Being a 21 year old studying at university, I feel it is now time to be honest about my illnesses and not be ashamed of them anymore. Hiding them isn't going to help myself or anybody else, so I'm ready to talk.
Talking about mental health has always been an issue for me, mainly because the only things I've ever heard from people who have opened up have been negative. I strongly believe this is why it has taken me so long. I built up such a fear that I will be judged that I've kept even my closest friends and family in the dark.
Mental health problems are often 'invisible'
Last year I was admitted to a mental health facility after I had hit my lowest with depression and anorexia. I was so afraid of what might happen to the people that found out that I didn't tell my family for days. My housemates only found out when the paramedics came to the door and I was led out and put in the back of an ambulance. Not only was I terrified but I'm pretty sure my housemates were too. Keeping them in the dark hadn't helped myself and, looking back, I think it would have been easier to be open with them about it initially. It took four days of minimal contact over the phone with my family to finally tell the truth about how bad things had gotten, and the shame I felt was unbearable.
I believe it is difficult to explain any aspect of mental health, especially to anybody who has never experienced it, but also refuses to believe in such illnesses. My main battle with stigma is the the fact that (most of the time) mental health problems are 'invisible'; I struggle when people tell me I look well, or I look happy, because they don't see what I see in my head every day. I remember my Dad coming to visit me for the first time in the unit and telling me that he didn't realise things were serious. How do you make someone realise and how do you go about it without terrifying them?
I feel guilty when I'm having a bad day
After being in the inpatient unit for a considerable time last year I had to sacrifice my studies at university, but returned to repeat the year in September. I find it amazing how differently I have been treated with the people around me not knowing my circumstances and, although I am physically in a much better place than I was, I struggle mentally knowing that some of the people I am around don't know about my illnesses. I feel guilty when I'm having a bad day, relapsing or just generally not in a good headspace and I will continue to wonder if I would be accepted if I opened up to them.
Of course I don't blame the stigma on anybody, but I am certainly not helping myself by keeping people in the dark. I hope this can help people understand that I, like other people experiencing mental health illness, am more than my diagnoses.