During the coronavirus crisis I have witnessed mental health being a topic discussed more than ever, not just limited to specific days of the year. I am pleased this discussion has arisen, yet as we ease lockdown, I see its influence already becoming diminished.
The discussion has not influenced parts of our society that are causing the most stigma and discrimination: culture, social norms, expectations, and workplaces. What I have been struggling to come to terms with is the concept of “returning to normal”, particularly as an individual with multiple mental health conditions.
When lockdown began, everything felt surreal. The threat of coronavirus had been building over the weeks, and apart from washing my hands extra vigilantly, I didn’t think it would get as bad as it did. My colleagues and I were gobsmacked when people started panic buying all the toilet roll. Even though I have several health conditions which make me extremely vulnerable to the virus, I never felt the full reality of the situation until I began self-isolating a week or so before the government’s full lockdown.
Originally, I was ashamed about struggling with my mental health. I spent the first year trying to cope alone. I thought I was lying as I couldn’t believe that anyone could feel this level of pain without imagining it, so it was difficult to reach out.
Before I experienced mental illness for myself, my knowledge of mental illness was zero. That all changed in 1997, when I found myself in a very dark place. A lot of unpleasant experiences occurred at the same time, which resulted in my feeling that I could no longer cope with life. This resulted in a mental breakdown and began a journey which lasted for about 10 years. There is no doubt that I was severely mentally ill. However, once I was aware that there was hope for the future, the recovery process began.