The Sunday Natter: Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental illness’ exists. It’s very real. It can eat away at you with every step you take forward, and all those backward steps that follow the very little optimism you have. I hate the fact it’s somehow now thought upon as being a beautiful, heroic tragedy if you are suffering mentally and emotionally but I also love the fact times are changing; we as a generation are more willing to share, the viral popularity and discussion of mental health problems has opened up the supportive path and allowed people to come to terms with their issues, to seek help, to share their experiences and be proud of their overcoming, instead of feeling ashamed. I’m a strong believer in talking; talking to professionals, talking to your parents, talking to your friends, talking online, talking to a stranger you’ve only just met. Any kind of expression, no matter how extensive, is important to your health and well being and that’s why I think raising the awareness is necessary to ensure people feel comfortable in speaking out. We may have come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week but the acknowledgement and understanding of mental health must continue to stamp out this fallacious stigma that still exists. 

I’ve never not been a worrier. I’ve had anxiety ever since I remember, from the age of 12 up until now at the ripe age of 21. I feel like ‘anxiety’ is thrown around so quickly these days but the difference is, it’s not just a cute panicky moment to a teenage girl meeting her idol, it’s not a slightly nervous feeling on your first day of a new environment, it’s a horrible, debilitating, controlling disorder that constantly nags and tears away your ‘normality’ in daily life. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and mild depression many years ago now and still continue to deal with the impact it pounds on me like a big thud to the chest. My anxiety comes in waves, there’s good days and bad and the wide ranging issues which unfortunately can strike you as you grow have played a part in the severity. I can go through phases of feeling absolutely joyful, meeting up with friends and acting as though I have zero worries whilst that voice in my head builds a bed and calms right down. Then there’s the moments where it randomly strikes me for no reason, I have an impending sense of doom, my heart starts to race, I can’t breathe, I’m dizzy, shaky and sweaty, detached from reality and feel as though the whole world is closing in on me. I start to cry and my thought pattern whirls negatively without a stop sign. Even whilst typing this I had a short episode of feeling overwhelmed and that’s the worst part, not knowing when the devil will reappear and whisper until you can take no more. The hard part is, it’s not always visible and unless I told you about it, you’d probably never know I’m often an anxious mess. Having to cope in public is one of the worst parts, it takes willpower to regain yourself which is why, as anxiety sufferers, we tend to avoid situations where we could have a panic attack. Luckily, I’ve developed strategies and worked out what’s best for me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still abstain from the word ‘yes’ but I’d be Pinocchio if I said sitting indoors pondering, reflecting, and bullying my inner self worth did me any good. 

5 or so years ago I couldn’t ever imagine recovering from the fear of going insane. At the time I didn’t want to face up to it but now, with the help I pursued and the inner strength within, I can admit I was in an extremely bad place. I was crippled with dread. I’d range from being bed ridden, having around 10 panic attacks a day, to managing to distract and enjoy myself whilst my brain tried its best to rebel against me. All these strange, unfamiliar symptoms appearing made me believe there was something seriously wrong with me and it wasn’t until I searched the internet and contacted my doctor that I realised I wasn’t alone, this is something I could deal with and learn to control. Truth is, having a mental health problem is consuming and incredibly draining. It is a constant fight but today, right now, you are entitled to the choice of feeling brightened again. 

The ignorance which occurs in the attitudes of people uneducated on mental health still shocks me. Being accused of making it up, using your illness as an excuse to be lazy and receiving uncongenial advice to ‘just snap out of it’ is degrading to an individual. There is no simple solution, recovery takes time and it’s okay to halt at and eventually jump over the hurdles. Explaining mental health to somebody who has never experienced any kind of obstacles before is difficult, people just don’t understand therefore make the decision to unfairly judge you on circumstances they know nothing about. I can’t even count the times I’ve been told to pull myself together, as though I’m purposely allowing myself to suffer, as though it’s a choice. The ins and outs of mental health are much more complex and differ from person to person. There isn’t a one size fits all, everybody is different, there are certain (and often sensitive) triggers and they require compassion as someone moves forward in their journey. Please, whatever you do, don’t make assumptions. It is frustrating, upsetting and immensely scary to handle this bizarre feeling of not really having an answer as to why you’re feeling like this, and any kind of rude remark will only add to it. You don’t have to be an expert to listen, talk to, and reassure someone facing these battles. One simple gesture is all it takes. Take the time out to be nice and be that encouraging, trustworthy person we need because you don’t know just how paramount that could be to someone.

It’s said that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. Mental health affects thousands of people in the UK every single day, yet here we are still being discriminated against, having our illness used against us because there just isn’t enough acceptance nor understanding. Mental health is not a joke, it takes bravery to come forward and it should be taken seriously. Although the interpretation from others matters a great deal, you must also recognise the warning signs, and the importance of focusing on yourself. You do not have to suffer in silence, you are deserving and there are so many counselling platforms available to benefit those in need. So many people live in terror of what other people may think, feel obstructed and are reluctant to get the help they require. Our mission has to be to break down those barriers and do what’s right for ourselves. By working together we are one step closer to stopping the stigma, managing our mentality and creating a change in perceptions. I have accepted that my anxiety is a long term condition which will always be with me but that’s just a sideline. Sadly there isn’t an instant cure but your mental illness does not have to define who you are. I have anxiety, but I’m not anxiety.

I totally comprehend and sympathise the fact exposing your mental health online isn’t always something you are comfortable with but if you’d be happy sharing the ways you’re affected then please go ahead. My interest and passion regarding the importance goes far beyond my situation and I’d be honoured to hear your story. 

Bridie x