A mental health blog by Downpatrick writer Helen Hastings.
“I see at times just a collection of shapes, not my face…”
Recently I came across an article in which a woman described her journeys through mental health writes Helen Hastings.
In one heart-stopping paragraph in which she documented a particularly horrific bout of post-natal depression, she recalled how she would look in the mirror at her reflection and see nothing but ‘a collection of shapes’.
It was as if the face she had been so familiar with for years had melted and mutated away leaving her bereft of any feeling of her true identity.
What followed was the heart achingly beautiful description of the weeks and months that followed, were she mentally drew her face back on piece by piece until at last she once more recognised the woman staring back.
I read it spell bound. I understand only too well this loss of identity and while I have never experienced post-natal depression, I know what it is to look in the mirror and not fully understand the creature looking back.
Sometimes I feel like the mirror is a vast silver topped sea, an ocean in which I need to steer the course of my reflection so as to not perish. Sometimes the responsibility of living, of just getting out of bed feels like I have sailed straight into a storm.
I have battled with my own mental health issues for years now and I have no problem in admitting my sense of loss when I try and take stock of the person I am.
Sometimes I feel like bits of me have broken off in small chunks and have been littered in various places and situations. Relationships that have gone wrong, family issues, misguided friendships, the bullies at school… they all form part of a large storm that has eaten away at my landscape reducing me bit by bit, until at some point, my very spirit will start to slide towards a precipice.
I have been asked all the routine questions by the well-meaning people in my life. ‘But Helen, why do you feel this way, what have you got to be so down about?’
The words strike off my mind like a china plate, the smithereens left for me to pick up, cutting my hands in the process, the guilt for feeling the way I do eating at my insides.
Instead of the ‘how’s’ and ‘whys’ I really just wish I had someone who listened without judgement, who would just sit back and let my feelings wash over them in a verbal torrent, but it’s not an easy ask.
A recent bout of depression left me asking what it was that I could do to help myself and to help other people, and the answer lay where it normally does, in my writing.
This is not an ‘I will help you’ column; I will not make promises or push my ideas of what gets me through the darker spaces of life.
My main objective is solidarity. I hope that someone somewhere in County Down or beyond will read my words and feel a kinship, and understanding, an empathy.
Perhaps someone is looking in the mirror right now and seeing their very own ‘collection of shapes’ wondering if they will ever feel at home with themselves again. It’s ok, you’re not alone, I see you and I mean I really see YOU, not a collection of shapes. I see someone who like me has lost their way and is struggling to make their way home.
My column will be my own journey brought to you to consider. Maybe you will relate; maybe you will think I’m a right auld windbag who talks too much, strung out on her own dramas, and that’s fine too.
Every month I will be touching a dark subject just that little bit too close to home, but something that needs to be examined and talked about openly. The mind is a terrible and awesome thing and needs to be addressed.
There is still a lot of stigma about mental health issues despite great progress being made in recent years, particularly in relation to women’s health.
My message at the end of each column will be the sentence I leave you with now. We are all connected in different ways… socially, psychologically, spiritually.