I have recently completed a 7-week CBT group therapy programme and am currently taking medication for severe depression and anxiety. However, it took me a long time to talk about my mental health issues. About 6 years in fact.
I was always the academic, “pretty” and friendly one. This put an enormous amount of pressure on me to maintain a certain perception of myself and to hide the issues and demons that I was struggling with, including difficulties with poor body image.
I have very supportive family and friends, but for years I felt that if I opened up about how my mind was suffering that I would be a burden on them. I never knew how to explain how or why I was feeling so low all the time, and how to ask for help. At school, university or at work, I didn't feel that there was a safe and comfortable environment to be able to talk. I didn’t think that anyone would understand me.
I felt that I had to hide how I was struggling because there was nothing for people to physically see. But my anxiety and depression had many visible effects, such as causing me to sleep too much, isolate myself from social interactions, lose interest in doing anything, have a poor appetite, and develop an obsession over my weight.
People seemed to misunderstand these behaviours for me being moody, miserable, boring and lazy, and some people’s responses to them were quite unhelpful: “Why are you so miserable all the time” and “all you do is sleep”. It isn’t easy to hear those words, because it’s so difficult to explain why you feel like the only thing you want to do is close the bedroom blinds and curl up under the cover in the dark.
I avoided any sort of social activities considered “normal” for a 19-year-old; to the point I moved home after my first year of university. Whilst my flatmates joined in with fresher activities, I would make excuses to stay in the flat alone. This was such a sharp contrast to the previous year where I would be out near enough every day at a different pub or bar. At this point of partying all the time I was acting out and trying to maintain a false image of myself. I felt so low and uncomfortable in the body I am in, I made unhealthy decisions.
As I continued to hide my mental health problems, I became very distance from my best friends and my relationships suffered. I felt so alone and that I was bringing everyone around me down with me. By pretending to be “fine”, it felt like a vicious circle that I couldn’t get out of for so long.
Everyone has ups and downs, and good days and bad days, and so I didn't want to sound like I was being dramatic. I was also worried that I would be judged or not taken seriously because I didn't think my mental illness was as bad or extreme as some people who suffer much worse. In some way I felt that mental illness was categorized into serious and not serious.
What you don’t realise, is that so many people do and will understand. The anxiety I felt about the initial conversation was much worse than the conversation itself. I was worried that opening up to my mum and doctor would be totally embarrassing and awkward. In fact, it felt like the whole world had been lifted off my shoulders.
Those initial conversations opened up the door to getting the professional help I needed, and on the whole, reactions to me talking about my mental health were very genuinely supportive. My friends are understanding and patient with my anxiety and depression. They may not all relate but they do their best to identify when I need some support, and just ask me how I am doing.
Negative labels and terms for mental health are often thrown around so lightly that it makes it difficult for someone to say that they are struggling. People need to choose their words more carefully, and stop to think why someone is acting differently, and make a point to sit down and have a conversation rather than assuming that someone is “being moody all the time”.