My mental illness is something I find extremely difficult to be open about. As someone who is somewhat of an introvert and doesn’t talk about personal feelings much, the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illnesses only makes it more difficult.
Misunderstanding made me question if I was actually suffering from a mental illness
I suffer from a mixture of depression and anxiety; sometimes one may outweigh the other but I feel as though they are both fuelled by each other. I first thought I may be depressed when I was in my first year of university. There wasn’t a particular event or scenario which triggered it; it was just there. It felt like nothing but everything – everything was a waste of time, everything bad happened to me, everything about myself I hated. To everyone else, I was ‘normal’ because it became normal to me to pretend that I was fine but only I knew how I really felt inside my head. When I went home during university term break, my mum noticed I wasn’t ‘myself’ and one day I eventually broke down and admitted to her that I thought I might be depressed. I thought that it would lift a huge weight off my shoulders but it didn’t. She immediately bombarded me with questions asking why I was depressed, had something happened, are you being bullied, are you confused about your sexuality, are you finding university too much... the list was endless. I felt a large degree of misunderstanding; it made me question whether I was actually suffering from a mental illness or just over exaggerating or even being ungrateful.
I knew I couldn’t keep my feelings bottled up inside
I did end up going to see my GP a while after telling my mum. It was something I was reluctant to do because I knew I would face the same questions that my mum asked which is physically and emotionally exhausting. When I told the GP that I thought I was depressed, she asked me why, I explained. She said she would take a blood test but as I was going back to university in a few days - I left feeling it was a massive waste of time. My mum encouraged me to make an appointment with the mental health counsellor as part of my university’s student services where I filled out a questionnaire rating how I was feeling. I knew I was going to be asked questions I didn’t feel comfortable talking about but I knew I couldn’t keep it bottled up inside, no matter how difficult I found it to open up. At my session with the university counsellor, I was offered counselling or CBT but I wasn’t able to start this until about 5 months later due to long waiting lists and the summer break. The 5 months when I was waiting seemed like the most self-destructive I’ve felt. Every day was a bad day where dark thoughts constantly crossed my mind and I felt as though there was no point to life.
I still have bouts of depression and anxiety but I know I have made progress
When I went back to university to start my second year, I did eventually start CBT sessions with the same counsellor I saw previously. I talked to her about what I was feeling and helped me understand why I may be feeling that way in order to find a way to improve it. Although only a limited number of sessions were offered, CBT was overall helpful to me. I still have bouts of depression and anxiety and they will never fully go away but, when I think of how I was feeling a year ago and how I feel today, I know I have made progress and continue to do so. Self-help books and just taking a deep breath are things I use daily to help me combat my negative thoughts.
I know that I still have a long way to go and I sometimes feel very reluctant to tell anyone about my mental illness because of the misunderstanding and stigma. I don’t want to be interrogated and explain something which I barely understand myself and I don’t want to be pitied or feel patronised because of it. Suffering from anxiety only makes it more difficult to not feel judged so I hope that with the help of campaigns like Time to Change, people have a better understanding of what mental illness is.