“Blood is thicker than water;” “curiosity killed the cat:” these are sayings and proverbs that have a very well established meaning for most people, however once you look closely you can see, at least if you look at them in full, their meaning can be interpreted very differently. For example, the full quotes are “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the waters of the womb,” which means the friends we choose are more important than ties of blood and birth; and “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” In their entirety they mean the opposite of their presumed, and generally accepted, meaning. Now you are probably wondering, how this ties into mental health issues, allow me to elucidate.
I always believed that the phrase “misery loves company” referred to miserable people wanting to bring everyone around them down to their level, to feel better about themselves. It’s the classical trope for bullies and their motivations, and it was a mentality that I applied to my life in broad strokes when I was younger, being a dick to people around me because I was unhappy. However, over the last few months to a year I have discovered another way of interpreting this phrase that is probably easier to understand if I describe the circumstances that this revelation came to me.
So at the start of 2016 the close group of plucky misfits I spent most of my college time with hit a bit of a rough patch; be it grief, anxiety, relationship troubles, abuse or family drama, everyone had their reason to be miserable and down. Bar me. It reached a point where I was referred to as the happy/sane one of the group, which if you know me for the sarcastic, negative, nihilistic, generally dissatisfied person I am, you’ll know that is never a good situation to be in. Through perseverance, and a great deal of playing the sin-eater of the group on my part, one-by-one the people around me began to pull themselves out of their dark times. There was only one problem really: while everyone else’s life was getting back on track, I was stuck where I’d been for the last few years, never improving from that low lonely place.
Now I’m not trying to blame my friends for the ensuing mental health issues I’ve experienced, all I’m saying is my life would have been much nicer if they had stayed miserable is all, not much to ask really. And this is what I’ve learned, that being unhappy is a lot easier to deal with when everyone else around you is also unhappy, and that being surrounded by happy people when your own life is a bit miserable (or quite a bit miserable) is very difficult. In the ensuing months, as exam and assignment pressure mixed with mounting personal issues, my mental health began to spiral downwards. Alcohol did not help, as it tends not to, letting my emotions get the better of me more than once, in very self-destructive ways. After one alcohol-fuelled breakdown, I put a cigarette out on the back of my wrist, another I slashed my arm with a knife. There is little I regret in my life more than those actions, but they did give me the impetus to seek proper help for my problems.
Over the past few months I have been seeing a counsellor, and have begun a course of antidepressants that I will be on for the next few months. I’m not quite sure if I can say with any surety that I am over my depression; my mental health story is not finished, and I’m still writing it as things go. What I can say is, at the very least, that life is not as crushingly difficult as it was, and some of the murkiness has left. For example, there was a period between Easter Monday and the final day of my second year exams where I could not pick out a single “good” day; they were all just a grey blur, and most of the weeks before that Monday were more or less the same. I still have my ups and downs, just now there actually are ups, and the downs don’t hang around as long as they used to. I am very glad for the support of my friends and family over the last few weeks, they have been a godsend, and I wouldn’t have reached some sense of normalcy and emotional stability as quickly if it wasn’t for them.
Now, some might call my candour in this matter improper, talking so openly about self-harm when mental health is something of a taboo still. However that is exactly the reason that I am. The wheel has begun turning here in Ireland towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health, and it’s a step in the right direction that fills me with hope. One day I would like to see mental illness talked about and treated the same way as the common cold or flu, albeit without the fear of infection and contagion. Until then, I will be as open as I see fit, in an attempt to reduce that stigma a little bit more.