Thursday, 12 January 2012

Time To Talk - about people like me

Time to Change, a joint project from the mental health charities Mind and Rethink, is currently running a campaign to raise awareness of mental ill-health and reduce stigma for people who have experience mental illness.

The project is tackling head-on the misinformation and stigma attached to people with mental illness. The campaign has a number of facets, including advertising in the mainstream media. Although the advertisments on television and radio are hard for me to see and listen to – the impression I’m left with is that the majority of people would rather do just about anything than talk to someone with a mental illness because they think that something terrible will happen if they do – I can definitely see the benefit in confronting these preconceived ideas head-on.

Another part of the Time to Change campaign is Time to Talk. The organisation is seeking pledges from people to talk about mental health.

I have made my pledge and here’s my fulfilment of it.

I have depression. Depression is the most common form that mental ill-health takes and one in four people will experience it during the course of their life. For my part, I have been depressed to a greater or lesser extent for all of my adult life and long before that. I remember a GP appointment when I was about 12 where the doctor taught me breathing exercises to help me cope with troubling thoughts and the anxiety they caused.

I only faced up to my depression a few years ago and my reluctance to do so was in large part due to the myths that surround it. I thought that I had no right to feel as sad as I did. I had a family, friends, a home, a regular income, hobbies I enjoyed and plenty to look forward to but I still felt I was having to drag myself through the day more often than I’d care to admit. I thought only people who had been traumatised or abused were ‘allowed’ to be depressed. I’d been led to believe that depressed people were losers or drop-outs who just couldn’t cope with ‘real life’. The idea of being put into that category terrified me and when I was first told by a doctor that I was clinically depressed I felt like my world was ending.

Thankfully things have moved on a lot since then but there is still so much stigma surrounding people who experience mental illness. People with depression are just lazy. Schizophrenics are dangerous. If you suffer from bipolar disorder you’re completely unpredictable. That’s just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years that keep people who do have these conditions afraid of speaking up.

If you and I have been in contact before – either by you reading this blog, following me on Twitter, or because you’ve met me in some other context, I can tell you one thing for certain. During that time, I have at some point felt desperately miserable, beyond what is attributable to my circumstances and sometimes completely contrary to what is going on in my life. I have probably considered or maybe even acted on an urge to self-harm. I’ve had days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I’ve felt like a vile, toxic weapon, harmful to myself and those around me and have considered whether it would be better for all concerned if I were, to borrow a weapon-decommissioning term, put beyond use.

During the same period, I’ve had some great days. I’ve spent time with friends and loved ones; read interesting things; laughed at silly cat videos or pictures of derpy dogs on the internet. I’ve made things with my hands that I’m proud of, done things I’m pleased with and gained huge satisfaction from my life.

Some days the good things are hard to recall and the thought of being able to do or feel those things feels nigh-on impossible. Some days are so down I feel I’ll never get up, but I always do. Things are getting better for me, even though there are some days I feel like whacking myself upside the head! But I don’t actually do it. And besides, those days are getting fewer.

I am putting this out there in case you don’t know of anyone else who has a mental illness. Well, now you do! A lot of people reading this, including people who’ve chatted with me online or followed me for months or years on social media, won’t have known until now the fact I suffer with depression or the extent to which it has affected me. In addition to the other bits of me – the down days and the persistent, angry thoughts I get sometimes – I am all the other things too. I am the same person you thought I was before, but now you know a little more about me. If it seems like I’ve been going through the mill a bit, you never need to feel afraid to speak to me. I won’t ever crumble into a pillar of salt, I promise! And if you’ve never spoken to me before, it’s never too late! I’m not at all scary. Then hopefully between us we can help stop society being frightened of people with mental illness; being frightened of people like me.

[Image © Time to Change and borrowed from the Time to Talk website, which you can see here]

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