As I psych myself up to write this, I contemplate how many things I have had to psych myself up for already today...getting out of bed, getting washed, brushing my hair, eating, driving to work, focusing on conversations, meeting deadlines, remembering what I have to do and in what order, and this is all before midday. This has been a part of my 'routine' for the last 15 years and it is exhausting.
I have always been an anxious person but this developed into an eating disorder when I was 15 and I was diagnosed with depression at around 21, when I knew I needed to talk to somebody about the severity of my mental health issues. Nothing in particular triggered my anxiety and depression; a fact that made it harder for those around me to understand. I hid it for years and thought I was coping through self-harm. I was wrong.
When I finally told my parents, after 7 years of gradually growing apart because of this unspoken truth that lay between us, I thought all my problems would be solved. It turns out, talking is only the beginning. What I didn't realise was how hard it is for loved ones to come to terms with such devastating news, and I realised that they had no idea how to treat me once they knew that I had been struggling in silence. They blamed themselves, they referred to it as a phase, they suggested remedies, they trod on eggshells. Just when I thought I could breathe again, the air was sucked out of me by all of these overwhelming reactions, making me feel I had to hide again. They needed support as much as I did, which is partly why I am writing this blog. It took another 5 years to tell them that the problem hadn't gone away with time; it wasn't a phase, and that I am now medicated to help me cope.
The thing is, those with mental illness don't need a quick fix. We don't need lots of presents. We don't need to feel guilty that we didn't speak out sooner. We don't need to be reminded of how lucky we are and how it could be worse. We need you to listen, to check in, to educate yourself, to accept this part of us. To understand that what we are going through is real and the longer it is hidden away, the longer it takes for us to bring it into the open and get support.
It's been two years since I have self-harmed, but not a day since I haven't fought with my own thoughts and felt exhausted after playing the part each and every day. I have since told some of my colleagues and those who have understood have made me want to be here longer. My best friends who call just to see how I am doing that day, have made the worst days bearable by making me feel safe to talk. My mental health disorders haven't vanished and still cause me no end of pain, but I can finally see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
The times I have felt most supported have been over a cup of tea, talking freely about my conditions, without fear of judgment. There is such a long way to go, and not everyone in my life is as supportive as others. I still have days when I am looked at in pity or told to 'Smile, it’s not the end of the world'. If nothing else comes from this, I hope one person chooses to ask and listen to those of us who are begging internally for support but are terrified to say it out loud. Those who did saved my life. Be those people.