Mental ill-health can affect every aspect of our lives, each and every day that we’re unwell. It can be hard to explain to those who’ve never experienced it quite how it can seep into everything we try to do and make everyday things seem extraordinarily difficult. Often we become so used to managing our condition that we forget what it would be like to live without it. Sometimes it can be helpful for others to understand a little of what we’re going through. It can help us to feel better supported and less alone.
1. Getting Out Of Bed
Right from the start of the day, before we’ve even had time to wipe the sleep from our eyes, our mental illness is there, weighing us down. Anxiety can fill us with panic before we’ve even stuck a toe out of our duvet. Depression can strap us to our bed, filling our bodies with lead making the effort involved in getting up increase exponentially. Our motivation can be virtually non-existent so we might not feel like doing anything at all, and the sheer amount of energy it takes to do things only makes it harder. By the time we get down the stairs and begin to tackle breakfast, we’re often already ready to go back to bed.
2. Having A Wash
Many people wake up on a morning and have a shower or give their face a scrub without a second thought. But for those of us with mental ill-health, it’s not always that straightforward.
There are so many things to think about when we have a shower. We have to get in the shower, get the right temperature, get the right product for the right part of our body, dry off, and find some clothes. Having a wash can feel really complicated particularly when our brain is sludge-filled and we’re struggling to think things through.
If we struggle with our body image or confidence then washing can be loaded with distress. We might be someone who avoids looking at our body or looking in any mirrors at all costs. Washing can confront us with our body which can feel too hard to cope with sometimes.
There can also be a lot of energy involved in washing ourselves. We have to stand up in the shower, get undressed and dressed again, and even the act of lathering up the soap can feel like it takes a lot of energy. When we’re energy-depleted, each of these things can chip away at our already tiny energy reserve and can mean that we don’t have the energy we need to tackle other areas of our lives.
3. Getting Dressed
Once we’ve managed to get up and (maybe) washed, we have to face getting dressed. This can involve a number of decisions and decisions can be really difficult when we have mental ill-health. We might feel particularly indecisive and even the smallest of decisions, such as which socks to wear, can feel overwhelming. When we struggle with our confidence, we might feel as though we look like a potato in a binbag whatever we wear. Some mornings, we will probably try on nearly every outfit we own and end up on sat on the floor crying because nothing looks right. It can take such a long time, and a lot of energy and anxiety just to get some clothes on and move on to the next part of our day.
4. Eating And Drinking
Meal planning and cooking can be hard work. They can take a lot of forward-planning and organising. Cooking can take ages and might contain too many steps to process at times when we’re struggling to think. We might find it increasingly difficult to eat fresh or ‘healthy’ foods and begin to rely on pre-packaged things. If we’re struggling with money, then justifying spending it on food can be hard, and if we’re having to rely on pre-packaged food rather than cooking from scratch then our money probably won’t stretch as far.
Mental ill-health can affect our appetite and thirst, as can medication side effects. This can lead to us eating too much or too little.
Some of us might use food or drink to cope with our mental ill-health. We might drink too much alcohol, comfort eat or deliberately restrict our food intake in order to cope with the things we’re thinking or feeling. We might feel a lot of shame around our coping mechanisms which can lead to secret eating and drinking and can turn any social situations involving food and drink into a minefield.
5. Leaving The House
If we’ve managed to get to the point where we’re out of bed, and got ready then our next challenge is often leaving the house. Often when people think about those struggling to leave the house, they might think about those who are largely housebound. However, we can struggle with leaving the house and still go out on a daily basis. We could have a really high-powered job and still struggle to leave the house.
Our front door can feel like a barrier between us and the world. The world can be a noisy, unpredictable, scary place. Stepping out into it can feel overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. It can take a huge amount of energy and reasoning with ourselves to leave the house and face the world.
6. Being Alone
Mental ill-health can affect our friendships and relationships and make it hard to be around people, but it can also make it hard to be alone. When we’re alone we might find that we’re confronted with the thoughts and feelings that we’ve been trying to avoid or distract ourselves from. Some of us might not feel safe when we’re by ourselves. We might have intrusive thoughts or maladaptive coping mechanisms that we’re trying to stop using. Our brain might take us to scary places. We could begin to feel suicidal and worry about being alone in case we run out of ideas for coping with these thoughts.
There are always helplines that we can ring if we’re really struggling, and if we don’t feel safe being alone then it’s important that we try and let our loved ones know, and make plans around managing any alone-time in a safe way.
7. Being Around People
Though being alone can be difficult, being around people can be, too. We might find it hard when people enter our personal space – it could make us feel anxious and scared. Sometimes our anxiety will ramp up when there are other people around, our brain might start lying to us and tell us that we’re not as good as other people, nobody wants us around, and everyone is staring at us and thinking how useless we are. We might worry about how we present to other people. It can be difficult to keep track of conversations, remember what people have said to us, and concentrate on what people are saying. If our mental ill-health is affecting our senses then we might find social situations unbearably noisy, or far too light and bright. It could tip us into sensory overload. We might feel as though we have to ‘act okay’ around others – we don’t want them to know that our mental health is poor because we’re worried about how they’d react. But equally, we might wish they knew so that we could take our happy mask off and relax. People-time can be incredibly draining and leave us craving some peace, quiet, and sleep.
Whether we’re walking to the post office, cycling to the supermarket, driving to work, or getting the train to see our friends, mental ill-health can make travel difficult. Once we’ve got over the hurdle of leaving the house, we then have to plan a journey. We might have to consider which route we’re going to take, work out opening times or navigate a timetable. When our brain is already working overtime to try and manage our mental ill-health, we often don’t have the headspace to think particularly far ahead which can make this level of planning very difficult.
