“The first step to getting better is wanting to get better”

I agree. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t want to get better. But at the same time, I think this has become a platitude that gets passed around mindlessly without really thinking about what comes after the first step.

I think it comes from good intentions, from wanting to give people a little push to have the will and the motivation to get better, maybe wanting to help them believe that getting better is something they can aim for. But when you’re in the depths of mental illness, this can feel like the burden of getting better is solely on you, like your recovery depends only on your will to recover.

I remember being told this. I remember wanting to get better, and I remember slowly losing all hope. It’s not that I didn’t want to get better, but rather, that I couldn’t get better.

The days leading up to my suicide attempt, people around me were encouraging me to get help. Call a crisis number, go to A&E, go to the GP. The last time someone said this, my reply was “you have to want to be helped in order to get help. I don’t want help. I don’t want to get better. I’m just hanging around until I decide to end it. Maybe in a year, maybe tomorrow. I’m just waiting for the day and I want to be left alone.”

And did I mean that? No. Not at all. I wanted to get better, and I desperately wanted to be helped. I was telling my GP and mental health nurse how I was feeling, I was going to A&E when I felt I was a danger to myself, I was calling the crisis number, I was using all the coping skills they suggested and none of them were working. It was the lack of appropriate help and support that led me to give up, to accept that wanting to get better wasn’t realistic, to then believe that maybe it was my own fault and maybe I just didn’t want to get better. After all, if I really wanted it, I’d be trying harder. Right? Not only was I thinking this, but it was also the message I was getting from professionals. Sometimes you stop seeking help not because you don’t want to be helped, but because no one is truly helping you.

I know the first step is to want to get better, but that in itself doesn’t get you better if you don’t have access to the resources to do so. It’s not just pure willpower that pulls you out of the symptoms of mental illness. The message is all good and well, but I think we also need more messages about what comes after the first step, and more acknowledgement that just because you have accessed help, doesn’t mean it’s actually helpful. Sometimes you don’t get better and you play a part in that, but so many times the lack of progress is mostly due to a lack of appropriate help and not a personal fault. And far too often we’re made to believe it is our own fault because we’re not trying hard enough or we’re not “truly accepting” the help we get.

I’m tired of the oversimplification of mental health and mental illness into platitudes and cutesy pictures about going for a walk and taking a bubble bath.

The sunshine

This is something I wrote a couple years ago. I was staying in a crisis house, undiagnosed at the time, and someone thought a bunch of empty platitudes would help me.


Someone asked me how I’m doing, said hopefully I see the sunshine now. I appreciate the good intentions.

The issue is not that I can’t see the sun. I do know it’s out there. It’s more like the weather is nice there but I’m in the other hemisphere in the middle of winter trapped with three feet of snow on my doorstep.

The sun is out there but my village is flooded and I don’t know how to swim.

The sun is out there but I’m sick and no matter how much I want to be out there my body craves quiet darkness. Weak and frail, it can’t leave the bed.

I can see the sunshine, that has never been an issue. But I can’t see my way to it. I can’t find a way to enjoy it with the dark burden that consumes me.

Think trying to taste your favourite meal that’s in front of you when you have a cold, your nose is blocked and swallowing hurts your throat. Can you truly enjoy it?

I have always been able to see the sunshine and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t resented myself for not being able to go out and enjoy it. Can’t you not see how much I ache to get there?

I am a house on fire and the sunshine doesn’t matter.

“Put your armbands on and keep on swimming through the flood mate, you will get to the other side. Or build a snowman with a carrot for its nose. Think nice thoughts and everything will be ok.”

How can you reduce my suffering to that.

Can you survive a flood with armbands when the water is rushing sweeping cars away?

Can you afford to build a snowman when you can’t even leave the house to buy food?

Can you think your way out of illness with nice thoughts?

How many metaphors or analogies do I need to use to describe my pain before someone, anyone, understands?

I will be lying on an autopsy table and people like you will still believe I just needed to think nicer thoughts.