Sustainability often comes up in economics, but rarely comes up as a topic in general discussions of mental health. Some think talking about relapse will do harm. It is also triggering to caretakers, friends, and family to see someone in pain, so we avoid anything that is not progress. However, the goal for those of us who are neural diverse is finding balance not a cure.
When we talk about normalizing mental wellness these days people often compare things like anxiety and depression to broken limbs-- you would take some time off work and seek medical attention if you broke your leg, you should be able to do the same for mental health. Unfortunately, some injuries can be more serious than others. The leg may not return to its previous usability. This is always the case for mental wellness. Trauma alters our brains. While someone with an injured leg may have to rely on a cane after physical trauma, we may require continued therapy, medication, meditation, or other supports.
Pain is debilitating. A friend with a back pain has good days and bad days. On those bad days they have difficulty focusing and feel like they are better off resting than making things worse. Psychological pain is no different from this physical pain. There are good days and bad days. One difference between physical pain and psychological pain is that we can often notice when others are in physical pain. Those of us dealing with mental health issues have pain that is not visible to the naked eye.
It is common for people that are neural diverse to isolate when they are in pain. My depression relentlessly attacks me with thoughts and feelings that I am a burden to others. Therefore, I can hide my pain from you because I do not want to burden you. Or, I believe if I am so distraught that you can see my psychological pain it is likely to have an adverse affect on you. We don't want to see our loved ones in pain. The raw emotion is uncomfortable. We want to avoid pain. This is a natural, human reaction. Though, my depression sees your frustration as proof that I am a burden, you are not the cause of my pain. Likewise, I am not the cause of your discomfort. Yet, an uncomfortable past experience may convince you to avoid discussing my pain in the fear that you'll trigger me more.
When we avoid the reality of psychological pain it can reinforce stigmas around mental wellness, confirm my distorted view that I am a burden, and disrupt the process of finding equilibrium. Our mental wellness will not be graphed with a green line shooting upward like some sort of dream stock price. There are hills and valleys and recovery is a lifelong process. My hope is to find neutrality. I want to find something sustainable. I have no interest in trying to make each day better than the one before because that's unrealistic. Even for people who may not have depression, anxiety, or another neural diversity, mental wellness does not trend upward every moment of their lives.
Finding balance between the ups and downs of mental wellness sounds like a very difficult task. As such, standing by and supporting someone through it is equally complicated. You cannot expect us to keep 'getting better' in an upward trend, but you want to help us avoid the pain. Avoidance is a strategy that eventually implodes in my experience. I would classify avoidance as damaging and distraction as a better alternative. Personally, I struggle with that classification. Shame tells me that my distraction is an avoidance tactic. However focusing on grief, loss, anxiety, or whatever the psychological pain is for 24/7 is draining. Therefore, a book, a movie, a coloring book, cooking, or whatever you find some satisfaction in can be a healthy distraction despite what the shame says.
Speaking of draining, you can encounter fatigue trying to support someone dealing with mental wellness issues. That desire to stop our pain fuels the need to see a steady improvement like a stock. Not meeting that goal can be frustrating and draining as a support. Perhaps redefining what 'getting better' means is a strategy to help those of us that are neural diverse and those of you trying to support us. The definition will likely be different for everyone. In general, getting better may mean accepting where I am at and setting a goal of preventing myself from hitting rock bottom again. Maybe, understanding that good days and bad days are a reality, but being able to recognize when the bad days are trending in order to ask for more support? I certainly don't feel that I have communicated what 'getting better' means to me very well in this paragraph. That is likely a sign that I do need to sit down and better define it so that I am not trying to reach unrealistic goals subconsciously. sigh
Using those unrefined parameters, how will I know 'bad days' are trending? This is the benefit of the hills and valleys of mental health. We learn in those valleys. Failure and mistakes are how we learn. The way to find balance or neutrality is to experience the highs and lows. In economics, companies that constantly try to make 20% profit from the year before often make cuts to achieve those numbers. They fail to innovate and learn. It's a strategy that works well if you're hoping to get large numbers to increase your selling price and move on. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. And, I am unable to sell my collection of traumatized neurons. So living with them is a better idea than shooting for an unrealistic upward trend in mental wellness.
If I do not try, I cannot fail. Somewhere along the line, perhaps early in my childhood, I adapted this philosophy in a low. Shame or embarrassment may have triggered the thought and it became law. Much of my anxiety comes from the expectations I put on myself. I build them up into an impassable mountain until I have convinced myself not to try. As such, I see expectations from others and want to run the other direction. In the same way as a caretaker, friend, or partner of someone like me, you may have experienced a severe low in your neurally diverse friend. In that moment you constructed a law that you do not want to see that again. You want to protect your friend, just as my anxiety is trying to protect me.
Sometimes, I need someone to just listen. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder. Many times, I am unable to communicate what I need. As a support, you cannot be expected to know what it is I need. Remember that connection is always needed. Validating and accepting where we are in the highs and lows goes a long way to help. Empowering people with neural diversity to make their own choices is part of that validation. Directly set boundaries for your own mental wellness and we will respect that. Communicating your concerns helps us reality check what anxiety or depression is telling us. Maybe you don't find me a burden and want to hear what I have to say, but today is not a good day. Perhaps, there's a family member in your past who had similar issues and I am triggering you. It is okay to be direct and set that boundary. "This triggers something from my own past that I would rather not revisit. However, ruminating on this stuff all the time is really draining. So if you want a distraction, please reach out. I can totally help in that way."
We are social creatures and isolation is part of many mental health concerns. I cannot say every exposure to others will be beneficial, though it can often help to be surrounded by strangers at a park or a mall. Connection, even those as thin as being surrounded by other humans that are strangers can be helpful. Please do not let anything I have written prevent you from connecting with myself and others who are living with neural diversity. Just try not to be like the helpless neurons above.