A lesson that I have recently learnt and am finally starting to embrace is that there is no shame in doing things at your own pace in order to get by. It is not ‘lazy’ when you can’t peel yourself from your bed because your busy mind has kept you awake all night and you are too exhausted to face the day. It is not ‘antisocial’ when, at the last minute, you can’t attend that event that’s been planned for months because your heart is racing and the walls are closing in. These are not ‘excuses’; they are indicators of much bigger issues that need to start being listened to and taken seriously.
Some people may not understand this at first, but do not let this put you off opening up and sharing your struggles. Most of the time, the reason that people do not 'get it' is because they are ignorant to mental illness, not necessarily out of choice, but because they might have never had the chance to talk openly about it – the more we speak up, the more people’s eyes will open.
Anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses are interlaced with guilt, self-judgement and feeling unworthy. These feelings are only perpetrated further by the stigma and silence they are often met with.
I struggled through university, missed lectures and ‘precious’ time off placements, and questioned whether I’d ever actually make it to graduating and becoming a qualified nurse. It was a difficult time, but I got there. Despite everything, I graduated with a first class honours degree, got a job at one of the leading children’s hospitals cardiology wards and have made it through my first year as a nurse, despite many significant melt-downs.
A big turning point was one day, at the start of second year, my housemate asked me what was wrong and instead of saying ‘oh, it’s nothing’, I opened up and told her that I was finding things pretty challenging and that I was considering dropping out altogether. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one and after living together for a whole year, we finally realised we were both going through the same thing – our stories were scarily similar.
Before that conversation, I couldn’t think of anything worse than opening up about how I was feeling but it was such a huge relief and weight off my shoulders to talk openly to someone who understood!
If we hadn’t have had this chat, we wouldn’t have had each others help pull us out of difficult places with various wellbeing days, cups of tea and shoulders to cry on – or to celebrate the good days and the little things together.
With this in mind, I actively encourage anyone to speak up about mental health – even if you are not struggling yourself, you may be surprised to find how many people are!
If we spent more time supporting and looking out for one another, rather than judging, perhaps situations could change. We must change the dialogue and attitude to mental illness, and it starts with us.