The Secret Cure for Mental Illness: Discomfort

Returning to simple, impractical living is helping me recover from depression.

Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash

This morning, I went to collect fire, accompanied by Rocky the mountain dog. Collecting sticks seemed like the best game ever to my fluffy friend, and he made the job somewhat more entertaining by stealing all my logs and chewing them to pieces. Despite the fact that we were in a jungle filled with sticks, the ones I had collected were just so much more interesting.

Even when your work is not being sabotaged by a cheeky little doggo, collecting firewood takes time. Everything takes time here.

I am doing work away (volunteering in exchange for food and board) on a farm in the Indian Himalayas, three acres of land tucked up on the top of a hill, surrounded by jungle.

The lifestyle is simple — we have everything we could need, but no extra comforts. To get any supplies that aren’t grown on the farm, we have to hike down to the nearest village, one hour’s trek down a treacherous mountain path, and from there catch a bus to the nearest shop, and then lug everything back up. We cook food on an open fire and wash ourselves with buckets of cold water. Washing clothes means soap and water, scrubbing out stains, and wringing the water out until your arms ache. We only have power a few hours a day, so when it comes on, everyone jumps on the single power socket to charge their devices. Every day, we need to go and collect firewood and pinecones to burn, chop up bigger logs, and work on the farm to grow and pick food.

The days fly by because all the simple things take so long. It is a life without most of the practicalities I am accustomed to, and it feels incredible.

Mental illness has, for the past few years, blurred the line between what is real and what is in my mind. My emotions and reactions to the world always slightly out of synch with reality. Anxiety made things that shouldn’t be scary terrifying. It messed with my physical feelings too — giving me psycho-somatic symptoms like stress headaches or nausea. Sometimes I would have no appetite for days, other times I would eat without hunger.

Here, I feel cold when the night comes, and am always hungry for food that serves to fuel my body not comfort my mind. My body aches from physical labour and melts into my mattress on the floor at night, into a deep sleep. Sensations are more real.

Back home, I would question everything. Never quite knowing why I was doing what I was doing, always half wanting to be somewhere else. Giving energy to the simple tasks that keep you alive takes away from existential questions.

To give so much time to making heat and growing food and cooking a meal reminds me that I have value, that the effort that goes into keeping me alive means that I deserve to be treated with kindness.

In simplicity, in coming back to survival, I find the meaning of self-care.

In the same way that we watch the seeds we plant grow, and feel a parental sense of protectiveness towards them, living like this makes me want to nurture myself and those around me.

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