When I was in the midst of managing a string of anxiety attacks a few weeks ago, I couldn’t think about much else that was going on that day. Fortunately I didn’t have work or any set plans since it was the weekend, but my anxious symptoms made me feel as though the entire day was a wash. But having some time to look back that day, I now realize that I handled the situation much better than I would have in the past. I still didn’t enjoy those symptoms and feelings of anxiety and depression in the moment, but I could see the progress I’ve made with a little hindsight. Unfortunately, it takes time to notice that progress, which can be hard to see when you’re in a difficult mental health situation.
I always think it’s interesting to talk about progress. It feels like most of the time it’s so easy to see in certain places, and impossible to see in others. Additionally, it’s easier to see progress in other people than to see it in ourselves, and that’s heightened when we talk about mental health.
My attitude on my mental health progress is flawed, but I also think it’s quite similar to other people’s versions of their own progress. I minimize the things I do well, and my setbacks are massive and erase any progress I’ve made. Whether it’s an issue of humility or a version of Imposter Syndrome, it’s a common issue that pops up in many ways in people’s lives. Downplaying achievements and minimizing progress are common enough, but mental health conditions will heighten that approach and make you think that any progress is non-existent. Sometimes it’s easier to visualize this feeling than it is to describe it, which is why when my girlfriend sent me this image at the time I immediately nodded in agreement.
I often feel that my mental wellness is just going around in circles. In my head, my experience is an endless cycle of feeling pretty good, feeling down, having some sort of mental health spiral, recovering and ending up back at feeling pretty good. Some might call it a cycle, but the term ‘going in circles’ is easier to use because that means that you’re not really getting anywhere. But a circular, cyclical spiral that trends upward? That indicates progress.
Eight years of living with depression and anxiety have made me think that progress is a dirty word, but maybe I’ve been too reliant on what that word means. Thinking about progress used to mean that I’d live a life without mental health issues, but progress could also mean managing those issues in a healthier way then I used to. Mental health episodes will continue to be hard to manage, but I’d be lying if I said I handle those episodes the same way as I did when I was 19 years old. Now it’s just a matter of remembering that one more than once a year!