I think my childhood has had a devastating impact on my life but I don’t think it defines me.
I developed emeotophobia (a fear of vomiting) as a result and very low self esteem.
I had a little girl but couldn’t look after her because of my fear of becoming ill. This was perhaps the most heart-breaking price I paid for my own childhood.
One time I was sick just the once when she was three months old and lost more than a stone in a week because of the resulting panic attacks. I was unable to take adequate care of my baby.
My parents refused to understand
And do you know what? Even today my parents refuse to understand, have never even picked up a book on anxiety and have totally closed their minds to mental illness.
Yet I have forgiven them.
I love my parents unconditionally. An emotion they were unable to share with me. Yet if they had been entirely aware of what they were doing to me, would they have done it? I don’t believe so. This is where my forgiveness stems.
And this is why I forgive society when it condemns me for not being able to work, when it judges me for parking on double yellow lines and when it laughs at me for having bad teeth because I can’t see a dentist.
It is purely down to ignorance and a lack of understanding and empathy.
Many don't understand what it's like to live with a mental illness
If people really knew what it was like to live with a mental illness, would they be so cruel and even occasionally malicious? Would they be so dismissive and judgmental?
If only, just for one day, they could walk in my shoes.
I was affected greatly by the response of a friend to my issues with anxiety and agoraphobia. He informed me that he was mentally stronger than me and that I was basically nuts! This hurt a lot but I felt also that I had to educate him as though he was judging me, he had it completely wrong.
I explained that many people who suffer any sort of mental health problem are often extremely brave, they are far from weak. Every single day they face one demon or other, complete a task that is challenging or face up to their fears. That takes an enormous amount of mental strength.
In my mind, for a person who suffers from mild agoraphobia, going to the local shop takes more courage than someone else without such a fear to do a bungee jump! I believe that people with mental health problems are so regularly considered as somehow inferior and, though I don’t wish to put myself on a pedestal, the positive outcome of living with such problems has enabled me to become an empathetic, compassionate and courageous person who would stand up for others, no matter what the consequences, who would protect those suffering and who would try very hard to do the right thing.
I helped my friend understand
I have endured several negative life experiences that have coloured my view of the world, have helped me to become the quite intense and passionate person I am today but I see life as a journey and, though my life has been far from blessed, there is a purpose to it all...to use my understanding to help others.
My friend had no idea what it was like to have a panic attack, no understanding of the terror, no appreciation of the struggle as well as the lack of knowledge about mental health problems! I was there to help him appreciate what being me is really like and I hope this shared knowledge will enable him to be more sympathetic to others with mental health problems in the future.
It is up to us to educate those who don’t understand
It is up to us to educate those who don’t understand. Sometimes, just doing this can be painful, but unless we break down such barriers; ignorance and discrimination of mental illness will continue.
I would never turn my back on someone suffering but if I can help just one person to hold out their hand to another who is in emotional pain when they wouldn’t have before, then I have accomplished something wonderful.
One day, I really do hope, we will achieve more open-mindedness and compassion in society for others with mental illness.