It has been a long five year battle with mental illness, and sadly it is far from over. While I have been blessed enough to have a wall of support around me – from my amazing brother to my psychiatrist – I have also had to endure my fair share of stigma, as many of us have. I have decided to use this blog as a vent, a means of voicing my level of disgust and bewilderment at how society appears to have built up the ideal that we must conform to in order to be ‘mentally ill’.
“Everyone experiences anxiety” – Yes, that is true, we do all experience anxiety. From the students preparing to sit their exams, to expectant parents waiting on the arrival of their little bundle of joy. Anxiety is a normal and even healthy (to an extent) part of everyday life. The difference here though is that severe anxiety can develop into a disorder, preventing you from leading a fulfilling life. It can lead you to avoid socializing, force you to leave education and/or employment, and even make you fear people and leaving the safety of your home. Yes, mental health research is aplenty, but I still think that there is often limited personal understanding when it comes to the true impact of anxiety. If only it were as simple as having butterflies in your belly, as many will believe.
“You’re allowing this to happen” – Believe it or not my therapist has actually said this to me a fair few times. Yes, really. Does she really think that I am happy like this? Does she genuinely believe that this is how I had wanted my life to pan out? If I could step out of this screen of depersonalization, banish my fears surrounding, well, everything, and stop having panic attacks on a daily basis then, believe me, I would give anything, but I can’t. I already feel powerless, but hearing this makes me feel worthless.
“You just need to push yourself” – Let’s just get one thing straight right now, sufferers of mental illness are some of the most strongest and resilient people you will ever meet. The issue here though is that they will rarely receive the level of praise they so rightly deserve for their courage because it is an invisible illness – a silent battle. You will therefore never understand what it takes for us to get up in the morning, to shower, get ready, and face another day. You will never witness our tears when the black dog is biting away at our ankles, when the voices are screaming too loudly, or the anxiety has led to yet another overpowering panic attack.
With regards to living with anxiety (agoraphobia) and depersonalization/de-realization, every day is an often silent battle, as is the case with the majority of us. I realize that, logically, a five minute walk to the corner shop may not seem as challenging as getting on a bus and travelling into my local village, but please know that, in my eyes, I have just conquered Everest. I have had to battle numerous debilitating panic attacks, challenge intrusive thoughts and work through debilitating depersonalization to make it there – can that not be enough?
“But you are so well dressed and well spoken” – I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard this. Now, do please tell me why this should make an ounce of difference. Are sufferers of mental illness not allowed to take any pride in their appearance? Must we cease showering, washing our clothes and brushing our teeth in order to be taken seriously? Personal appearance is a contributing factor to my social anxiety and agoraphobia. There will be a much greater chance of my being successful in leaving the house if I feel comfortable in what I am wearing and how I am looking, which involves doing all of the above. Believe me when I say that I have been victim to looks of doubt by mental health professionals when I try to define my suicidal urges and depressive episodes. When the scores were tallied from a questionnaire I had to complete recently, surrounding how I had been feeling during the two weeks prior, it was discovered that I was amidst a serious depressive episode and my honesty in completing the sheet was even questioned by my support worker because I had been ‘smiling’.
So yes, mental illness may be invisible, but please, please, never underestimate the internal pain and anguish we are going through. It is a constant battle you would only truly understand if you had to walk a mile in our shoes. Guide us, support us, and love us.