Peaks and Troughs

My mental health has always been variable, but at the moment it feels particularly erratic. In some ways this is a positive sign: during my worst and most prolonged episodes of depression and anxiety, there was no variation because I felt terrible all the time. However, coping with dramatic changes of mood is difficult and exhausting. It’s also difficult to explain to others – I don’t know why I can feel reasonably positive in the morning and then wallow in the depths of despair that same afternoon. Neither do I know why I feel more anxious about specific issues some days more than others. Sometimes there are triggers I can identify, but often it’s as much a mystery to me as anyone else.

Unfortunately, living in lockdown means I can’t do anything about some of the triggers I’m able to identify. Losing the structure of my regular gym classes is a particular challenge, because I struggle to create routines on my own; going to classes works well for me precisely because I know it’s happening with or without me and I will regret not attending (unless I have good reasons). Determining my own schedule means it’s easy to make excuses and put off exercise sessions. Thank goodness I have a dog who needs to be walked every day – otherwise I’m not sure how well I would maintain even a minimal level of exercise.

It’s common for people who have borderline personality disorder to have strong emotional and cognitive reactions to events. External validation boosts my mood and reinforces my confidence. This can be problematic, especially since nobody can rely on receiving external validation on a frequent basis, but despite working to bolster my intrinsic motivation and internal validation, external encouragement or approval still has a strong hold over me. 

I have received a considerable amount of external validation over recent weeks. I got my results for the 30 credit sport and exercise psychology module I completed in early March: I was awarded a Distinction. While getting high marks is always encouraging, I was glad to do well in this particular module because studying expanded and developed my interest in exercise psychology. Many of the students were “sporty” types who casually mentioned backgrounds as professional or semi-professional athletes; the module is studied by a lot of people pursuing degrees in sports science, so I felt out of place. I think there were two other women who, like me, turned to exercise to help manage their mental health.

I gather I’m in the minority, as someone who is primarily interested in exercise psychology and working with people who aren’t elite athletes, so I was apprehensive about enrolling on a 60 credit level 3 module on the psychological aspects of athletic development for October this year. However, I was more interested in that module than the other options available and the description reassured me that despite the focus on sport psychology, a significant proportion of the content also applies to exercise psychology. Telling myself I didn’t fit in because I’m not sporty was a cop-out and a flimsy excuse, so I made the decision shortly after submitting my end of module assessment. I was scared, but the good kind of scared which means I’m pursuing a goal which is important to me. Getting a good result feels like a sign I’m on the right track.

I also did well on my final two assignments for my core psychology module, which means I should get a good module result – there was supposed to be an exam in June, but it was cancelled because of the pandemic. When I decided to study for a Psychology BSc, I felt stretched between  my desire to pursue the subject and nagging self-doubt which told me I was crazy, stupid and incapable. I have now completed three of the five years I anticipate taking to finish the degree and… I feel exactly the same. Except for those moments when I get good feedback or feel so incredibly inspired by a topic that I would love to spend the rest of my life learning more. Such moments give me the confidence to challenge self-doubt and dare to dream of future possibilities.

The nature of blogging about my mental health means that if I’m able to write a post, I’m doing reasonably well. The past couple of months have been very dark at times, but when I rise out of the gloom I’m grateful for the good things in my life. One of the advantages of lockdown is how it highlights the people and activities which contribute most to my wellbeing. I’m starting to reconnect with important goals which have fallen by the wayside during the stress and turmoil of the past two years and have a list of things I would like to do more when lockdown/social distancing allows. 

The pandemic has also highlighted something which I already knew, but tend to forget in practice: act on your goals as soon as you can, even if it seems foolish, inconvenient or pointless. When something is important to you, prioritise it. Now.