Leanne, April 18, 2019

When we struggle with mental health, there often seem to be more darker days than bright. The days we feel alone and need that bit more support. If the support is not there, it becomes all the more cruel. We feel more alone than ever. The ones we expect to support us the most, those closest to us can be the most stigmatising and it becomes harder to see a positive side to life. But with time things can, and do, change.

In my life I have experienced stigma by the same very people. Friends – who are no longer a part of my life and my family. Those who are supposed to support you no matter what. Your blood. Your constant support. Throughout my life I remember many moments where stigma occurred, at the age of 6 not so much. It was difficult to tell because help was sought for me and I was young. When my panic attacks started at 10 years old, I would often go to the doctors but phrases such as, “stop milking it”, were used. At this point when I was slightly older, a large amount of paper tissue was shoved into my arm that was already in a spasm, more pain was caused.

When I started year 11, I sought secondary care because I became even more unwell. I was labelled dramatic and family openly admitted they did not believe me, and criticism was more open as well. Over time, people found me intolerable, I was made to feel stupid over self-injury incidents with them asking why I did it or what was the point in it. After coming home from hospital, I was met with rage and yelled at. I have been labelled a manipulator over the years. I heard the common phrase of “at least you don't have __”.

In these moments, it was blisteringly painful not to have that love and support I so desperately needed but I kept hoping, and did so for a long time, for things to improve and my only solace was my friendship with my best friend of a decade.

She shared her journey whilst I shared mine and would always listen judgement free and our bond strengthened. 

I will never truly comprehend the reasoning behind all of what has happened in my life. But overall, I know that mental health education was non-existent, it was never taught and mental illness was never acknowledged. My experiences were almost unknown to my family beyond depression as an adult. So to see a 15 year old girl going through a breakdown must have been a shock to the system.

I didn't know how to educate them and there were no resources available to the masses that were deemed appropriate. My family were as unsure as me as to what was going on. It is not in our nature to be able to accept suffering, there is always a fight against it no matter what the situation is. This is what happened. My family could not accept that someone so young could struggle so much with their mind, the pain of emotions amongst many other things. More cruel comments were made through thoughtless anger and confusion. It was not what they truly felt.

It is difficult to pinpoint a particular moment when things changed. I suppose it occurred naturally with better resources becoming available, a better expression from myself and other family members falling on hard times. It was seeing me grow, and me letting them in to seeing more than the manic and the anxious parts of me. Since last year, I have finally and truly become unashamedly me, so if there is any negativity, it is kept to themselves.

But now I experience more positive comments on how far I have come on this long journey, how much I have grown, they check to see if I am okay. In particular, the relationship with my mother is amazing. We talk about mental health in general, I share my passions with her and she finds different information intriguing. She asks me questions and reminds me it's okay if I am feeling low and to do what I need to do. I am closer than ever with my sister, especially in the last few months. Whilst mental health isn't spoken about too often, I am no longer worried about conversation starters with her, I can just talk.

I chose to move forward (not on) with everything because negativity becomes wasted energy and it drags me further down. Plus, I am not in their head either. For us to be understood, we must also understand them. To anyone struggling with what I have experienced, please know, there is a way forward and you must never lose hope or sight of that. Positive change will happen and I have every faith you will be okay. For those knowing people who have mental illness, please just be kind and you will do far more good for them by listening and supporting them, don't change the positive relationship you already have.

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