People always have a lot to say about mental illness. Now I’d like to have my say, so I have decided to write my own story of what living with a mental illness means. This may not resonate with the feelings that many of you go through, but I do hope that it gives an idea of my everyday life and will therefore give you a better understanding.
When I was 18 I was diagnosed with depression. There were things happening in my life that I both caused and could not control. As I grew older, this illness manifested in many different ways; I could not understand my overly emotional responses to everyday life and the reasons that I struggled, in a way that was different to every forum post on depression that I read on the internet. It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned, after years of different general and medical practitioners, that I actually had generalized anxiety disorder. It explained the reason that I would shut down and sleep as a response to anything difficult in my life. It explained the random pains I experienced for over a year, which was actually a response to stress and loud noises.
This diagnosis, whilst unpleasant, unlocked a new stage in my life; one in which I could finally try and tackle the thing that was crippling and prohibiting me from being a “normal”, contributing member of society.
“I could now see that I was 'walking through sand'.”
This analogy is something that came into my mind last week but is something that I feel applies to anyone suffering from any mental or 'invisible' illness. Imagine you are in a marathon held on the beach. You and every other contestant are judged in the same manner and the same expectations are held of you. You start to run but you realise that everyone else is running on concrete and you are running on the sand. For every three steps they take, you take five. Beads of sweat are running down your face but everyone else is just chatting happily amongst themselves: this is what growing up with a mental illness is like - well for me at least.
Yet instead of using this as an excuse for every mistake I've ever made in my life, I've decided that I am going to instead use it as a personal appraisal. Not only did I do laundry today, but it was twice as hard and I accomplished it. I might be overly emotional but that means that I appreciate music (for example) on a level that other people may not be able to.
If you are friends with anyone who has a mental illness, remember to take note of their small accomplishments. Washing your hair might seem like a trivial everyday task for some people but I can tell you, on a personal level, that paragliding off a mountain was less distressing than the feeling I get when I wake up and get ready to leave the house. Similarly, eating a regular healthy diet or even cooking three meals a day is a constant struggle. Today I've managed one and it was from McDonalds (it was fantastic).
“Mental illness hides itself in all sorts of places. It could be within your family, friendship group or that friend from work who always has a smile on their face.”
All I ask is to consider the next time someone is late, looks 70 per cent, or has an overly emotional response to an ‘everyday’ situation, they're probably not a bad person; they're just walking through sand.