Our energy levels can be low when we’re managing mental ill-health which can add an additional challenge to travelling, especially if we’re walking or cycling somewhere.
Travel can take a lot of concentration. If we’re using public transport we need to make sure that we know where and when we’re getting on and off, and we need to ensure that each part of our journey connects. When driving, we have to focus on the road and the world around us. Even if we’re walking somewhere we need to look where we’re going and avoid walking into lampposts. Concentration can be a challenge when our mental health is wobbly, and sometimes our concentration levels can mean that some modes of transport aren’t possible for us for a period of time. With some mental ill-health experiences, we need to inform the DVLA and might legally not be allowed to drive for a period of time.
Our anxiety can often flare up when we’re travelling, too. We might have to face being in close proximity to a large number of people. It could be loud, hot, and smelly. Our train or bus might be late which could mean that we’re late to where we’re going or miss a connection. On top of navigating where we’re going, we might be fighting off panic attacks at the same time. It’s exhausting.
9. Holding Down A Job
When we have mental ill-health, it can be quite unpredictable. This can be hard when we have a job because some jobs are very ‘static’ in that they’re 9-5, five days of the week, so there’s little wiggle room for a bad day. We might have appointments to attend – mental health teams also often operate 9-5 so our appointments will often be during the working day.
Some of the symptoms of mental ill-health aren’t compatible with doing our best at work. For example, we could experience exhaustion, drowsiness, restlessness, tearfulness, bowel problems, headaches, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, or disassociation. All of these things can affect our performance at work.
We do have certain rights at work, and some flexibility from our employer can help us to stay in work and to manage our job and our health without one negatively affecting the other too much. Having mental ill-health doesn’t mean that we’re not employable, or that we would make a bad employee, it just means that working can be harder for us, we might need certain adjustments, and there may be periods of time when we’re not able to work – and that’s okay.
10. Spending Money
Managing our money can be tricky when mental ill-health is part of our lives. Money can be complicated. It can involve a lot of planning, paperwork and forms – all of which can feel impossible when we’re already overwhelmed by life.
Money can also be in short supply when we’re unwell. We might not be able to work which can significantly reduce our income. Being unwell can be expensive, too. We might find that we have to spend money on prescriptions, transport to and from appointments, or on taxis because public transport is just too hard for the time being.
Many of us will feel guilt around spending money. Often when we have poor mental health, our self-confidence suffers. We might not feel as though we ‘deserve’ nice things or even basic things like clothes that fit and don’t have holes in. Buying anything can become exhausting because we overthink each purchase to the extreme. We are allowed to spend our money, though. We deserve nice things.
For many of us, using social media can be anxiety-provoking. Our phones fire information at us faster than we’re able to process it which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and tearful. Replying to messages or texts from our loved ones can be hard because processing what they say and formulating a reply can take a lot of brain-power. After we don’t reply a few times, our friends might stop messaging altogether.
Having the energy to see our friends can be challenging. We will often have to prioritise our appointments and potentially our job and family when it comes to managing our energy levels. If our energy is in short supply then going out with our friends might not be something that we’re able to do.
It can be difficult to support our friends when we’re struggling ourselves – we can’t pour from an empty cup. This can leave us feeling like a burden on our friends. We might feel guilty that they have to ‘put up with us’ and we’re not a ‘better friend’.
12. Dating And Relationships
Our mental ill-health can affect how we interact with others.
If we’re in the process of dating, our anxiety could make it hard for us to meet people. When our brains are foggy and depression-filled, it can be difficult to answer messages or to find the energy to go on dates. Low self-confidence can leave us feeling unloveable and worthless which can make it difficult to approach the idea of dating at all, and if a date doesn’t go well then the sense of rejection we feel can reinforce these feelings. If we find that our relationships are progressing, we will probably have to decide if and when we want to tell the other person about our mental ill-health and we might worry about how they will react.
If we’re in a relationship, have a long-term partner, or are married, our mental ill-health might become an unwelcome third-wheel in our relationship. We will need to stumble through the rocky landscape of mental ill-health together and support each other through the rough patches.
13. Looking After Our Physical Health
Mental ill-health can come with physical symptoms. It can also make it harder for us to maintain our health generally – eating healthily, cleaning our teeth regularly, and exercise can all become much more difficult when our mental health is poor.
On top of this, if we are worried about our health, we might find it harder to get support. Booking a GP appointment can be difficult and intimidating for those of us with anxiety. Often GP surgeries are booked up, too, so we have to be persistent, and when our self-confidence is rock bottom me may not feel as though we ‘deserve’ an appointment.
If we need more urgent help, going to A&E or a walk-in centre can be busy and crowded. It can feel totally inaccessible when our anxiety levels are high and we’re struggling to even leave the house. Some of us take medication to help us with our mental health. These medications can have side effects which affect our physical health, too.
The dentist can bring a whole range of anxieties and worries. Mental ill-health can make basic self-care harder and we may not have been looking after our teeth as well as we should have done, so we might feel ashamed and embarrassed about visiting the dentist. Our anxiety around the dentist might mean that we avoid it for long periods of time.
Other health appointments such as visiting the optician can also be a struggle. Aside from the anxiety of booking an appointment and going to it, glasses and contact lenses are expensive and when our self-confidence is low, it can be hard to justify the cost of them to ourselves.
We deserve support with our mental and our physical health. If we need an appointment with a doctor, dentist, or any other practitioner, we’re not wasting their time. Our health is important and we are worthy of the care and support that we need to be our healthiest selves.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.