Where do I start when it comes to talking about living with mental health?
It’s a question I often ask myself. Should I be honest? Lay all my cards on the table? Do my closest friends and family need to know every little detail about my struggle? And if I did tell them, would they even care? Or would they just give me the generic responses I’d heard my whole life? “Everyone feels like that” “No one likes work, you just do it” and the ever-popular “Man up!” After all, they probably have their own issues to deal with, right?
At this point, you might be wondering what the hell I’m going on about. So, I’ll go back to the beginning. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always struggled with my mental health. As a child, I suffered from insomnia (self-diagnosed) brought on by anxiety. This would manifest in the strangest of worries, “What if my parents get a divorce?” "What if I can’t pass that spelling test in school?”, “Will I ever develop superpowers?”. As you can see these were some pretty serious concerns. Ones that a 6-year-old boy certainly wasn’t going to answer.
Over time these concerns developed and became much more serious, “What if I die in my sleep?”, “What if I’m left on my own?” and “Do I deserve love?”. It’s safe to say that, as a child, I was shy, neurotic, and, while I’m being honest, a bit of a dick. This little voice of self-doubt I had always lived with had done its job. It had managed to turn me into a self-loathing, angry teenager who wasn’t very nice to be around. And I readily accepted this as the person I was and the person I was always going to be.
It wasn’t until my grandfather died that the weight of the world truly became too much for my shoulders, and I finally crumbled under the pressure. I remember that day like it was only yesterday, I woke up from another restless sleep, and after staring at my social media account for probably an hour I head downstairs. Today felt different, it was harder to move, my stomach hurt and a wave of sickness washed over me. Then out of nowhere, tears began to stream down my face, and the air failed to leave my lungs. As I fell to the floor in a broken mess, my mum flew in from out of nowhere. With a concerned look on her face, that look which only a mother can have. She held me and asked the simplest question, “Are you ok?” Those words– those words, which I’m certain I’d heard before, at that moment felt like the warmest of hugs.
Unfortunately, during that moment I uttered words which to this day bring me shame, “I want to die”. Now it might sound strange to say that I was ashamed to say I wanted to die. So, let me explain the only way I know how. Everyday people deal with issues that outweighed my own. In my mind, I was acting selfishly. How dare I say I want to die, when so many people are diagnosed with terminal illnesses every day? Well, the truth of the matter is, at that moment, I would have traded places with anyone of those people.
Before I knew it, I was in the doctor’s office discussing my thoughts and feelings, not something I was particularly comfortable with at the time. So what if I was depressed? That’s fine, right? The doctor would give me some medication and then I’ll be back to my normal self. I had to admit, I never thought I’d suffer from depression. After all, I’m strong willed and the people who suffer from depression are weak, right? Another shameful moment of my inexperienced mind. So, off I went with my brain meds. The ones that were going to cure me of all my problems in a day.
Apparently, that’s not how anti-depressants work. It can take weeks or even months before you start to feel any positive effects. However, the negative effects might hit you in a day. And that was true for me, after months of medication I started to feel less and less to the point where I had become almost robotic. Not the result I was hoping for, but I decided to push through. And, eventually, after trying a rainbow of medications, I finally found the one for me.
Now it would be wrong of me to say that medication was my only life preserver. In fact, in my opinion, it played a small role in my recovery. No, that honour goes to my friends and family. The loved ones I had surrounded myself with. A group of people who were loving, kind, and understanding. If it wasn’t for these people I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here today.
So, where do I start when it comes to talking about living with mental illness? For me, it begins with accepting myself for who I am. Sharing my thoughts and feelings both positive and negative with the people closest to me. Start small, after all, you don’t have to share everything in one conversation. Believe me, when I say I understand, I understand that opening yourself up, even to the people closest to you can be scary. But it can also be an amazing feeling once you do.
Remember mental illness doesn’t define who you are. In fact, it’s a very small part of what makes "you" you.