A couple of months ago my whole world got thrown upside down when I got given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.
For those of you who don't know, schizoaffective disorder is a mix of two mental health problems - schizophrenia and in my case severe depression. I struggle with both of these on a daily basis. At first I found the diagnosis completely overwhelming, but in other ways, I finally had a reason for my suicidal lows, the tormenting voices and the manic highs that had become such a norm for me.
Although I had the feeling of overwhelming relief that my struggles were medical and not just me 'going mad', I still had the fear and tribulation etched deep inside of me. I was scared I would never be the same again, I was scared that I would never accept my illness, scared of how far my depression could push me and how I might one day react to the voices. But with the help of professionals, family and friends, I found it does get better, but I had to learn to be open and talk about it first.
This brings me onto a hard subject which is speaking up and talking about mental illness. Although I am slowly accepting my illness and the person it has led me to become, I still have trouble speaking about it. Maybe this is because I am not ready to, or maybe because a lack of knowledge in todays society leads people to judge, label and mock.
But if more people speak up about their illnesses and more information is provided to the public about mental health, then hopefully we can change the stigma and discrimination that so sadly comes hand in hand with mental health problems.
I believe that by speaking up about my own experience, the dialogue surrounding mental health can only move forward and together we can end the stigma and discrimination that surrounds the topic.
Although I am affected by my illness as an individual, I refuse to let people think I am defined by my illness. I hope this short blog helps people to understand that we each define ourselves, and no matter how severe the illness, it should never make someone feel isolated, worthless or ashamed.
Writing this has been extremely hard for me, but I hope by reading this it will empower people to speak up about their illnesses and to make people aware that mental health problems can happen to anybody.
For anyone reading this I would say, please don't judge, label or mock someone with a different experience to you. Be empathetic, understanding and open to the things that people just like you live with every day. Together we can make the world a better place by ending stigma and discrimination around mental health.