The Many Faces of Mental Illness
By Krista Mills
I think it becomes all too easy for us to put on a front and sport a ‘stiff upper lip’ when it comes to daily life. We may not deem it to be the right time to show our emotions, such as mid-film, during work or in a class lecture, or we may not feel comfortable enough within present company. Whatever the reason may be, I have found that honesty is essential in order to receive necessary support for mental illness.
I do believe that a part of me wants people to know, I want people to know that inside I am dying. I want people to know the level of strength and courage it takes for me to climb out of my bed every morning and face the day – to leave the confines of my home, attend appointments and socialize. It sickens me to know that, to this day, mental illness has yet to be given the same level of awareness and understanding as that of physical. On the other hand, however, I fear the repercussions of my illnesses being disclosed due to present stigma. I worry that people will perceive me to be weak which could not be further from the truth. I fear that people will slate me behind my back, label me as ‘the crazy one’.
I know that this level of ‘paranoia’ stems from my own shame. I am ashamed and embarrassed to be this person. I cannot lie. I find it embarrassing to admit that my life is ruled by anxiety, that, after all I have been through, I cannot do normal everyday tasks such as leaving the home and going shopping without panicking. I am embarrassed by the fact that, almost overnight, I went from being a bright and outgoing twenty year old to a shell of my former self. New people coming in to my life only know the current me, but people from my past, well, that is a different story. I am ashamed each and every time the ‘black dog’ pays me a visit, as I find it near impossible to admit that I am drowning – that I can no longer go on. I am a prisoner of my own mind, powerless to release myself from its wrath.
I cannot help but believe that I am walking around with an arrow above my head declaring my illnesses, even though I have been told numerous times that people would not guess my emotional turmoil by simply looking at me. If anxiety no longer ruled me I would make a brilliant actress due to my level of skill in showing a different side to the world. I will still function – shower, clean my teeth, eat well and clean my flat, and I will force myself out of bed, even though I would like nothing more than to hide from the world and cry. I have built up that much of a front that I even struggle to let my guard down and show my emotions during therapy sessions, an issue which came to a head last week following my running away in the midst of a panic attack. My therapist was talking to me, as opposed to allowing me to talk, which caused me to freak out and start to panic. I could not get a word in, and felt smothered as a result of it. Upon my return, once my brother had managed to calm me down, I was faced with, well, a ‘telling off’ as I was reminded of the fact that ‘the room was a safe environment’, and she was a ‘safe person’. Really? I saw a therapist for two years and never let my guard down once with her, and I even struggle to cry in front of my brother, so what makes you think it will be any different with you?
I can be reminded of the ‘benefits’ of crying until they are blue in the face. It makes no difference. When crying alone I am in control, I can ‘let it go’, scream, bang my fists, and walk away as if nothing happened. When crying in front of someone else though there is always that awkward conversation once the tears have finished flowing, and to me that is embarrassing. I know this is something that I need to work on in order to get better, but these things do not happen over night, and I have always been one for taking my time.