February 28, 2012

Red flower"I have mental health problems". How daunting and overwhelming does that sound? It's certainly not something I've ever said aloud before. It feels strange, like something that applies to other people. But that's the thing about mental health isn't it ... it's all around and affects people you would never expect, who you would never suspect.

But once you start to face up to it, it feels like it's everywhere you turn, forcing you to accept what you've been denying for years. So here's the thing: "I have mental health problems. I experience repeated periods of depression". And guess what, the world didn't stop turning as I wrote that last full stop!  It has been with me on and off since I was a teenager, when I made some particularly inept suicide attempts. So why do I feel like such a fraud writing this? Because I have no official diagnosis and, apart from a very short period on anti-depressants in my twenties, I've never seen a medical professional and until late last year, I'd had no real help. I haven't got what I would call a 'serious condition' like bi-polar or schizophrenia and I have no significant trauma in my past to explain the way I feel. Yet I am depressed and I don't know how to control it.

So at the ripe old age of 30-something my inability to cope with the stresses of my life made me bite the bullet and look for help. Those stresses are nothing so major - I have a good life, with a stable job and loving husband - but still I find the pressure I put on myself hard to handle. And that's what makes it so hard to talk about, so hard to explain. How can I expect my boss, my family and friends to understand or take it seriously when I have nothing to complain about, no label to explain my feelings or behaviour? How could I hold my head up and talk about depression with no fear when all around me my peers are coping and achieving?

So I've started a journey into a whole new world - talking about how I really feel, diary keeping, depression scales, and probably generally leaving my unfortunate new therapist feeling like he's taken on an unpredictable whirlwind! I'm a few months in and it feels too early to say what the outcome will be - I'm not really sure what it should be? A miracle cure would be nice but for now it's a liberating feeling just to be able to talk and have space to share and be open without the need for that brave, external face of someone in control and coping with every day.

And since starting that journey, I've found a whole other world of information and support, of sites like this. And I hope that by writing this, albeit anonymously, in a small way it will help other people in my position come to feel that they too deserve support, regardless of diagnosis or history. For if I'm sure of anything, it's that I'm not unique. This is a small step compared to the brave people who share their stories publicly and openly for the benefit of all, but to me that's how big changes sometimes happen - with lots of  people taking one small step together. I might still be whispering but finally it is time for me to talk.

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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.