This post is a departure from my recent cheerful Christmas crafts and activities. But I think that it is a necessary one.
The problem with certain illnesses is that they can be too easily trivialised. So many people have such a poor understanding of mental health that mental health care is still one of our biggest failings, not just in the UK but worldwide.
This is demonstrated in ways you don’t even notice most of the time. For example; you still hear people use mental health illnesses to express things like; ‘I just have to eat my M+Ms one colour at a time, I’m so OCD!’, or ‘My favourite celebrity just quit my favourite show, I’m so depressed!’
Let’s be honest here. We’ve all heard this done. I have even done this myself. And I don’t mean ‘before I was enlightened’ I mean I still do it even now, without thinking.
This is because mental illness has been such a taboo and a non-subject in society for so long that even now we are finally making strides in understanding, it is still trivialised.
Because this is how society has been programmed.
Like Rape culture, the social stigma of mental illness is one that will take time to deprogram, but the more of us who actively try, the faster this will happen.
This post is something that I have been thinking about lately, and I finally reached a point where I simply had to start writing.
There are so many who have suffered from depression, OCD, PTSD, anxiety disorders or other mental health issues in their lives both who are receiving help and who have never sought treatment or diagnosis.
Mind.org.uk gives the figures 1 in 4 people in the UK having experienced mental health issues.
1 in 4. Let that sink in.
The reason so many people don’t see a GP about it is, largely, because of the social stigma. People are afraid to be diagnosed because of that label ‘crazy’. Either they don’t understand or they think the people around them won’t.
Did you know that there are over 6,000 suicides every year by people with mental health problems, diagnosed or otherwise? That just over 70% of people who commit suicide, did not seek help about these feelings in the year before it happened?
7 in 10.
That number makes my heart hurt.
There are also a great deal more men than women who end their lives. Because men are less likely to seek help mostly due, again, to social stigmas and fear of appearing ‘weak’.
There are people, though, like myself, who are stuck in a limbo.
There is the overwhelming feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ because we feel like we tick all the boxes but yet… we don’t feel like our case is ‘serious’ enough to seek help.
And maybe in some way it’s true, because in the past I have had ‘bouts’ of depression, some more serious than others but I have ‘recovered’.
Does this mean I am not allowed to say I was depressed? Because I didn’t ‘need pills’ or because I don’t feel that way all the time? No. Does it mean I am better or stronger than others who have needed the extra help? NO.
It just means one thing. My method of coping is different to others, as is my brain chemistry.
Because that is what mental illness is: Chemistry and biology. The brain is an organ. It can go wrong just like any other. There is NOTHING wrong with needing help of any kind.
I remember reading an excellent quote somewhere:
Would you tell someone with lung cancer ‘it’s all in your lungs, just take a deep breath’?
Then why would you tell someone with depression ‘it’s all in your head, just be happy’?
That is what I call a ‘drop the mic’ quote right there.
Since I was a teenager I have battled. I have struggled. A wide variety and combination of environmental factors have caused this, triggering my specific brain chemistry.
Most people who know me, even closely, have no idea. They probably never even notice I was struggling.
Mostly, because I simply never told them.
When I was young I dismissed myself as being ‘over the top’, ‘silly’ and having ‘no right’ to feel the way I did, in a way I would never, ever think to dismiss someone else.
As I grew older I had simply taught myself that I ‘could handle it myself’.
Despite Husband being the most amazing, supportive person, it has only been in very recent years that I have truly been able to recognise my personal demons and give them names. And perhaps most importantly: to accept myself for all my flaws and quirks, even if I don’t always want to.
Lately, I have had one of my worst bouts ever, fighting tooth and claw every single day to cling to the edge of my own personal abyss.
Despite this, I still feel like I am one of the lucky ones.
With my specific experiences, I have been fortunate enough to be able to recognise what will help me to overcome it, which has allowed me to get better without any outside assistance.
I even went to the doctors once, several years ago now. I told them how I was feeling, why I thought I was feeling that way and how I could fix it, that I didn’t want meds, I just needed to tell someone and be validated.
The Doctor just listened with their full attention, then smiled at me. They told me ‘You’re right, I don’t think I need to give you meds, you seem to have a plan figured out and that is part of being able to get better, just come back if you find it too hard.’
There was no judgment, no pushing to have meds I didn’t want. No dismissing me as ‘not a real case’. There was only support.
I think that Doctor’s reaction helped bolster my self-confidence and self-worth in a way I can’t put into words.
I am not out of the woods yet. But I am still clinging on and with every day that passes where something else doesn’t go wrong, I find a slightly firmer grip, one finger at a time.
I know I will get better. I know I will likely get worse again when things don’t go to plan. This is an ongoing part of my life. The ups and the downs.
I may still slip up and say something like ‘I’m so OCD!’ about something trivial, but when I do, I will recognise and correct my mistake.
I wanted to share my story as part of this post to help share awareness.
Mental illness is not real only if you get diagnosed. Likewise, getting diagnosed does not make you ‘crazy’ or ‘weak’ or ‘dangerous’.
The brain can malfunction just like any other organ, and sometimes we need help dealing with that. Whether that is by medication, having therapy or just saying: ‘I’m not feeling great, can we have a chat?’
This time of year can be so very difficult for so many. If you are feeling lost or alone or afraid, please, please reach out. There are others just like you. There are so many who are suffering. Please don’t suffer alone.
Suicide prevention lifeline USA: 1-800-273-8255
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14