Hello, everyone! This week is mental health awareness week run by the Mental Health Foundation. As this is an area I’m really passionate about both personally and as a psychology student, to do my bit I’ve decided to run a blog feature where I and guest bloggers talk about mental health related topics paired with books and/or blogging to help raise awareness. 🙂 Today I’m welcoming Charlotte to the blog!
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Hello everyone, I’m Charlotte and normally I can be found ranting and raving over at Miscrawl about books and life!
Oh mental health, how to write about thee? After much thought, I realized that the best way would be to (very loosely) tell my own story. Strap yourselves in; there be talk of depression and books from here on in.
I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved reading.
Coming from a bookish family, I learnt to read at a young age and I was never one of those children that needed entertaining with fantastical games or expensive trips out. I was perfectly content to be left alone in a quiet room with a book, my imagination running wild. I was the stereotypical image of a slightly geeky, somewhat socially inept kid who always had their nose dangerously close to inhaling musty pages.
On the other hand, my life has never been particularly easy thanks to a chronic disease – Crohn’s to be precise – which I’ve had since a young age. My existence has been marred by indescribable pain, invasive treatments, awkward examinations, emergency hospital visits, medication with appalling side effects and surgery to name but a few.
Mental health issues reared their ugly head when I was in my early twenties.
It’s no surprise really, considering my tough life experiences up until that point. It was only a matter of time, but back then I didn’t even consider that it would happen to me.
I had a stupendously awful Crohn’s flare-up as I was going into my second year of university and it was by far the worst one of them all. Trying to figure out the right combination of tablets that would fend off symptoms, feeling the searing disappointment when things didn’t work and the pain was still there, lying in a hospital bed as a doctor explained that things weren’t particularly great, feeling mortified by my appearance, feeling so broken, so fatigued, unable to do anything for myself, feeling like my body was letting me down.
Finally, I was put on an immunosuppressant which did the trick and reduced the chronic inflammation. I finished university with a great degree level, I won an award for my dissertation and, technically, my life should have begun. The worst of the flare-up was over and, medically, things were back in control. What I hadn’t expected was the downward spiral of my mental health.
I was badly depressed but it took me a while to realize.
That sounds strange, but when you’re in your own personal mental health hell, you can’t look at things objectively. At this stage I read occasionally here and there, but I accepted that I was in a post-university reading slump. It happens; all bookworms experience the reading drought before things suddenly pick back up without warning. However, I actually went for two years without reading a single word. I think that’s partly how I knew something more serious was wrong. All of the things that I used to take pleasure from were replaced by a constant sense of boredom that nothing could quench. A constant numbness; a lack of desire to do anything.
I was in denial, constantly feeling worse and worse but with no way of stopping it. I would cry at the slightest thing; I had zero control over my emotions and often felt furiously angry or felt nothing at all. I completely withdrew and it got to the stage where I hated leaving the house and hated being in social situations. I couldn’t see the good, positive things in life, instead fixating on the crushing negativity. I was stifled by my own mind and my own feelings. I felt like I would never be happy again and if I’m being honest, I felt like I didn’t deserve it.
I literally wasn’t doing anything with my life. I was stagnating, stuck in an endless cycle of nothingness. Randomly, I decided to start a blog just to give me something solid to focus on. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I wasn’t sure what to write about. The only thing I vaguely enjoyed doing was reading, so what if I wrote down my thoughts and opinions on books?
That’s where my blogging and reading journey started.
It began as a way for me to escape the suffocating isolation and the endless despair of my own thoughts. It helped for a while, but eventually my mood got so low that I had to seek the help of a doctor who put me in touch with a counsellor. Every week for countless months I went to see her and poured out all of the toxic stuff I’d been carrying around with me. Slowly, things changed. Speaking to her about my personal issues in addition to reading/blogging provided outlets for different parts of me. The broken aspects of myself were being rebuilt and the creative side which had been all but forgotten was being indulged.
Literature and blogging have been saviours for me, providing a sanctuary when I’ve felt unsafe and despondent in my own mind.
Books allow us to imagine, feel and live. Books are always there when you need them. There are books for every kind of mood and any kind of subject. Books allow you to leave your life behind and step into a different mindset, a different story, a different world. They provide escapism yet also can firmly ground you in reality. Books don’t judge. Books can make you laugh, cry, feel rage, feel ecstatically happy or quietly reflective; all emotions which are sometimes muted or lost in the fug of depression.
As I sit here now, thinking about my mental health journey and surrounded by shelves of books that I’ve yet to read, old favourites, my faithful e-reader and books destined for charity shops, I can’t help but feel content. I’m OK, things do get better and I’m looking forward to the next journey, literary or otherwise.
Have books or a specific novel ever helped you through a tough period of your life? Do you ever find blogging to be a therapeutic way of working through a problem or forgetting your problems? Let me know in the comments!
Charlotte loves to read, rant, rave and review. She is a trainee counsellor by day and a blogger at Miscrawl whenever she gets the urge to write. If somebody could give her an unlimited supply of books, put the Game of Thrones boxset on a loop and feed her pizza, that would undoubtedly be her ideal existence.
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