I’ve lived with anxiety and depression along with an eating disorder pretty much as long as I can remember, but understand that that doesn't define me: I am ME.
I have never really felt stigmatised because of this, and I’m very much a 'take me as I am' person, at least on the outside. Recently though, I had my first blatant experience of stigmatisation, and I’m so angry and shocked I feel I need to speak out about it...
I first started feeling really low and struggling around two year ago. Two years on and it regularly feels like I’m still stuck in that darkness.
Social media, TV and films seem to romanticise the battles that people with mental health problems face, and feed the idea that people hit a sudden turning point in their recovery and it’s all uphill from there. Well that’s wrong; at least it was for me. I reached breaking point a few months later, after months of lying to all those around me and becoming so isolated that I could barely leave my bedroom.
Just because I’ve gotten help doesn’t mean I’m recovered.
These days many people are becoming more receptive to mental illness and the struggles that come with it. From social media trends for ‘checking on your friends’ to a social awareness on how pressure on young girls can lead to eating disorders, mental illness is now mainstream.
However, along with this increased understanding and social normalisation come many misconceptions.
Many people think that people like me, with anxiety or depression can wake up one day and decide to ‘get better’. That I can wake up one day and decide to ‘smile, drink coffee and deal with it’. But anxiety isn’t something that I can just ‘turn off’.
Anxiety isn’t something that I choose to have on a Monday and choose to not have on a Sunday. Anxiety isn’t a decision. It isn’t a voluntary thing that I want in my life day in and day out. I can’t just ‘choose to be happy’.
I always knew I was different. From as young as I can possibly remember I knew I wasn’t like other children. I felt things way more intensely and came across as dramatic when I tried to express myself.
My mother, like many people her age, saw mental illness as something to be embarrassed about. When I started to have emotional outbursts at school or I’d cry and beg her not to fall asleep during the day because the anxiety I felt was unbearable I was just labelled a child with behavioural problems. I was always made to feel like I chose to be this way.