Guest post: Smiling on the inside

Happy lunch time everyone! Did you all have a chatty and productive Mental Health Awareness Week? It’s great that we’ve all been talking so much about anxiety, but just because MHAW is over doesn’t mean that we can all rest on out laurels. Now is the time to carry on with all of those great conversations that we’ve started! It is in this spirit that I introduce this fab and uplifting guest post by Becky. You can check you Becky’s own blog here and don’t forget to show her some love on twitter @IAmNotRebecca.


Yesterday, I spent my day doing revision. I took breaks. I ate three good meals. I went into town to go to my counselling session. I spoke to people about topics both serious and less so. I took the dog for a long walk. I smiled at strangers and had conversations. I enjoyed the sun. I was happy.

I am not the person I was a year ago. A year ago, I was ill (though I hadn’t yet reached what I now see as the worst times). However, I wasn’t ill in a way that society accepts. I didn’t have a broken leg, or chronic headaches, or heart problems. What did I have to complain about? Well, my anxiety, which had always been a part of me, was doing it’s very best to take over. You will hear people say ‘oh it’s only a bit of anxiety- get over it!’ I want us to make an agreement, now, never to say that. It is not ‘a bit of anxiety’. It is terrifying, and consuming, and dangerous.

For me, one of the hardest parts of my mental health struggle has always been that, on the outside, I was- and am- very good at being okay. On the outside, I finished secondary school, got my GCSEs, did work experience, volunteered abroad and completed a course in swim teaching. This meant that the majority of people- including, unfortunately, people whose job it was to try and help me- accepted that I was okay. For some of them, there was no reason to believe otherwise. After all, I had no cast or crutch. There was nothing obviously wrong. For some, I don’t know. Maybe it was just easier if they ignored it.

Of course, I couldn’t ignore it. On the inside, I was a million miles from okay. I was losing myself, little by little. There were days when I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, when I was saying and doing things that were so unlike me that I was sure I had lost completely. Those were dark days, when I wanted to escape, when I could do nothing but hurt myself and the people around me, all the while wanting to scream that this wasn’t me, that I was still there, somewhere. My struggle was not just with my mental health, but with, well, myself.

To make things worse, the people who were meant to be helping me- the government funded mental health support- were, as far as I was concerned, making things worse. I made the choice to leave the service I was with, knowing as I did so that that could be something I lived to regret. Worse still, it could have been something I didn’t live to regret. Following on from that, I came up against the queues that form for any kind of talking therapy. It took me four months to fully access a service. For someone for whom each day is difficult, that is far too long.

And yet, as I said- I am a different person now. Somewhere along the line, I had a moment of feeling okay, inside and outside. Then, there were times when I could say I was fine, and actually mostly mean it. I began to smile- to properly smile. I began to feel happy, really happy, not the weird in-between I felt before. I am happy, present tense.

It is not that my anxiety has gone. I still have bad days, I still have anxious situations, I still have all sorts of wobbly moments. However, I’m a lot more in control now. I’m making active decisions to challenge my anxiety. Some days, these challenges are small- for example, making a phone call or talking to someone I don’t know very well. Other days, they’re a lot bigger- actively putting myself in an anxiety-provoking situation. Each one is a step forwards, and I am getting there.

I still don’t know what triggered that, what made the world begin to be okay again. Maybe I’ll never know. When I think about it, that uncertainty leaves me feeling precarious- if it was chance that I got here, then I could easily wake up tomorrow and be back to square one. I’m trying not to think that way. Slowly, I am looking at the world in a different way. As hard as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments, and the last couple of months have probably been the happiest of my life. I am not going to say anything clichéd, that without pain there is no joy, because I know that when I felt low those things just made me angry. But I don’t think I could be where I am now without those times. The past year has made me the person I am, and I am making the best of that.

Finally, why am I writing this? Not for sympathy, or to big myself up, or to make out that I have had it bad. There are people who have had it so so much worse, and I know that. For me, there are four reasons for my writing. Partly, for the people who think I shouldn’t. I live with the marks of the things I have experienced. Some people are never going to be able to see past that, will limit me because of something they will- hopefully- never understand. Those people may never learn that just because something doesn’t affect them, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us will be quiet about it. That won’t stop us. It is okay not to be okay, it is okay to feel however you feel. Never let them tell you any different. Please, if you ever feel limited by the views of others, do whatever you can to prove them wrong. So this is for those who stare, those who whisper, those who rumour. This is your week, our chance to try and prove to you why you are wrong. Watch me, anyone who thinks that mental health is a stain, that our scars define us, for am I going to fly.

Secondly, this is for anyone who is struggling. The world is such a beautiful place, and I know at times that is impossible to acknowledge. But please, please, please- keep going. One day you’re going to smile, just briefly, and trust me, that moment will feel amazing. What’s more, eventually it will be more than a moment. You are going to be okay, and this is for you- an account from someone who has been there. This is your week too, because it’s a reminder that you are matter. You are not the things you have been through. You are not your mental health. You are a beautiful individual with limitless capabilities, and I love you.

Thirdly, this is for people who do not understand, and who want to. Accept this, that maybe you never will. I don’t think I understand, and I’ve been through some of it. The best you can do is be there for anyone and everyone- even if it’s just a small thing, like smiling at someone who looks sad, or a few words of comfort. As I said to someone recently, it is always better to try to help. Chances are, it will work. This week is for you, because it is a chance for you to get involved and help those who need it.

Lastly, this is for the people to whom I owe the world. For you all, from those who have been there the whole time, loving me when I could not do that myself, to the people who probably don’t even know they’re included, the people who smile at me or care enough to actually ask how I am. This is your week, a thank you for everything, a hug for the ones who are aware. You are the people who are making the world a better place, and I hope I can join you in that. I hope I can make you all proud.

I’m not the person I was a year ago. I am smiling on the inside now.

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