September 20, 2013

RohanStigma: a word with a haunting echo when applied to mental health. We suffer from it, medical professionals worry about it and, as campaigners, the mental health profession is doing everything to eradicate it. Stigma is omnipresent but unwelcome.

In considering stigma, our first thought is always with those ‘currently’ suffering, and rightfully so. What we often fail to do, however, is consider those who have recovered from mental illness, many of whom still feel scared or even ashamed to speak about their experiences.

To recover from a serious condition is something about which any individual should feel joyful and proud, never embarrassed or fearful. If they feel the latter then there is evidently something exceptionally amiss in the wider perception of mental illness.

I was suffering with bipolar

At the height of my suffering with bipolar, I did not have the mental capacity to consider the stigma and judgement. Besides, deep inside, I knew that my behaviour had become so erratic that it was inevitable and, on some occasions, even justifiable. When I say justifiable, I mean simply that I had not turned around to the world and said I was suffering with manic depression, so why should the world simply assume I was?

Life was most precarious at the entry into mixed state, as I went from mania into depression. I often ‘managed’ this transition with alcohol, so what people often saw was someone who binge drunk and could not handle the consequences.

There were hurtful accusations of 'attention seeking'

When the constant roller-coaster inevitably imploded, it resulted in a far more hurtful accusation of ‘attention seeking’ after 2 major overdoses. In a way, they were right – I cannot, with hand on heart, say I wanted to die, certainly not the first time. I really was crying out for help in the clichéd sense.

The second occasion was much darker and uncontrolled and I am simply fortunate to have survived. However, it changed my life – I knew, in that moment that I was in a desperate fight for my life. Just as fighting any other serious illness, I was a dead man walking if I did not seek help.

My recovery was intensely private

My recovery was intensely private, as if a line was drawn in the sand and we did not talk of what happened before it. Only a handful of people, if that, knew about my struggles. Even with my life rebuilt, it remained taboo; I was healthy and happy, why would I let others judge me by my past?

After 4 years without a manic or depressive episode, in October 2010, I finally realised that my story, like so many others, was powerful and could really help others. I was listening to someone speak about World Mental Health Day, and I knew the time had come to speak.

I went home and started typing

I went home and started typing. I typed, typed, and typed a little more. With no little trepidation, I pressed the publish button on my website and heard the sounds of a constant stream of emails coming into my inbox over the next few hours but did not move.

Later, I sat at my PC to find an inbox and twitter feed that had never seen such activity and, moreover, the response was so very positive. A few were from people I knew but more were from strangers just thanking me for writing something with which they could empathise and for giving them hope that, even from the depths, there was hope.

It is time to end ignorant assumptions

Depression is an illness that takes the life of many in a tragic way that is difficult to fathom. It is time to obliterate the outdated and ignorant assumptions surrounding it. There is a road to recovery but it starts deep within.

I decided, that day, to dedicate as much of the rest of my life as I possibly could, to making a difference and reaching out to those in pain. Since then, I have volunteered at Time to Change Roadshows, given a personal testimony to an audience of over 300 and am about to take on the challenge of 3 half-marathons and next year’s London Marathon to raise money for Mind.

I cannot change the world alone but, if I can make a difference to even a single life, then every day that I spent in darkness will have been worthwhile. It is Time to Talk and I have no intention of shutting up.

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