A stigma (by definition) ‘is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.’ Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Try living with the attachment of a stigma. The feeling of being a disgrace…doesn’t exactly sound pleasant, does it? Well, right now you are surrounded by friends and family, all who will have gone through a rough patch at some point in their lives. But what if it’s not a point? What if it’s a path which you’re lost on, consuming every part of your daily life, eating everything you ever had up and leaving you left with nothing, nothing to live for, no happiness?
Well right now around 450 million people are living with the stigma of having a mental health condition and I’m not ashamed to say that I am one of them.
Since the age of 14, I’ve struggled to stay smiling, stay happy, stay on top. The world appeared to be eating me up, the brightness of the sunlight diminishing into a grey, gloomy flat line, and I wasn’t even aware.
I thought I was weird, different, all I wanted was to fit in – although my desire to fit in only ruined me. Constantly I was reminded of the fact that everyone gets stressed, worried, gets anxious, it’s human nature. But what really nags at me is the fact that I was constantly told ‘it’s a bad day’, ‘it will be fine’, when in actual fact I wasn’t OK. Bad days last a day, not a week, not a month. They don’t consume you, eat you alive, stop you doing what you love!
Days, weeks, months passed and I was slowly but surely changing. I’d let the constant influx of ideas that bad days last only a few days completely encompass me to the point where I no longer lived in colour. That’s the problem, you see, with mental health stigma: you become a reject in society. Admitting to anyone that you have depression, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), an eating disorder, was instant social suicide – something which I couldn’t afford to lose. The one thing I needed was people around me, even though most days I couldn’t keep on top of everything or be with them, just knowing that I could go into a conversation and escape really helped me live – even if it was only a for a few minutes.
I’ve always been scared to open up about my experience as at the back of your mind you are constantly aware of what other people think of you and only think of the worst outcomes (one of the many ‘joys’ that come from GAD), but in order to take steps forward you have to get that support. I didn’t do a massive “hello world, this is me”. I opened up to those who meant the most to me, the ones who really cared, people who I know that I needed in order to turn my life around. It wasn’t easy – it was terrifying – not knowing the reaction was something I couldn’t live with, I just didn’t know what to say. I spent weeks thinking of what to say, I went to therapy and got help composing an answer but I wanted it to be perfect. I never stood up and read a speech, I simply composed a text – sounds like the worst way to tell someone, but in actual fact it was the most rewarding experience.
The response was amazing. Being told to your face how much you mean to someone isn’t as rewarding to me, because being told in words which you can always look back on and read in moments of loss is a gift so small yet empowering. Simple words, ‘how you doing?’, ‘you alright?’, and basic smiles, made it so much easier for me to get back and be the person I used to be.
The stigma around mental health is something which NEEDS to be broken. Categorising someone because of a fact you found out – or in the worst cases because they told you – doesn’t make it easier. Changing your personality around someone who has a mental health condition doesn’t do them any favours. Having a mental health condition doesn’t mean I’m dangerous, as it’s portrayed by media – if anything, without your support the person I’m the biggest danger to is myself.
You can read more of Aindrea's blog posts at walktalkblog