Okay, lets talk holidays and happiness (well, technically, I mean mental health not just happiness but the alliteration is more catchy). Usually, holidays are booked so that we can ‘switch off’, or ‘relax’, or ‘get away’, or ‘recharge’… brilliant, wonderful, yay!! BUT this becomes 10 times more difficult when the thing that is stopping you from doing any of this is your own brain. How difficult is it when your mental health is invisible to the world around you, yet it’s the lens you see your entire world through. How can you switch off when you are waging a war inside of your own head because it is constantly telling you that you do not deserve to relax, or rest, or to enjoy anything?
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It does not suddenly dissipate just because you have a big day ahead, or a holiday booked. Mental illness does what it wants, it is selfish, leaving those affected with minimal control. It runs its own course, and it does not care about the storm it wages, nor the debris it leaves behind in its wake. Unfortunately, mental illness does not just take a vacation. Mental illnesses don’t go on holiday.
Before I go on holiday, whether it be with my family or my friends, I will spend the weeks beforehand counting down to it (I highly recommend the ‘Countdown’ app for iPhone). I get super excited to spend time away from the reality of mundane life, especially with my crazy family who are vital part of my mental health recovery.
We make plans. We book restaurants. We all get excited.
Before every holiday, I will constantly tell myself that my eating disorder is not allowed in the car, or on the plane, or on the train to our chosen destination (often repeating, ‘Ana you are not welcome here’). I don’t want this selfish, self-obsessive illness to ruin any more of our family memories. We factor in fun, and laughs, and the odd argument over who has farted in the car (LAURA…..), but what I always forget to factor in anorexia. I forget that Ana will not take a vacation.
Some days are better than others, yes. But there isn’t a single day when your illness isn’t looming in the corner, tapping on your shoulder, casting a shadow wherever you go.
This is something that many people who do not suffer with mental illness can’t really wrap their heads around, I often get told to ‘just relax’, I get told ‘you’re on holiday, enjoy yourself, stop worrying’ and oh how I wish that was possible, (can’t we flick the ‘off’ switch on our brains; I’d spend my life on holiday), if only it worked like that.
Mental illness can so often be self-depreciating. I know that a lot of my illness centres around the idea that I am not good enough, or worthless, and so by going on holiday I will feel extra guilt, for enjoying time away or for being treated – illogical, isn’t it? I can’t win, my family can’t win, no one can win either way.
BUT but b u t
There is comfort in knowing that this will not last forever, it is difficult because by going through the process of recovery, you are doing the exact opposite of what your brain is telling you. So, of course, the illness is going to be shouting loudly, no more so than when you’re away and contradicting everything it says, but that is okay. When my eating disorder is loud, it means I’m winning at recovery. Emma is gaining her life back. The storm will settle, the tidal wave will get smaller and the debris will clear.
Little by little… Step by step.
And, if all else fails, here are 5 things I find can help:
- Accept imperfection
- Find a safe space
- Write / journal
- Be honest and talk to someone you love
- Remind yourself that these feelings won’t last forever
Everyday is a new fight, and there are good days and bad days. Do what you can to fight the shadows, stay strong. Be brave, be courageous and be kind (to everyone around you but especially to yourself).