I talk about my anxiety a lot online, but the focus is normally on how I’ve moved forward. I think what we don’t talk about enough is the steps backwards, the moments when it feels like your progress has slipped away.
Everyone on this planet has good days and bad days. Our environment is rarely consistent, so it is natural that our emotional state will fluctuate with it. However, when you have experienced mental illness in the past, one bad day can feel like the end of the world. Just as you think you’ve got things under control, something comes along to send you into a downward spiral of “It’s Back.”. You start to get anxiety about your anxiety, and the panic of “Maybe I wasn’t better after all?” seeps in. I had a few of these days last week when I woke up and just felt like a black hole. It was an effort to even just get up and brush my teeth, so going to classes was just never going to happen. I felt incredibly guilty about spending all day in my room doing nothing but also wasn’t capable of doing anything more. However, as much as it felt like doing ‘nothing’ to me, I was really doing quite a number of things. I managed to wake up, brush my teeth, feed myself something, get dressed, and even vacuum my room.
I will never forget something my therapist told me along the lines of, “You often feel like you’re not functioning well because you take for granted all the things that are easy for you to do. I have some patients who would really struggle to get dressed in the morning and yet you’ve done it without even giving yourself credit for it.”.
What I took away from that is you have to give yourself more credit for the little victories. On a good brain day, you might give yourself a pat on the back for writing an essay, going to the gym, and acing a presentation. On a bad brain day, give yourself a pat on the back for having breakfast, or drinking enough water. You can’t hold yourself to your ‘best day’ standard when you’re not having a ‘best day’, it’s just setting yourself up for failure.
What’s also important to remember is that having down periods is not just a part of mental illness, it’s part of being human. If you’ve just lost a relative, or have extra pressure at work, or a big exam coming up then it’s entirely normal to be struggling. People often say “Everyone’s Stressed” as a way to dismiss your problem, but I think it can actually mean the opposite. It reminds us that everyone is in the same boat, we all have moments when we’re overcome by negative emotions when difficult things are going on — or even occasionally when things are easy but we just have a bad day. The end goal of mental health treatment is not to get you to a place of feeling nothing, but to a place where you experience highs and lows in a healthy way.
No amount of therapy or a special pill is going to make you feel happy all the time, your emotions will forever be dependent on your circumstance.
Even when it feels like a bad day has struck you out of nowhere, there’s probably a reason, your brain just hasn’t decided to share it with you yet. I’d sit in therapy and say “I just feel anxious for no reason”, but that isn’t entirely true. You might feel anxious for no real reason, but your brain always has some justification. Whether it’s an upcoming party that you think you’re excited about but that is subconsciously worrying you, or skipping lunch and having your blood sugar go haywire, there’s normally a reason if you dig deep enough. Having a bad brain day is not a reflection of you as a person, and the strength you have, but a reflection of the circumstances you are in. If you had to take a day in bed because you twisted your ankle, would you resent yourself? Probably not, you’d give yourself the time you need to recover. Treat yourself with the compassion you’d give to others, rather than cursing at your head to just pull it together.
One bad day does not overrule months or years of progress. You haven’t lost that improvement, it’ll still be there waiting for you when the current storm passes.
Take the time that you need, and if it persists then seek out help. Don’t struggle in silence, tell someone and get that the support that’ll help you.