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Living with a Mental Illness

Thoughts and Experiences

INSTEAD of being a wave of relief, my diagnosis crushed me. I had been smacked with two hyper-stigmatised labels that I didn’t want or deserve. Medication seemed the logical route, and even though I still take it regularly, I can’t shake this niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I’m not "authentically" me when I’m on them. I’m some societally subdued version of my former self. Not only have my negative emotions have been numbed by meds, my positive emotions (my crutches) too, appear to hang and exist, seeming just indifferent. The age-old adage of Jekyll and Hyde is somewhat blurred with mental illness. It isn’t a straight dichotomy, a line that says this is where my illness ends and I begin. At times it feels like you are your illness, and your illness is you. In some ways, I am unable to excuse my erratic, manic behaviour, because my illness and I (in those moments) appear as one. And it is this constant struggle to define yourself in the midst of an illness or on a shorter scale, an episode, that I have found the hardest to deal with. I myself can’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious or worrying about what people think—but it’s a constant debate in my head as if this is just personality or illness or a mixture of both. But, one thing is for sure, that even in your darkest moments, your ingenuity and your positive moments are the authentic, true you.

A saving grace, however, is talking. It seems strange how the simple act of relaying things you’ve been clarifying to yourself over and over can alleviate emotions you didn’t even know were weighing on you. Explaining things, not just to yourself, but to someone else is truly life-saving. You no longer feel lonely, isolated by your illness and cut off from various social groups through no fault of your own: friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends. But, at times it feels like depression has torn out your tongue, and gagged you for good measure. And this is why anybody with a mental illness or history of mental illness will agree that asking for help is the single bravest, scariest, hardest and most life changing thing someone can do. The courage it takes to open yourself up, and to empty the innermost contents of your heart onto a cold doctors’ table to a dead eyed GP who seems more concerned with his computer than you, is immeasurable. But people who are detached from this scenario, because they have never had to experience it, cannot quite appreciate the strength it took to even walk to the surgery or speak to the receptionist on the phone call.

There is a certain unspoken stigma that appears to cling to any notion of medicating mental illnesses. But why should we be judged for wanting to make life that little bit more manageable if we are able to? Critics will maintain the opinion that anti-depressants ‘change’ you, and to an extent that is true. They change your attitude towards negative things, but also consequentially other emotions, reactions and behavioural patterns. But they don’t irreparably steal your vivacity, your individual quirks, your flaws. They don’t take what makes you, you—and neither does mental illness. Anti-depressants just act to stabilise you and make it easier to cope. Because coping is half the battle, and through all of the sleepless nights, the drowsiness, the half-eaten meals, the breakdowns, the self-harming, the panic attacks; victory is on the horizon. You’ve just got to survive long enough to celebrate it.

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Living with a Mental Illness
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Photos from When I Was Suicidal