Ending the stigma


One thing I’ve learned these past few months is that being open and honest can help others who are going through their own rough patches. Last September, when my world fell apart, I started talking, totally unplanned, and totally out of character. There was too much pain to keep in, and writing was the best Therapy I had at the time. Sharing, though, as terrifying as it was, brought in endless messages, support, and love, but also messages thanking me for speaking openly and honestly, for not sugar coating the life I life online, for not pretending to be OK.

Mental Health still carries so much stigma. People talk in hushed voices about it, as though it is something to be ashamed of. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience Mental Health issues each year in the UK, and that’s an awful lot of people, hiding and feeling ashamed of their illness. Becuase that’s what it is – an illness, no less valid that any physical illness.

As terrifying as talking openly is, if it helps someone else feel confident enough to seek help, to reach out and not suffer in silence, then my uncomfortableness is worthwhile. My mental health has been something I’ve struggled with pretty much all of my life, for almost thirty years. Part of the reason, I’m sure, that I’ve struggled so long, and never fully gotten on top of my issues, is that until now, I’ve tried to pretend I was OK. Tried to hide away my ‘crazy’ for fear of being judged, or thought weak, or worthless.

I’ve fought depression and anxiety since long before I knew what these feelings were. When all I knew was I felt sad all the time, felt scared all the time, felt worthless all the time. I learned early on that the correct answer to being asked how you are, the ONLY answer, is “I’m fine thanks”. I spouted this even on days I wished I was dead. I found myself masks to put on and hide behind. Learned how to numb the pain from a young age. Sought solace in the bottom of a bottle, an empty stomach or mind-altering substances. Numbing the pain in the only way that I could.

Bouncing up and down, from being high as a kite, to as low as the ocean floor. Years of self-hate, and starvation, self-harm and suicide attempts. The one thing I learned was how to be really fucking good at hiding who I was and where I was at. I perfected the art of lying to everyone, so nobody ever really knew how much of a mess I was.

I’ve fought things that no-one should ever have to fight, and all of them added together, it’s no wonder I ended up where I did. I’m learning to not beat myself up about the things that happened to me, or the way that I handled them. I did what I could, with what I had at the time. Equally, I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and find better ways of coping now.

So. Stigma. Talking about our struggles helps. I know that from the messages I’ve had. From how many people have told me how brave I am to speak up, to not be ashamed of how I am feeling. I’ve posted before about vulnerability, and how it is in our vulnerable state that we find our strengths. That when we’re pretending, to ourselves or to the world {or both}, we can’t heal and move on.

Right now I’m laid low with depression. It’s been a few years since it paid me a visit, and this time it’s really floored me. It’s like wading through mud all day long, having no energy or motivation, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s feeling worthless and hopeless and utterly alone. My anxiety has gotten out of control lately, totally dominating what I can do. When the thought of leaving the house brings on panic attacks, it’s safer to just stay home. Which feeds the loneliness and depression – one vicious circle that is really hard to break out of.

Whenever my depression/anxiety flares up, eating becomes a huge struggle, and last week I hit a point where I couldn’t keep on. Weak and tired… so the past few days have been focused on getting some nutrition back into me, building myself back up – food is the best medicine for depression, anxiety, mood disorders… and most things. So that is where my focus is lying right now. On trying to take control IN A GOOD WAY.

It’s a daily battle of wills… the rational voice and the irrational voice of my depression and anxiety. A fight every day to try to not listen to them, to ignore when they tell me I’m failing, I’m worthless, everybody hates me. Some days they win, some days they don’t. Right now it seems they win more days than they don’t.  I’ve stopped pretending to the world that I’m OK, because, frankly, I’m not. I know I will be again, one day. But for now this is all I have, I am where I am and there is no shame in that. If I was sick in bed, no one would judge me. If me speaking out helps someone else then my battle will be worth it. Trying to ignore the shame and fear I feel in being where I am… because this is not me, but an illness.

It’s OK to not be OK all of the time. 

It’s OK to admit to mental illness – it doesn’t make you any less of a person.

It’s OK to need help, from your friends or medical professinals.

The shame and the stigma that continues around mental illness, mean too many people don’t ask for help when they need it most. Too many people end up taking their own life because they can see no way out. I’m lucky that my attempts never succeded. That I got another chance. A chance to speak out, not only for myself but for everyone who ever feels how I do. I’ve always an open ear – but if you feel suicidal then you can call  0800 132 737 24. This site has some great resources also – stories of hope, self-care ideas, ways to make it through the next five minutes.


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