By Alexander Bell
“It’s like there’s a cloud that comes over you, and it just won’t leave.”
That’s the assessment my girlfriend once gave me of the periods where I’ve struggled with my mental health. From my perspective that analogy could not be more apt.
Times where I struggle with negative thoughts and emotions are like cloudy days. Of course, much like the overcast sky, these days don’t always look the same. On some days, there’s a smattering of light clouds: short periods of sadness or worry that quickly transform into blissful sunshine. Other days find only the occasional ray of short-lived sunshine poking through a heavily-veiled sky. Sometimes a morning shower can give way to a clear sky of blue, while on other occasions the bright sun of the morning can hide a lurking dreary afternoon. Very occasionally, the day is a storm: a thick band of dark, unrelenting grey that stretches as far as the eye can see. Sometimes, a storm will mark an aberration from an otherwise sunny week. Other times, I spend weeks wondering if the sky will ever be clear again.
When gloomy skies stretch beyond the horizon, it can be tough to believe that there is sunshine lying beyond them. But, of course, a cloudy day, or week, or even month, does not mean that the sun has forgotten how to shine. My negative thoughts and emotions will eventually give way to the happiness and normality that I am lucky enough to experience most of the time.
However, knowing something to be true does not always equate to actually believing it, and believing things can be better is not always easy.
The thing I’ve found about the clouds that occasionally follow me however, is that behind their darkness lies an underlying beauty. A silver lining, if you will.
The gift those clouds offer me is perspective. In my happier moments, I’m able to reflect on cloudy days, and fully appreciate each and every blessing in my life. My family, my friends, and my life outside my studies all become so much more valuable to me. I truly believe that the fears and emotions that sometimes plague me have also made me a kinder, more generous, and more appreciative person.
If you’ve never seen clouds, you’ll never fully know the beauty of a sunny day.
Ironically, as I write this, the sky outside my window is a bright and almost uninterrupted blue; however, the clouds in my mind tell a different story.
Solutions to physical clouds are simple. I could turn on my car’s headlights to overcome the dark, turn on my windscreen wipers to chase the storm away. I could carry an umbrella over my head so that the rain could not touch me.
I cannot control the weather, but I can control my reaction to it.
I can choose to step outside without an umbrella, or I can choose to take actions to protect myself from the rain. An umbrella doesn’t offer 100% protection from the rain. Sometimes, an umbrella can be as good as useless. But what an umbrella does offer is confidence, and the ability to leave the house free from the fear of the rain’s effects, which in turn opens up the rest of the world. An umbrella can be the most valuable thing to have on a cloudy day, as without one you may be trapped, unable to function.
My umbrella on these stormy days has been reaching out to friends, family and healthcare professionals. Today, it has been the act of writing this, of taking time to reflect.
I wondered whether this was worth sharing.
Would anyone actually be able to connect with this? Or would it just sound like the ramblings of someone who could better direct his energy toward his upcoming exams? But then I realised that reading accounts like this in the past had always been an effective coping strategy for me, a part of my umbrella.
The thing about cloudy days is that they can leave you utterly isolated. In those moments, a relatable story from other people who live under stormy skies can assuage your sense of loneliness.
This account seems a small contribution that I can make as repayment for the stories of others which have eased my mind in the past.
What’s the point to all this? I suppose I’ve set out to explain how mental health issues are complex creatures. Even for the same individual the experience can be vastly different day to day, let alone the experiences encountered between different people.
The principles of protection remain universal though. Find strategies that work. Sometimes they can be hard to find, sometimes they can stop working; keep looking, because you will find them eventually. Be part of somebody else’s strategy. The difference even the smallest acts of kindness can make towards helping somebody going through a difficult time can simply not be overstated.
And most of all, if it’s raining, take an umbrella!