Plodding my way through life

(I started writing columns for #ikbenOpen, a site about mental health-awareness. It’s in Dutch, so I translate them for this site).

The idea behind the site #ikbenOpen, openness about mental health, really appeals to me. Because I don’t always feel mentally healthy. But until a few years ago, I rarely talked about that with anyone.

The foundation of my life is fine. Two parents, a sister, a nice house. Sometimes things went a little bit different with me than with others. I was a sensitive child and I could experience things intensely. I was super curious and observant. Asked a lot of questions. But at home and at my nice primary school there was enough room for me to be myself.

In high school (for the time frame: that was early nineties) it took me a bit more effort to do what I was ‘meant to do’. After that: HBO study (college) and leaving my parents house to go live in a students house. In terms of studying and my small household, I didn’t handle it all in the best way, but I was young, resilient, creative and managed to do in my own way what was needed. My life was a bit chaotic, with studying, side jobs and a busy social life. I sometimes had melancholic moods. My head was often overflowing. But that was just what my life was like to me.

After graduating I went volunteering in Sweden for a year and then ‘real life’ started. With a job and having your things in order. I found a job, then another, and it went on like this… I couldn’t do it, the ‘normal’ things that seemed ‘normal’ for many people. Full of hope and optimism, a smile and a tear, I plodded through life like this.

For years I was tiptoeing through life, and I didn’t even realize it. Because I thought life was supposed to be that way. Because no one asked. Because I thought it was weak if you shared something like that. Because you only ask for help when something goes ‘really wrong’. Quite a shame. Because to me it seems healthier and more sustainable to pay attention on how someone lives and works best. Not only when things go ‘different’ or ‘wrong’.

Lots of pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me when I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. It helped me with figuring out how I could get my things more in order. And that journey is still in full swing!

Anyway, it would have saved me years of energy loss, uncertainty and hassle if there had been more openness to share doubts and obstacles. Then it would probably have become clear earlier that I have ADHD and then I could have tackled some things differently – with some help. Then maybe I wouldn’t have had countless jobs. Where I kept trying to adapt, or they found me whining when I indicated something, or I didn’t know how to name my concerns, and then I went looking for a new one again….

It would have helped if I, or someone else, sometimes paused with me for a moment: ‘How are you? What doesn’t work? How do come into your own?’. The thing is: I can do so much: I coordinated, organized and did a lot of work, but in the end I always got stuck. Small adjustments in working hours, workplace and slightly different tasks could have made a big difference.

I share all of this because I believe that being open about mental health can make all people feel better. Regardless of whether someone has a ‘mental health label’. As humans we have a lot in common, and we are all slightly different. It would be nice to be more open about that and to give yourself, and each other, the space to be yourself more!