When I was first admitted to my local psychiatric ward, I was mortified and had no idea how I could articulate what was happening without being gossiped about and being judged. I decided that, apart from my close friends, this would remain a secret. When I was first admitted, it was for a short admission for a few days so I thought I was going to be off for a week which would be easy to cover up. It turned out I was good at covering up how I actually was and being in a hospital 24/7 exposed me, a few days turned into two months. Not so easy to plausibly hide.
I spent all day worrying that everyone would find out
If anything the shroud of secrecy made it so much worse, it had the opposite effect of what I was trying to do. You can't just disappear from a full time job for nearly three months under the pretence of a "break". The talk started and what was already a difficult experience became worse. I spent all day every day worrying that everyone would find out about what had essentially become my "dirty little secret", except it wasn't so little - it was life changing and huge.
I decided that, this time, being admitted to hospital wasn't going to be a secret
I had a slightly easier few months, everything seemed to go back to the way it was and I was hoping that it was over. Time moved on and it was like I had never been off. Then I got ill again - it crept up on me and I hadn't even realised. I was admitted to hospital again. I don't know what happened but I decided that, this time, things would be different; it wasn't going to be a secret. What did I have to lose? It turned out not a lot - I received so many thoughtful, kind messages that made me worry a lot less.
After another six weeks in hospital, I returned to work but this time completely differently. I was open about what had happened to me and it made it so much easier for me and for most of my colleagues. Removing the secret element changed everything. I started to make those tentative first steps in making mental health an average lunch time topic. I'm a chatty person, once I start talking I can't stop. As I became more open and honest the easier it became, explaining psychosis to a colleague whilst eating a sandwich wasn't so weird or hard. Talking about mental illness in general wasn't remotely uncomfortable, in fact something different happened, more people had things to say. I was approached and sent messages by others who were going through mental distress themselves or with family members. That meant the world. It made me realise something - it highlighted that the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health is huge. Why was this such a big deal? People talk about physical ailments, so what is so different?
I've since had hospital admissions but I can talk about it
I often question if I am just lucky. Lucky that I have a great manager who will always tell me the truth, supportive colleagues and the most incredible friends in the world - they really are, they're amazing, I can be a nightmare. I've started to share things on social media which has also been a positive experience as I've been inspired by others who are so open about their experiences. I've since had hospital admissions and I have been unwell but I can talk about it. The thing is I'm proud of my colleagues, my ever enduring friends and the managers I work for. They are so accepting, not only that but it's just a small part of me and they treat it as such, but in the same breath I know one of them will tell me if I start behaving differently and finally, it's cathartic, talking and writing about my experiences has made life so much easier.