At times things can feel as if survival is hard enough and progression is really too much to ask for.  One has to make a distinction between the times here when you are having a little wallow in self-pity and need hauling out of it or between those times when a darkened room and foetal position is the best method of survival.  It isn’t always easy to know which is which and if we don’t know how can we expect others to know how they might be able to react?  There are times however when progress feels possible and others where it clearly isn’t, again it isn’t always clear, nor is it always within your control to determine the results or variables that come into play. How many times might you hear 2 steps forward 3 steps back, everyone has these moments, maybe stretching into longer periods of time where progress appeared hampered such that they feel despite working towards something the goal appears to be further away than if they had done nothing. Sometimes it’s to do with specific tasks we undertake to complete, projects, DIY, even interpersonal relationships, indeed the concept that things must get worse before they can get better is not entirely alien to us. Provided we remain of the opinion that the ultimate goal is on track, that progress of a fashion is being made we may reasonably encounter adversity and carry on, besides which by and large ‘initial setbacks’ are considered par for the course so we accept this tenet. The key is that sense of forward motion however gradual it may be for 2 steps forward 3 steps back over a period of time represents a cumulative negative, if not offset at some stage by more even than 3 steps forwards and only 2 steps back we may never realistically pass the part at which we started.  That’s a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that sometimes it feels like you’re walking through treacle and you might be better off stopping for at least a time.

A continual press against a seemingly immovable object where progression is not made might be better expressed as a war of attrition, that any ground won would probably just as easily be offset by ground lost elsewhere and a sense of enduring and debilitating stalemate. I think with mental health this can often feel very much the case and especially in darker times because each moment of work is all the more difficult not just to achieve but even to attempt in the first place and thus any sense that it has not been ultimately successful becomes a bitter pill to swallow as it hints at further work to come and sometimes even the very thought of that can be more debilitating than the job at hand itself. I know of a method of representing privilege which is to do with determining someone’s starting point and it is a useful model that can be adapted for other things I believe.

The premise is this, everyone stands in a line whilst societal influences act as filters to determine where someone ultimately begins – those of an ethnic minority background take one step back from the line, those who are women take a step back, those who have a disability take a step back and so on until a certain number of filters have been applied to reveal your starting position. These steps back can of course be cumulative, if you fit the criteria of several factors such that you may be many steps behind others at the outset given certain factors that are beyond your control.  If you therefore take certain life progressions as a step forward it is easy to see that even were everyone to have the same amount of progress they would not be in the same position and that for someone who started behind someone else they would have to have more steps forward to mitigate the filters that set them back.  This model works well for applying a sense of context to what would be the nature of any progress, it counteracts the argument of the classic white middle class educated male claiming that they got where they are today on the basis of hard work and not because the system has afforded them anything for free.  With this model one can see that they may well have worked hard to progress several steps but those who may not be at the same forward line as them may indeed have worked just as hard getting themselves to the starting point of those born with privilege.

The way this can be applied to mental health is not dissimilar. For most people getting out of bed in the morning is a factor of life we go through day after day, it does not have to mean we feel rested or enjoy the time we have to do it but we have the capability to accomplish it and move on to the next task and by and large this is what we do. When we are physically unwell it is clear that there are times when this is more difficult or may be impossible but it is less obvious when we are mentally unwell.  I was once told the difference between having a cold and flu is the £50 note test, someone tells you there is a £50 on the doorstep outside and that if you hurry you will catch it before it blows away.  If you are able to get yourself out of bed no matter how much of a struggle then you don’t have flu.  Having had flu 3 times in my life I can verify that it would not matter if you raised the payout on the doorstep then result would be the same because the capability to function is just not there.  That type of flu is apparent to people looking at you as it exudes from the crumpled nature of your being.  Mentally there are times too when the result would be the same but these are difficult for anyone outside to be able to see and not always easy for me to define.  We not only have a mask we don ourselves but I think those who know us have a mask of presumption too, one that means they think they see us as ok if generally speaking that is what they see, or want to see.  

I have found it frustrating that in spite of one of the most isolationist periods in our times, not exclusively but hugely exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, precious few people have reached out to me amidst the silence despite many knowing specifically that I am at my worst when left alone in darkness.  Whether they have had their own demons, issues, crises, whether they have felt that to remove the veneer of their assumption about me might reveal more than they are realistically willing or able to attend to I cannot say.  I can only say it has been a period of some of the most intense, sustained darkness and solitude I have experienced, to breaking point. If you know people out there from whom you’ve not heard, try to say something to them, try to tell them you care.  You may never know whether it has an impact on them, however their continuing existence may be enhanced by it, or in some cases perhaps even depend on it.

Song Of The Day ~ Mazhar Ve Fuat – Adimiz Miskindir Bizim