TW: mild references to self-harm. Please proceed only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.
As I was walking earlier I found my mind darting around (as it often does) until it settled on the concept of one being ‘plagued’ by Mental Illness, and what that really meant. I often say ‘…Mental Illness has plagued me for most of my adult life…’ but is that word an exaggeration…I don’t think it is.
First, if you look at (one of) the definitions of the word plague, taken from Google:
Cause continual trouble or distress to
and, as an example of the context in which this may be used:
“he has been plagued by ill health”
I (as I’m sure many of you) can apply this definition to my own MH with absolute confidence.
I also started thinking a bit more about the word plague, and it’s varying connotations. This took me (in my head, not physically, lol) to Ancient Egypt where, according to the book of Exodus, God inflicted 10 plagues upon Pharaoh and his people, in an effort to persuade him to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery.
I think all of these can be related to Mental Illness in some way. For example, three of the plagues to rain down on the land of the Pharaoh were Flies, Locusts and Lice. One of the (many) symptoms of severe Anxiety, and one from which I suffer when my Anxiety/Agitation is at its worst, is an excruciating, insatiable itch. For some it may feel that a thousand, invisible insects crawl on, in and under your skin. For some it may feel as though a plague of insects has made a home of your skin.
Another plague was that of the Frogs. God commanded that frogs would torment the people of Egypt via the Nile, for example, or at work, or in bed. For me, a frog is something that jumps, and which may appear suddenly, from nowhere. Another symptom of Anxiety is fear. This fear doesn’t always have to be founded; we can be afraid of something without knowing what that ‘something’ is. There are unseen things, hiding in the shadows, ready to jump out at us, as a frog may jump from a hedge by the road.
And then there was the plague of Turning Water into Blood. I can relate this to SH, cutting in particular. I see blood running from my arms under the tap of the wash-hand basin, turning the water red. The plague of Boils (God commanded that boils would break out on every man and animal in Egypt) may fall under the category of SH too. Imagine something unwanted, like a boil, or a particularly intense emotion, on/under your skin or in your mind. Natural instinct would drive us to have the boil lanced, or purge the emotion in any way possible. For people like me, who struggle to verbalise our emotions, we might try and excise them with a blade, or something else equally harmful.
The final four plagues; Darkness, Thunderstorms of Hail and Fire, the Death of Livestock and Death of the Firstborn could probably be grouped together too. Depression is an illness of darkness, of anger, of sheer, unfounded grief. There are many well-known metaphors, widely used to describe Depression. Some say it’s like being at the bottom of a hole, looking up at nothing but darkness and with no ladder to climb out. For some people, the anger, frustration and confusion is worst…I often feel pure rage at my situation, and the frustration that comes with ‘one step forward, two steps back’ is especially difficult for me to cope with. I regularly turn this anger and frustration in on myself. And I guess you could say that people with MH conditions might grieve for things lost; friends, careers, hobbies…
So there you have it…the speed at which my mind ticks over far outpaces the speed at which I walk!