“What’s going on?” I wonder to myself–somewhat incredulous about my buoyant mood. “I mean, this is unexpected–in a glorious, life is 72 degrees outside type of way.”
You see, my mood vacillates between uneasy and depressive. When my anxiety/depressive symptoms tighten their grip, my stomach churns itself into an all-consuming knot. My face reddens; I feel like I am concealing (and not very well) a bubbling inferno of emotions.
For many mental health sufferers–myself included, our mental illness ravages like a snarling tiger. It distracts and depletes, consuming every reservoir of energy. To function–to preserve through the day, we have to muster every ounce of strength and willpower.
Overly dramatic? Perhaps–but as any mental health consumer in the throes of a depressive episode and/or panic attack will tell you, life–at least at times–can feel like cleaning the bathroom toilet. Something to be done–marked by a grim determination. Borrowing from a well-known college basketball maxim, we are just trying to survive and advance (to the next day).
So when those anxious/depressive thoughts suddenly don’t seem so suffocating, it is important to celebrate those days (weeks–if we are lucky).
Today–bless its heart–is one of those days. I woke up and felt reinvigorated; there was a joyfulness in my step. When I interacted socially, I relaxed–reveling in my newfound serenity. When I sat down and wrote, the words flowed. It was strange–borderline disquieting–to feel so (knock on wood) calm. Where are my anxious/depressive thoughts–those ever-faithful accomplices? It felt like they took an all-expense holiday to Puerto Vallarta.
The respite, more likely than not, will be short-lived. I am sure the anxious/depressive thoughts will return with a snarling vengeance–seeking to exact revenge on my mental equanimity.
But before they invariably return, this mind vacation (can we just extend it for a couple more weeks?) provides much-needed clarity.
During the throes of an anxiety/depressive episode, it is tempting to believe that our mental suffering is a lifetime sentence. There will be no parole–no time off for good behavior (i.e. attending counseling sessions, dutifully taking meds, and living a healthy lifestyle). When OCD was at its shrieking worst, I felt this way–utterly convinced that OCD, depression, and anxiety triumvirate would consume me.
As today (and, hopefully, tomorrow) proves, that isn’t always the case.
Indeed, mental health is a fickle beast; it waxes and wanes. There will be days when the beast consumes you–and your only respite is sinking (and slinking) into bed. I have been part of the bed brigade–and, trust me, there is no shame/judgment here. And, of course, there will be other days–when anxiety/depression opt for a holiday. And, in turn, life (almost) feels easy.
More than riding the mental health roller coaster–and lamenting when you mood plummets like the polar vortex, here is my recommendation: Cherish your mental health holiday; any mental health respite–however fleeting–can feel spa-like rejuvenating. But more than just basking in your newfound calmness (I’m cured! I’m cured!), document–from a journal to even an index card–how you feel during those sunny periods.
“Why?” you might ask.
Consider it preventative care. When (mental health) darkness descends–and it will, it is critical to remember that its gloom is temporary. We have been healthy before and we will be healthy again. That index card–like any good mnemonic device–reminds us that our mental health sentence is as long (or short) as we make it.
And, yes, we do get time off for good behavior.