I am not good enough. I am not worthy of love. I am not smart enough. I am not successful enough. I am not slim enough. I am not pretty enough.
I am one of the 1 in 4 people who suffer from mental illness.
Though mental illness is at the forefront of the media today, there are still many people living in ignorance, fuelling a stigma around mental illness that still hasn’t lifted. Everyone has a different life and therefore a different battle to fight every day. We have no idea what is happening behind closed doors or even worse, inside closed minds. Our minds can be a scary place at times. When they don’t allow us to function in our day to day routine we start to see the cracks in the perfect exterior.
Remarks like “Get over it" or “Everything will be ok" do not compute in the mind of those with mental health problems. They can come from those closest to us, like our parents, or the friends and colleagues who have never experienced mental illness. They try to be sympathetic but the words they choose to use can sometimes feel like a knife in the back. There are certain chemicals overloading our system that shouldn’t be, that can make us spiral into despair within our own minds, like a row of dominoes pushed to fall, it’s inevitable and more often than not, we have pushed them to fall ourselves.
There are definitive moments and decisions in my life that have led up to my diagnosis of anxiety and depression. From peer pressure at the young age of 8, to my father leaving as a teenager then abuse in my first serious relationship at 18. For some time I have been able to overcome my illness but in that time what I didn’t realise was that I was suffering in silence. It may come as a surprise to some people but those like me with a mental illness can have the ability to be strong willed. However, this is the quality in a person that leads to silence, the “I can sort this myself" or “No one needs to know" voices in your head. This is also the quality that means there will never be any substance abuse, alcohol, drugs or even eating disorders, because these can be seen by others, your change in character noticed by those close to you.
More and more this illness has affected my life. Though unknown to others, it made me retreat into my own mind when I was younger, making me an introvert. I constantly tried to seek approval from those around me. Tried to make and keep friends by impressing them. Tried to show I was worthy of their friendship. It made me strive for perfection in everything I do but if I didn’t receive the acknowledgement I put myself down, to the point where I wondered if I should even be breathing.
Stigma can exist in all areas of life. Recently my employer was unfairly treating a colleague who was off sick and taking medication for a mental illness. When I challenged my employer’s behaviour and told her I was taking the same medication for depression and anxiety, she looked at me as though I was suddenly worthless. "So that's what's wrong with you, that's why you're always spaced out." I felt so many mixed emotions, the first of which was anger, which is why I responded with my resignation letter but then after a while, I started blaming myself. Thinking that there was something wrong with me and that she was right.
When the one who claims to love you can make you feel so alone, in despair and unworthy of life; there’s a small part of you that disappears into darkness that you can never get back. It still affects me today more than I'd ever wish to admit. It took one special person to walk into my life and break down the walls I'd built so well. He held my hand whilst I crawled out of the shadows and I will love him forever for that. He still encourages me to this day to speak out about my experiences and my mental health and I know he'll be so proud of me, reading this. In a way I've helped him understand mental health more than he ever did before. He understands now that mental health is serious and our own dark thoughts sometimes can't be avoided. But he also understands that everyone's mental health makes them who they are, makes them unique.
If I didn't speak out, if I didn’t reach out to those around me, I don’t think I’d be alive today. I am overly ambitious and want to be successful but sometimes pain can cloud the determination, can make the path towards a brighter future arduous and impossible. In my recent revelations I have learnt that sharing my story and talking about my mental health has helped others. I think it’s time to share my story with everyone so that something good can come out of something so dark.
To anyone reading this, remember it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to seek help. It is ok to speak out. Please do not suffer in silence. Silence is painful, soul destroying and will never help you. You are not letting your parents down if you tell them you’re struggling. You do not become anything less to your true friends when you tell them you’re not doing so well. You will always have someone thinking of you because those with mental illness are never alone. If there are 7 people in a room with you, chances are one of them is struggling too.
Break the silence. Break the stigma.