music. In this past year I’ve written a lot of bad poetry and short stories, and started writing and recording music. Music has been one of the best positive outlets I’ve found for dodging these mental health bullets. I can get lost in it, and it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world. For other people, outlets may be exercise, painting, cooking, games, whatever. Something immersive which can distract and inspire. Finding these outlets, and cultivating them, is super important. Some days it may be hard to get motivated or interested, but they really make a huge difference.
If you struggle with your mental health, please remember that you are not alone. We care. We want to help. You are not alone, and we know what you’re feeling. Don’t ever feel ashamed of how you feel, or what you think. To everyone, I say: the stigma against mental health still stands as a barrier to the conversation, but it’s a conversation we all have to have. Please, speak out and make your voice heard.
And please, lend us your ears when we speak. Here’s to one more day, one more month, one more year, and an eventual lifetime of safety. For all of us.
Read more from Philip on Embrace The Coda