Lucy, June 14, 2019

When you have an invisible illness, the fear of not being believed is monumental

As someone who battled with mental health problems for as long as I can remember – (as in, I genuinely think I popped out of the womb panicking I struggled with anxiety that long) – I’m in a place where I’m willing to talk about mental health until the cows come home because, quite frankly, I think it’s something that can never be discussed enough.

When the topic of mental health got brought up in a recent conversation with some new friends, I had no problem getting stuck in. I revealed that I had struggled with anxiety and depression for a number of years which, surprisingly, prompted a succession of increasingly more personal questions.

‘How did your anxiety affect your daily life?’

‘Why did you not leave the house?’

‘Did you cry a lot?’

‘Did you isolate yourself?’

‘Did you stay in bed loads?’

It felt like a safe space to do so, so I had no problem painting a pretty bleak picture of just how dark things had become for me, when all of a sudden, I was interrupted.

‘- I’m sorry Lucy, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really just don’t believe you.’

I sat in silence for what felt about 43 minutes (which in reality probably only lasted about 13 seconds) in utter disbelief at where on earth that comment came from.

He finally piped up, ‘Yeah, I’m not trying to be rude, but you present yourself so confidently that I can’t see you battling with your mental health at all.’

Some people may read this and think his comments are merely trivial. What’s the issue with looking like you haven’t struggled with mental health problems? Surely that’s a compliment?

The problem is, that in one sentence, this man hit upon one of the biggest fears most people who have a mental illness experience:

– the fear of not being believed.

In that moment, I thought back to all the times I rang up work telling them I couldn’t possibly come in because I had food poisoning/the flu/tonsillitis and a whole other barrage of made up ailments because I was too embarrassed to admit that, actually, my mind was at a point where everything felt so terrifying I couldn’t leave my bedroom.

I thought back to all the times I bailed on friends, telling them I had commitments with family so I couldn’t meet up anymore, when in reality it ws because I felt so utterly depressed that I thought I’d never be happy again. 

I thought back to the months I put off phoning up my doctor and asking for therapy because I thought she would think I was just being dramatic.

You see, when you have an invisible illness, the fear of not being believed is monumental.

When you have an invisible illness and someone outright tells you they don’t believe you - it is heartbreaking.

In the UK alone, 1 in 4 people are estimated to experience a mental health problem each year - so why are we still in a position where there can be such a lack of understanding, tact and compassion in handling those who are struggling? 

If someone opens up to you, believe them

If someone trusts you enough to open up and share their experience of mental health problems – encourage them, listen to them and acknowledge their bravery for doing so in a society where it can still be seen as shameful.

On the whole, my experience of being vocal about my mental health has been almost entirely positive. Yet in this instance, the man I was speaking to shut me down mid conversation as he couldn’t fathom that I could stand in front of him seeming confident, yet have privately battled with such crippling anxiety and depression for so long.

It is utterly damaging to assume that the people around us that we deem to be happy/confident/‘put together’ have not, or are not struggling in some capacity. We can never know what the people we encounter on a daily basis are going through. We’re all facing our own battles, however big or small.

So, be a little kinder.

Show a little more compassion.

And let the people in your life know that you are there for them, that you care about them, regardless of whether you think they’re in a place where they need to be told - because, truly, we can never hear it enough.

My instagram where I share more mental health stories is @letmeluce

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.