I fully believe that speaking publicly and normalising mental health disorder discussions is very important. People need to feel able to reach out for help, to not feel stigmatised and to receive all of the support and love they need to return to a healthy (as possible) state. Mental illness deserves the same level of respect and sympathy as physical illnesses. I feel pretty strongly about this, so I found myself asking myself – why am I not speaking out more about my past, present and inevitably future battles with mental health disorders?
I’m sure that the initial fears tie in with the same thing that stops everyone speaking up – what will people think? The notion of social pressures isn’t something which I’m particularly plagued by, I’m pretty good at standing up and just doing my own thing. When it comes to mental health though, you can’t help but cower back and wonder “what would people think?”. I touched on some of my suffering before, but I’ve never gone much into detail. My nearest and dearest know varying amounts of information, they know what they have had to know. I don’t think anybody knows everything, because I was very good at fighting my own battles. There has been a big push in normalising mental health issues in recent years which is great, but when I was younger a “mental health problem” was either cutting your wrists or starving yourself. Nobody spoke about the spectrum of disorders which are out there – depression (in all its forms), bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, stress, eating disorders, hoarding disorders, dissociative disorders, addiction, Munchhausen’s, OCD…and that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. Mental health issues were something people joked about, and still do.
“lol ur so bipolar” “lol schizo” “lol wut a emo” “ur room is so tidy ur so OCD omg”.
Mental health disorders are no joke. They are overwhelming and terrifying and evil and when you’re suffering it can feel like you’re locked in a box with no windows or doors.
It’s not just about “what will people think if they find out I have a history of X, Y or Z?”. It’s sometimes about not wanting to deal with the hassle of people not knowing how to react. We’re socialised to know how to offer sympathy when somebody is physically ill, we have not been trained the appropriate way to act when somebody is struggling mentally. The thing is, there is no generic right way – everybody’s experience will be different and everybody will be coping differently. Different things will be helpful to different people. Unfortunately you just have to follow your gut and offer the help you think will be the best. There is a lot of fear when it comes to ‘the unknown’ and mental health is pretty much swimming about in the big pond of unknown. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help (the answer is probably “you can’t”) and to offer as much support as you are able and is appropriate.
I’ve written about my fair share of topics which should probably be avoided, like dinosaur porn, so what makes mental health battles any different?
After some pondering, I had a lightbulb moment. The reason I’ve been avoiding the mental health conversation, despite desperately wanting to get involved, is that my personal experience of treatment has put me off reaching out for help in times of need and I don’t want other people to be put off reaching for the support they deserve as a result of my experience. I’m not talking about a negative reaction from family or friends, I’m talking about a negative experience with professionals.
During a particularly overwhelming spell in 2012 (around the same time this blog was launched!) I realised that I couldn’t fight my battles on my own anymore and that I needed help. So I got a doctor’s appointment, explained what was going on and, despite being made to feel like my problems were insignificant (they were not), was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The aim of CBT is basically to retrain the way you think through talking through the issues and is incredibly successful for so many people that I would never disregard it. It was not successful for me.
I have heard so many therapy success stories and I fully support people who have it recommended to them to go for it. My problem is that I didn’t ‘click’ with the professional delivering my therapy – I felt patronised, I felt like I was being judged and I definitely did not feel like my right to confidentiality was being respected. I realise now that paranoia is one of my symptoms, but I don’t think this is a complete explanation for how insecure I felt in sessions. They could see me deteriorating and continued on the same treatment plan. It reached a point where the dread of going to therapy became too much and I lied to get out of attending sessions. In 2 weeks I miraculously went from thinking I would definitely be better off dead to thinking life was great and the professional bought it – she signed me off as fixed. Let’s face it, mental health support services are probably so stretched that she didn’t push it, she just saw the opportunity to start treating somebody else from her waiting list. [Probably 10000000% not true but kinda how I feel]
The reality of the situation is that I should not be wading through these murky waters alone, but I am because I’m stubborn and I’m scared. I would urge anybody who is struggling to seek help – I have dipped my toe into other treatment methods which have worked better for me. Every case is different and that means there is not one treatment to fit all. If a professional recommends something try it, and if it doesn’t work for you tell them. Don’t do what I did. It’s reckless and quite frankly dangerous.
Don’t do it.