August 31, 2012

Viv reading The Worry Trap | Time to Change blogsI’m a panicker. My anxiety extends from the general extreme worrying marathon (‘what if?’ is my morbid mantra) to hyperventilating on the floor and begging my boyfriend not to leave me – even to go to the bathroom. I’ve taken happy pills with tranquilizer chasers, I’ve swallowed basinfuls of Kalms, I’ve spritzed a thousand Rescue Remedy bottles, drunk a million decaf tranquillity teas and drenched most of my possessions in lavender oil. I have panic disorder and sometimes it’s the closest thing to hell that I can imagine.

I also speak passionately about reducing mental health stigma to anyone who will listen. All who know me, know me as a proud, confident, attractive, successful young woman. I read Time to Change religiously, I applaud public figures who ‘come out’ of the mental health closet, I write a blog about my experiences and I even start public debates around the issues. But at the centre of this whirlwind of positive activity, is a dark, shameful heart – one that I am actually hugely embarrassed to admit.

A lot of the time I hate myself with a passion for having a mental health condition 

Here goes. A lot of the time I hate myself with a passion for having a mental health condition and I beat myself up relentlessly for doing so. In fact, the worst stigma, judgement and ‘crazy’ labels I have ever received have been at my own hand.

Don’t get me wrong – huge stigma and ignorance does exist out there, in the world, and we have a massive job on our hands to try to break those taboos wholesale. And those misunderstandings and prejudices actually form a big part of the cultural context to my own preconceptions and lack of compassion. But the real battleground, for me, exists in first removing the condition-related insults that I level at myself so that I can honestly and genuinely be an ambassador for the kind of social change we so desperately need.

I grow better at this everyday... by giving myself a break for the things I cannot control

I grow better at this everyday: by observing myself and seeing what an incredible and successful person I am, despite my struggles; by refusing to hate myself for having a mental illness every time I sympathise with someone for having a ‘physical’ illness, like diabetes, or cancer; by gradually learning techniques of self-compassion and by giving myself a break for the things I cannot control.

But mostly, if I’m honest, I grow better by reading blogs and articles like these, which are a window on the lives of so many beautiful, talented, inspired and inspiring people who are so much more than ‘PTSD’ or ‘OCD’ or ‘depressed’. They are (YOU are!) people who forge incredible and noble lives against a background of genuine horror, unhappiness and struggle and as such, are my real-life heroes. And who knows – maybe one day, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll even start to see myself as one of them – and I hope you do, too!*

*See yourself as one of the heroes, that is, not me as one of them. Sigh, you see – my anxiety couldn’t even let me finish this article without poking its ugly head in!!

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