I'm 21 and starting my third year of university, though technically as I took a year out because of my illness, I am still a second year. I couldn't wait to move out of my home for first year so I could have so well-earned freedom. Throw a mental illness into the mix when you come home for the summer after this utter high of a year, and your life is turned upside down. From here, I first experienced stigma and discrimination.
When you are also juggling a mental illness, in my case mixed anxiety-depressive disorder, everyday tasks become so much harder. "Lazy" becomes a hurtful word. The standard lectures of "oh come on, you haven't seen your dad's side of the family for so long. You're not experiencing anxiety, you just want to go upstairs for the sake of it" and "don't be so silly, you're not depressed, you're laughing!" make you angry and the arguments start. Because you aren’t lazy, and you love your family but cannot stand in a room when your heart is racing and everyone wants to ask you questions and the walls are closing in. You are doing everything at your own pace to just get by.
At university, I have horrendous weeks where leave the washing up, forget to clean my teeth, don't remember to empty the bins, or pay bills. I forget to shower and my appetite is never regular. Friends can think I'm lazy, when in reality I am exhausted. When I don't want to go out, or even drink alcohol they say I'm "boring and need to lighten up". If I try to tell my parents that I need extra leeway because of what I am going through, they just chuck it back in my face and have a go at my for making excuses for not doing housework. They have no idea how much it hurts me - as most of the time I know things need to be done, but my depression prevents it. I have to sleep, I have to meditate, I have to pray.
When I go to lectures, my anxiety flares up and I can't stay. I skip lessons to get fresh air. I'm not truanting because I hate my subject, I am escaping an environment my body cannot stand being in. The way people react to knowing someone they love has a mental illness needs to change. I have started speaking more openly in the hope I can turn their opinions around.
I have faced stigma from family, from friends, from co-workers. You explain that sometimes you have to turn back when on a day out so you can rest, and you get yelled at for being "unfit”. I am sorry if my body gets drained from panicking about the number of people in the shopping centre, or the lecture theatre. I am sorry that the constant emptiness inside me that weighs me down constantly means that I can snap out at you. My depression and anxiety are not excuses for me bailing. Mental illness is serious and I have to look after myself else I cannot be me. Having the courage to speak out and change the minds of those around you to get rid of stigma is challenging, but rewarding.
Stigma and discrimination around mental illnesses is disgraceful and needs to be destroyed. Would you tell a cancer-fighter that they need to snap out of it and get outside? Just because my illness is not visible, doesn't mean that I am not suffering.