I wanted to write about an experience of a person’s reaction towards my mental health and the impact that it has had on my life.
I was first diagnosed at the age of 15 years old with an anxiety disorder, (although looking back, I experienced symptoms at a much earlier age). This is when my funny, happy, bubbly and outgoing self, disappeared, literally overnight and I became a shadow of my former self. Darker than the night’s sky. I had turned into a girl that could barely speak or leave the house. I almost felt like I was in mourning. Mourning for the girl that had been there for the past 15 years. Gone.
When I did manage to face school, I was very distant and shut off from the world. I remember being with a group of friends one lunch time and they found it difficult to be around a completely different person, without any explanation as to where their friend had gone. Not really knowing what or why this was happening to me, I tried to explain, as best I knew how, that I had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and just wasn’t feeling very well. This was something that had never even been spoken about before, we were 15, meant to be having the time of our lives and no one around me knew or had experienced anything remotely similar before.
Things became even worse when someone in the group at school looked at me and said, “why don’t you think about Kevin in the year above, he’s got CANCER, try and imagine how he feels?!” and in that one moment, I have never felt so ashamed for having a mental illness. Who was I to complain about having anxiety when someone was suffering with a real medical condition, that was potentially life threatening? I felt numb. Their reaction was the catalyst to my spiral into severe anxiety and depression and where I was to internalize my suffering and shut off from the world even further.
I battled with my anxiety 24/7, coping with additional mental illness such as depression, panic disorder, dissociative identity disorder and OCD. The torture I felt in my mind left me in a constant state of distress and unable to cope with the physical symptoms and sensations that my anxiety produced around my body. It felt like the ghost of the girl that lived before was fighting her way to try and get out of my body by any means possible, but never succeeding.
Over the years, I have sought different professional help and learnt to cope with my anxiety better. I now have a supportive network of friends that know my struggles and who I can turn to when things get rough, one of those being my mum, who has witnessed every single aspect of my mental illness.
Although I am a naturally private person, internalizing my anxiety for so many years has had a detrimental impact on my health, which subsequently led to me having a nervous breakdown. People that know me today, including most friends, just think I’m the person that ‘gets anxious sometimes’. Or I appear to be so ‘laid back’ that they wouldn’t even suspect the suffering that I endure on a daily basis. As Freddie Mercury once sung, “I am the great pretender”. I put on my face and try to carry on as best I can; "the show must go on".
Please don’t get me wrong, I have experienced some absolutely wonderful times and created unforgettable memories over the last 12 years and have slowly learnt to build up my confidence and happiness. I’ve just learnt to accept that anxiety is as a part of me, (which is a big step in recovery) and even when I experience difficult times, I try to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, because I know it’s there and will never stop until I have reached it.
It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have begun to speak about my mental illness to people. It’s not something I am ashamed of anymore. I want to obliterate the stigma that surrounds mental health, and strive for equality for both physical AND mental health. I also want to help and support anyone that is suffering, so no one feels like they have to shut off from the rest of the world and suffer in silence. We all have a brain, therefore we all have mental health. Please be kind to those that need a little extra TLC with their mental health, just as you would if someone needed a little extra TLC with their broken leg.