February 12, 2013

Rebecca, a Time to Change bloggerWhen you find out you have a mental illness what tends to be the first thing most of us feel? Embarrassment? Shame? Relief that you know what's wrong? Very few people will feel the last emotion, instead first focusing on the shock and embarrassment of the whole situation. A mental health problem?! Does that mean I'm crazy? I know that's how I felt when I was diagnosed with depression at a young age, so I kept it to myself.

As I grew up, it became a lot harder to disguise my problems, especially after taking so much time off school. Then, as I started to work, I began to face even more problems. Taking time off school was difficult but manageable but taking time off work meant I was going to get fired. And I did. A lot. There would be days on end I would take off sick but never be able to explain to my bosses what was wrong with me. I was still so embarrassed and ashamed. I'd remain sociable, however, and enjoyed (brief) stints in sales and even behind a bar.

During the middle of last year something hit me. Panic: a really strong fear of leaving my home, my comfort zone or going anywhere near a public place. I didn't want to come face to face with anybody and just sat there crying my heart out for what felt like days on end. My partner (Jacob) was extremely confused and was desperate to get me to see a doctor. I was still too ashamed to tell him that I had depression and mental health problems.

I was told I had agoraphobia

I finally gave in and was bundled into a taxi to see my doctor, through a lot of crying and nervous shaking. I told Jacob that I had depression, which worsened when my mother passed away in 2008. I'd tried to cope on my own but it seemed as though everything had finally got on top of me. I was given medication to calm me down and was told that I had agoraphobia, which is a fear of leaving the house, public spaces, any kind of social situation where I could be made to feel uncomfortable. Me? Surely not!

I knew I would never be able to work with this illness, which is why I started working from home on a freelancing website. I wrote blogs, articles, copy and website content for money. However, I wanted to do more. I wanted to stop feeling so ashamed and embarrassed about this problem, this illness, this 'craziness'.

I began creating a book of people's mental health stories

I started putting together a book of people's mental health stories at the end of last year, as well as pictures, artwork and so on. As it is being crowd funded for self publishing it began to pick up attention from the press and I got an e-mail from BBC Radio Kent: 'Would you like to come and talk about your illness on the radio?'

Could I possibly get to the studio (about 2 minutes walk from my home) and sit talking to thousands of people about my illness? Something I had hidden from as many people as possible for so long? I said I would get back to the producer and spoke to my partner (who I live with) and my dad about it. Their responses were exactly the same: it's time to talk.

I made a nervy trip to BBC Radio Kent

On Monday the 14th January I made a very nervy trip to the BBC Radio Kent studio with my Dad there for support. I thought I was going to pass out or be sick on the way but as soon as I met the team there I felt instantly better. Everyone was so supportive and understanding. Just after 10am I spoke for around 20 minutes with Julia George about my struggles, my awareness project and the discrimination in my life.

At 10.30am, on my way home, I felt as though something had been lifted. Perhaps not forever, but for that moment in time I felt normal. I wanted to go and sit in the cafe and have a drink, or pop to the shops on my own. I know it's never going to be that easy but just talking genuinely made me feel better. Especially when I saw the amount of support I had through social networks, my text messages and e-mails from those that had listened.

I wish it was time to talk for everyone

Now all I can say is that I wish it was time to talk for everyone. The main reason for me putting together the book is to give everybody a chance to talk; to raise awareness and stop this feeling of shame or embarrassment. We're not crazy, we're just like everybody else.

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