In recent years, one of the most important changes in attitudes to gender and sexuality has been the recognition of fluidity. To my understanding, fluidity means two things. It means recognising that people do not fit neatly into labels: everyone who identifies with a label will experience it slightly differently. It also means that an individual’s experience isn’t static, but can change over time. What if we started to think of mental health in these terms?
Labels can be important and liberating; they can give people the language to express their experiences and access support. Yet it is essential to recognise the fact that mental health does not exist statically within these labels. It changes person-to-person, day-to-day. Personally, two very different stages of my life have taught me how these two aspects of fluidity apply to mental health.
1: Everyone’s experience is different. Let’s rewind about two years. I was slowly acknowledging my struggles with food when I noticed a change in my social interactions. Looking back, what I was experiencing might be described as social anxiety. But, at the time, I never spoke to anyone about it, despite the fact that I was gradually open up about my problems with eating. The main reason for my silence on this particular struggle was that my experience didn’t match up with the symptoms I’d heard about. I never had panic attacks or heart palpitations, for instance. In hindsight, I wish I had known that my experience didn’t have to echo everyone else’s for it to be valid, real, or worth talking about. I may not have ticked all the boxes associated with social anxiety. But why should that have meant I didn’t deserve to talk about feeling physically sick when I bumped into people in the supermarket?
2: Every day is different. By last year, as I had been recovering for some time, I no longer associate myself with the terms “eating disorder” or “body dysmorphia”. But in the stress of finals, I found myself experiencing some of the thought processes that I thought were long behind me. One of the scariest but most valuable lessons of this time was mental health can change day by day, minute by minute. Just as experiences of social anxiety vary person to person, recovery is not a permanent, unchanging state: it is complex and personal, with peaks and troughs. I still sometimes have days when I struggle with my body. But no more am I repulsed by myself to the extent that I can’t even look in a mirror. By recognising the fluidity of my mental health, I realised that any struggles I experience from day to day do not negate how far I’ve come. If anything, they highlight the progress I’ve already made and remind me of the importance of continuing to care for and monitor my mental health, regardless of my stage of recovery.
So if you find yourself comparing your mental health to other people, or to your past experiences - you are not alone in that experience. But also know that you don’t have to think of it in those terms. I wish I could tell past Rosie that she didn’t need to meet any set of requirements and her feelings were and always would be valid. That labels were there only ever to help her express what she was feeling, not to limit or define her experience. That recovery didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to have bad days. That mental health was fluid, and that it would be ok.
Hi! I'm Rosie, and I'm doing an MA in interpreting and Translating in Bath. Mental health is very close to my heart, and I hope sharing my experiences will help others in similar situations.