When I first started battling with my mental health, I thought the mental illness would be the hardest thing to deal with - little did I know that other people’s reactions to said mental illness would make the battle into a war. Ultimately it feels like an attack on you, as your illness is part of who you are. In reality, it’s due to a lack of understanding.
Being called ‘dramatic’ in the midst of a panic attack is the last word you expect to hear. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the word I was faced with. To them, that word was a passing comment. They probably don’t remember saying it. To me, it was confirmation of everything my mental illness tells me. You see, the thing is, mental illness is all in my mind. Anxiety itself tells me I’m being ‘dramatic’, and their words confirmed that. Their fleeting words are the reason people like me struggle on in silence. Their words are the reason why I convince myself I’m ‘not anxious’, I’m ‘making it all up’, I ‘don’t have a problem’ and I definitely ‘don’t need help’. Their reaction of ‘dramatic’ to me having a panic attack made me never want to seek support in my most vulnerable moments, when support is exactly what I needed.
I was 17 when somebody I work with, somebody I should’ve trusted, told me I’d never get a boyfriend because of ‘the way I am’. Anxiety tells me I’m hard to love. I’ve always felt like the way my mental illness can make me act is a burden on other people. It makes me needy, emotional, clingy, and it makes me fearful. Not exactly factors people look for in a potential partner. They took my mental illness and they used it against me. They made me believe I was unworthy of love and that nobody would be able to cope with the ‘way I am’. Talking to new people and potential partners is hard, and they made that harder because why would anyone want to get to know me, let alone love me?
They were so wrong. Mental illness makes me the person I am today. It makes me determined, it makes me brave and it makes me ridiculously strong willed. Mostly, it makes me who I am and I am worthy of being loved despite it and because of it.
During my gap year I was told I’d never go to university. Separation anxiety says to me; home is where you belong. Home is where you should be. Home will you keep you safe. I believed that and evidently so did they. Their reaction to me struggling to stay away from home made me believe there was no point in dreaming, no point in aspiring to do anything that involved leaving my home town. Home equalled my comfort zone and their words tried to keep me in it.
I proved them wrong though. Their reaction motivated me to try. I’m in my third year now and I’m thriving. The little scared girl, who couldn’t even go to sleepovers, left home. Sometimes, those words still ring true in my mind, and they make university a struggle as homesickness is overpowering. I crave the safety of home but I’ve found that in a new way at university; in a tiny little room, surrounded by people who push me to be the best version of me I possibly can be. A version of me who brushes off comments like those and dreams a little bigger now.
If you are trying to understand mental illness, thank you. You are the reason people like me have the courage to open up about our experiences. We don’t expect you to understand our mental illness in its entirety - half the time we don’t understand it ourselves. All we want is for you to see us as whole people, beyond a mental health label and the stereotypes that come hand in hand with diagnosis. I’ve come to accept my struggle and hopefully one day in the future, everyone else will too.
More from Rosie on her blog; Our Rose.