It's common when you're struggling with your mental health to want to disappear or hide away. Well I made a positive decision to do just that, and here's what happened ...
When you live with a mental health condition it's important to come to terms with the fact that sometimes you have to take a break.
Obviously, I know that mental illness isn't something you can just switch off. But that doesn't mean you can't allow yourself the break you need in order to recharge and feel better able to cope, especially if everything is feeling too much.
You may have noticed that I've gone AWOL from the blog over the past few months. My moods got the better of me a while back and I decided that the best course of action would be to completely disappear and allow my head to clear.
Well, not completely disappear, but I did end up isolating myself from the world, or at least as far as was possible whilst still living on a busy main road with many shops, and in the middle of a busy city with millions of people in it!
Isolation in the city looks quite different to living in a log cabin in the middle of the woods (which would be my dream come true). My version of "total isolation" essentially meant creating lots of distance between me and the people in my life.
So I avoided local shops and anywhere that I might be recognised and stopped for a chat.
I created a number of backstreet dog-walking routes, only visiting my local parks on a rotating schedule so as to avoid being spotted by the same people walking their dogs every day and having to engage in dog-related conversation.
I stopped posting and checking social media, which is something I can definitely recommend!
I also just happened to fall out with the main people who feature in my life at the moment – not purposefully mind you, but I like to think it was conveniently timed by the universe in order to aid my plan for total isolation (the coincidence was uncanny).
You might be thinking that this kind of withdrawal from society doesn't sound like the healthiest thing. I think it depends on the person and the intention – I'm certainly not recommending anyone do the same. This was just what worked for me at the time.
I knew that I needed some space to be by myself. I knew that my mental health was suffering and I felt that I needed time alone to mend.
And do you know what? I think it really did help.
I began to hear myself think again – because my head wasn't taken up by all the voices of other people ...
I felt more at peace and connected to what was important to me – because I wasn't basing all my decisions on other people's needs ...
My days became easier – because they were more structured ...
My direction became more clear – because my mind was clear and all my time belonged to me.
I also decided during this time to come off the medication I was taking. (I did this with the supervision of my doctor, and again, I'm not recommending you do the same!)
I know I haven't written anything on the blog about the medication I was taking, but the gist of it is that it wasn't working for me, and it was time to try something else.
That something else took the form of this total detox, from the stressful life I was leading, the people in it who were triggering mood swings, and indeed the medication that was no longer having a positive impact.
So I spent three glorious months all by myself, with just my dog, my cat, and the cast of Eastenders for company.
By the time I was ready to start talking to people again, I felt beautifully refreshed and completely balanced. In fact, I might go as far as to say... cured?
Alas, since returning to the demands of people and the reality and stresses of normal life I have also had to welcome back the mood swings. Not that they ever went away completely. Cyclothymia doesn't work like that.
I've come to the conclusion that out-of-sight-out-of-mind really is a thing though ...
Being around other people and having to respond to the stresses of everyday life and daily interactions certainly brings more of my attention to my disorder.
I probably did have ups and downs whilst living in my little bubble, but I didn't notice them as much because society wasn't holding up a mirror to my mood swings.
There wasn't much happening in my life to react to either, and so the normal fluctuations in my mood disorder could come and go without having much of an impact on anything or anyone, and there was nobody in my life and no big events to trigger any bigger imbalances.
I also stopped tracking my moods so I really have no idea what was going on during this time. I think that unless I'm tracking my moods closely and reflecting upon my findings it's easy to forget how low or high I felt.
I tend to feel and experience these things in the moment, and they only stick around in my memory if they're reinforced somehow ...
I've found that I'm usually reminded of changes in my moods by other people, journal entries, events recorded in my diary, my mood tracking charts, or catastrophes that have occurred as a direct result of my symptoms and imprinted themselves in my memory.
If I'm not taking the time to reflect on how I feel, the experiences kind of disappear on the same wind as the mood.
At the end of my three-month isolation, when I got back in touch with my sister and tried to tell her that I didn't recall having a single symptom of depression or hypomania, the silence on the other end of the phone was one of heavy disbelief.
Despite loving the freedom of enjoying only the company and the lack of judgement of my pets, I know that this is no way to live. But at least now I'm in a much better place than before and I can start to work on myself, my life, and relationships with people again.
Sometimes all we need is a break in order to heal, feel stronger and return with a healthier perspective.
There are a lot of things I've written about in this post that I don't recommend you doing yourself ...
I do recommend, however, taking time off work if you need it; talking with loved ones if you need some space; and discussing concerns about medications with your doctor or psychiatrist.