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One year ago I wrote a blog post about being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
At the time of my diagnosis, I felt a mixture of emotions. The main ones were a combination of terrified and relieved, which is always difficult to explain. I was devastated after being diagnosed with a chronic, horrible condition, but I was pleased that I had a name to put against the symptoms I had suffered for all my life.
When I talk to some people who have not suffered with mental illness, the idea that you can be relieved after a diagnosis seems to make no sense. It’s as if in their eyes, you wanted the diagnosis, you were asking for it. That is sadly because we live in a society that both demonizes and romanticizes mental illness. Because of the portrayal of mental illness as something heroic and beautiful—on TV, in movies, in the press—those of us who are happy to be diagnosed must be pleased that we’re finally getting attention. And that we’re special. Just like Stephen Fry, Vincent Van Gogh, JK Rowling and all the others. All creatives. All heroes.
Yes, people with mental illness are heroes, but having a mental illness in itself is not heroic. Nor is it special. Statistics show that in any given year, one in four people will experience a mental health problem. It is very, very common. And people with mental illness, whilst often more creative, are not the only creative people in the world. We’re just normal human beings. Normal human beings who are everywhere: In your office, in your classroom, sitting opposite you on the tube.
That is why, apart from a few words, I am not going to talk about myself this year. Because I’m just a statistic. All that you need to know is that my feelings about BPD have sunk in and become more real. I’m no longer relieved, and I’m no longer afraid. I’m tired, and I’m bored. I had a period of continued recovery and success, and then after six months, a short period of "relapse" last week. If that’s what you can call it. I’ve come to accept, like many others, that therapy and medication won’t always solve my issues. It’s a road with peaks and troughs, and whilst these things help and are critically important, I will probably always have some form of mental illness. It’s about going out there and absolutely slaying it despite this, as hard as it sometimes may be.
One thing I’d like to highlight after all the discussions we had on World Mental Health Day, is that mental illness is not just depression.
We as a society are so quick now to embrace those who are feeling depressed, or hiding behind a smile, and let them know that they can always talk to us. This is amazing and vitally important. Even looking at how far the conversation has progressed on mental health since I wrote about it last year is astonishing. There is now support in place at workplaces, petitions to change the law, and real mental health communities taking shape on Twitter and within the blogging community. Stigma is still there, but it is being destroyed more and more everyday.
But we need to get rid of stigma for everyone.
I wrote last year about how Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears’s breakdowns were ridiculed because they didn’t fit the traditional form of mental illness. This still happens. Just look at Kanye. He’s either the worst person on the earth, or hilarious. Nobody takes the fact that he has a mental illness seriously. We watch him broadcast his psychosis to the whole world and make memes out of it.
Over in the UK, yesterday Katie Price was arrested for drunk driving. She’s just been in rehab for PTSD, and I suspect, other mental health issues. Addiction, despite how it may sometimes seem, and how many people it can hurt, is still a mental illness. People with mental illness can be in the wrong. They can make mistakes. They’re not perfect. Ignoring psychosis, ignoring personality disorders, blaming addiction on "just being a bad person" actually romanticizes depression even further because we attribute these "uglier" disorders to just being a bad person. Therefore, making the depressed, the "good" mentally ill people, even more good, and adding to the dichotomy. We forget that people exist in shades of grey.
What people with mental illnesses want you to know is that we are just people. Our illness is just one facet of our whole personality. Just like playing a musical instrument, or watching football, or being really into Game of Thrones.
That’s my final point. Back to me again. (Sorry!)
I am always astonished at the work that mental health writers and bloggers do for the community. It is invaluable for anyone out there struggling. For a long time I have wanted to write more about my experiences and more about mental health on a wider platform. But I have also not wanted it to define me. A lot of people feel that it helps them, and I do too, but only writing about mental health would make me feel like my other interests were not important, or that because I have a mental illness, my perspective on anything else is redundant. Ironically, telling myself that I don’t JUST have to write about mental health, will probably make me more likely to want to write about it.
From now on I will be writing about mental illness, but I will also be writing about culture, politics, TV, the internet, and everything else that I want to write about—whether these things link together or not. I want to write about ALL the important stuff.
We might be mentally ill, but it doesn’t make our opinions any less valuable.
We are humans and we are more than just one small part of our minds.