Claire, February 2, 2016

Claire_'s picImagine breaking your leg, it’s a bad break and you’re in a lot of pain, but you’re afraid to ask for help. It’s only a broken leg right? I mean it hurts like hell and you can barely function, but still, you shouldn’t say anything. Besides, what would everybody think? It’s embarrassing, you’re clearly a weak and unstable person. What if they start questioning your ability to do your job properly, or look after your children? You don’t want to seem like a liability.

Each morning you notice the leg is getting worse, but you don’t want to take a leave of absence from work while it heals, it’s too risky. Instead you just grin and bear it day in and day out until eventually you collapse.

Mental health stigma is not acceptable

This scenario is ridiculous right? I mean, who would go into work with a broken leg? Now insert the words ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ in its place. Suddenly the situation becomes more acceptable. But the truth is, it’s NOT. To all the employers out there, if a colleague phoned in work sick with ‘depression’, would you be as understanding as if they’d phone in with a stomach bug? (Oh and let’s be honest, we all know that ‘stomach bug’ means “I’m hungover”)!

Just because you can’t see the damage doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

I was afraid of what others would think

I spent nearly ten years battling anxiety and panic attacks in secret, because I was so afraid of what others would think of me. I felt ashamed and instead punished myself for being so pathetic. “Why couldn’t I just be normal like everyone else?” I thought. As with all health conditions, hiding it simply made it worse and eventually the strain triggered a nervous breakdown. I was signed off work for a month.

The power of truth and talking

Ironically “coming out” and being honest about my anxiety was the best thing I ever did. Never underestimate the power of truth: I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I finally accepted how I was feeling and got some much needed help. I was on the path to recovery. Once back at work, being able to be honest with my boss was a huge relief. I would explain that I was having a bad day mentally and that I might seem quieter than normal. Just saying the words out loud took the sting out of the situation.  

Now for someone who has never experienced mental illness I can understand the confusion. But by being willing to talk about it openly is a huge step. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (respectfully) and find out more. Encouraging somebody to talk is like setting the leg in plaster, it will heal faster.

There's nothing to be ashamed of

At the end of the day everyone has a brain, so surely we should all look after our mental health in the same way we do our physical health? Sometimes, we all need a little help. There is nothing to be ashamed of and the more we talk about it openly, the more the stigma will be reduced. That’s why I will be taking part in Time to Talk Day, and it’s why you should join the conversation too. 

You can read Claire's regular blog about anxiety and panic attacks at weallmadhere.com, and follow her on twitter @claireylove

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