, January 25, 2017

If someone reaches out to you, don't just turn them away. Listen. Make them feel safe. Support them.

I never realised what living with a mental illness entailed before I was diagnosed myself. I always believed that anxiety was just worrying, depression was just sadness and I never fully appreciated how hard it actually is waking up every single day, fighting a battle which nobody can see. Well, I never realised it until I was living it.

I remember when my anxiety first became a problem. I was approaching going to back to school, Year 11 of all years, the big GCSE year, the one where the stress can really break students. I have always been extremely academic. I've always enjoyed school. But this time, something changed. I was terrified. It was as if someone was sending me to my death. Not to the place where I loved to be. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't even breathe and I didn't know why. The pain of my own heart hammering inside my chest. I didn't understand why I had this feeling of dread and sickness deep inside my stomach. This carried on for weeks until I visited my GP and that's when I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

The pain I was experiencing was in fact a panic attack. Who would have thought it? I didn't know what it was. I had no idea. But suddenly, everything made sense. All the scary thoughts and all the dread I was feeling finally had an explanation. Not knowing what was wrong with me was the thing that was driving my anxiety levels sky high. But now I had my answer... so why did I feel worse?

I've watched people with mental health issues be tore apart because they suffer from simply a chemical imbalance. Because believe it or not, that's all that anxiety is. It's nothing besides your serotonin levels being slightly lower than everybody else's. Our minds just work differently. Does this make us outcasts? Unfortunately, it does. But it shouldn't.

The stigma surrounding people suffering with anxiety and other mental illnesses need to stop. Throw away comments referring to suicide and depression needs to stop. The mental health community need to be made to feel as normal as everyone else. Not treated differently. Not put down and made to feel punished for who they are. It's uncontrollable. Don't you think that if we could control it, we would? Who would choose to feel like they can't breathe 24/7? Who would choose to be made fun of and put down for having an illness? Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there.

If someone said to you, 'I'm not feeling very well today,' would you judge them and think of them differently? No, you wouldn't. So how come feeling anxious or low is such a taboo subject? It should be okay to admit how you feel. But it's not and that's what isn't acceptable.

I've always had somebody who I can open up to. But when I was first diagnosed, I honestly felt so isolated and I felt as if I was all alone. Certain teachers have been amazing with the support they have given me. The specific members of staff know who they are and I honestly couldn't be more appreciative of them. They didn't give me pity. They just offered me a place to go. And that's all I ever wanted. Mental health is such an important part of who we are and I feel like being able to discuss it, even with just a few people, has made such an impact on me and left me feeling like I'm not all alone in this world.

If someone reaches out to you, don't just turn them away. Listen. Don't just throw counselling in their face. Make them feel safe. Support them. Because imagine if it was you. I never believed I would be in the position I am in now, but I am. The lesson I've learned, is don't make assumptions about something you don't understand. Educate yourself. It's the only way subjects such as mental health will one day be as freely spoken about as the common cold. So this Time to Talk Day, make sure your friends and family know you’re there to talk – it could change their lives.

To anybody who is suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. We are who we are and you shouldn't feel ashamed about feeling the way you do. Find somebody you can trust. Somebody who you can go to if you do feel low or anxious or even if life begins to feel like it's all too much. Be honest. Be open. But most importantly, be you.

Find Amy on Twitter on @amyy_dc

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