Your Mental Illness Does Not Define You

After two years of my first identified episode of ‘depression’ I’ve come to the realisation that I have merely been bobbing along through life, but (and it’s a big but) I haven’t sank. I have been staying afloat, on the surface I am fine but underneath I am panicking – similar to a swan on stormy water things can quickly change with an unexpected trigger. Negative thought patterns occur and in consequence my emotions become uncontrollable. I have to say, it feels like the first time since I was 20 that I have gained a little clarity on my recovery journey so far, but by no means have I found a long term ‘fix’, I’m not even sure that exists.

Hindsight can be an amazing thing, and upon reflection I feel I delayed recognition of my depression and in particular my anxiety. I was lead to believe that my excessive worry was normal, that this is “just the way I am” I was “born this way and there’s not much I can do about it”, it’s fine to worry and have panic attacks before sleep…I’m not sure if this was through embarrassment or genuine misunderstanding – when I first took my medicine I told myself that I was taking this medication due to a physical imbalance in my brain chemical of serotonin. I wasn’t insane. I tried used self-help books and I rationalised and told myself everyone needs to find a little peace in this frantic world we live in. I wasn’t mad.

I was offered a course of CBT, (Cognitive behavioural therapy), and I hated it, I felt so uncomfortable and almost ashamed to converse with strangers about my inner struggles and anxieties. I didn’t want to speak about my emotions openly, allowing for judgement and possible self-fulfilment.

I think my break through moment was when I said “I just want to be me again” and sobbed to my therapist – there was snot and mascara everywhere…but she didn’t flinch. I recognised then and there that I was/am right, that I shouldn’t be labelled as mad or insane because I am neither of those things, I am simply suffering from a ‘mental illness’ and that’s ok.

It’s an illness that has been differentiated from a physical one, such as asthma or epilepsy/ Mental illness has a cemented stigma attached to it within society. This stigma can prevent talking openly, education and aid. The attitudes within our society put physical illness about a mental illness as it’s seen as normal or more acceptable. A physical illness gains more support, sympathy and sensitivity from anyone and everyone. But most of all it’s an illness that allows for the tools of recovery, with easily accessible treatments at a faster and more successful rate.

I believe that with mental illness, due to the lack of understanding or the inability to ‘rationalise’ the illness without visible facts, it often creates a label of ‘abnormality’ of a person, simply due to ignorance. So, why if our illness occurs in mind is it regarded as somewhat of a taboo to discuss and vocalise, whatever the aim of conversation? Is it simply due to people’s perception of a physical illness being real and a mental illness not? Or is it due to the historic representation of the ‘mentally insane’? It’s a question that can never be answered fully, but I, personally, can only assume that the miseducation of the past and present, has attached a label of abnormality to the illness.

With an ‘abnormal’ connotation attached to any action, thought, or emotion, the human psyche innately begins to feel, shame, embarrassment and guilt; sometimes I feel all of these things when discussing my depression or anxiety. It’s a connotation that creates isolation for many people within society, preventing the ability to gain help, speak out and eventually make progress in their personal recovery. We’ve labelled and segregated people in need, we’ve made people feel that it’s abnormal to be ill, we’ve made people feel ashamed to be the person they are. We’ve created demoralising and discriminatory attitudes towards a person in need, solely due to where the illness had a occurred in the body, an illness that has developed involuntarily. We need to educate ourselves and understand that it doesn’t matter where biologically in the body an illness occurs, the effects on the soul are just as detrimental and damaging.

Throughout my own personal journey, I began by holding negative attitudes and thoughts, I have inadvertently discriminated against my own mental illness. But, I have realised the damaging effects this has and can have on myself. I have realised I am a human, with thoughts, feeling and emotions, I’m not a robot. I have an illness, I am not the illness. And as with any illness, it is simply a glitch, a bump in the road, the wind in a storm. And as with any obstacle, you can overcome it, with the right tools, support and actions.

We have to work together to spread the word, not to cause argument or animosity between one another, but to educate because a lot of people do want to learn but are simply too afraid to ask.

Your mental illness does not define you – it is simply part of you that you can live with.

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