Last year I signed the ‘Time To Change’ pledge initiated by MIND and Rethink mental illness. I joined the thousands of people who agreed that it’s time to talk about mental illness. I felt strongly that it was time to end discrimination towards people with mental health problems.
Since then I have done no public talking about mental illness whatsoever. If anyone has asked how I am, I said ‘fine thanks’. Even if things were as far from being fine as they could possibly be.
I can’t speak for the other people who signed the pledge, but I’ve often struggled with what to say and when to say it. I’m never sure when it is appropriate to disclose the mental health problems I’ve faced, or even join in with a general discussion on the topic.
So I’m going to be brave and start right here. I’m assuming I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to begin talking. I believe wholeheartedly that in order to deal with the massive issues mental health problems create, it needs to become normal to discuss them in general conversation. I’m going to step wildly out of my comfort zone which at the moment consists of sharing only with a handful of people and a therapist. I have to say that I’ve become extremely adept at discussing my issues within these tight parameters. I’ve flourished within the walls of this safe group of people and I am extremely thankful to them for listening all these years. But what good is it if everthing is still behind closed doors? I sometimes feel I am living a double life, hiding vast swathes of myself until I figure I’ve got to know someone well enough to share the details of my ‘dark side’. Part of it is my own nervousness, but maybe I am underestimating people’s capacity to understand and my own ability to cope if they don’t.
I know that one in four of us is facing some kind of mental health problem at any point, so I’m not alone. My challenge is to fulfil the pledge I made last year and see if anything can change as a result.
I’ve been trying to come up with reasons why I am not more generally open on this subject. I know I am embarrassed, fearful and ashamed but I also know that mental illness isn’t my fault. It’s not something I wanted to happen to me and I’ve done everything I possibly could to cope with it. In fact I think I have worked really bloody hard to understand why I’ve had problems and what I need to do to move forward.
My problem has always been Depression and Anxiety. It’s all relative, but in the way I’ve had them, I think they are a particularly evil combination of disorders. I’ve suffered on and off for most of my adult life, but the period I want to talk about covers the ‘great mental crash’ of 2009. After a slow build up of unpleasant circumstances, illness and unhappiness, topped off with the sudden death of my Dad, I ended the year with a massive breakdown, which was completely shocking even by my own standards. I often think about the metaphor that mental illness is supposed to be the equivalent of a broken leg, in terms of it’s debilitating consequences. My experience felt like I had been in a car crash and shattered every bone in my body, including ones I didn’t know I had. I’ve spent the last 3 years in mental body braces, working hard to fuse myself back together.
It’s difficult to admit that, but I have to say, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. So I’ll carry on next time and meet you in the next post.