Wednesday, 30 September 2015

It's Time to Start the Conversation

Those of you who follow me know that in my past life in the US I was very open and honest about my mental illness. But since moving to the UK, I've kind of kept it under wraps except for my husband obviously and a few select people. I think I did this partially because of the general anxiety of getting to know people in a new country and my perceived belief that there is more of a stigma in the UK than in the US. Right or wrong, I kept quiet and just smiled through the pain. But it has been eating at me since day one. Getting to know new people was great, but keeping my true self hidden was hell. It didn't usually feel like a big deal. But listening to people whine about petty bullshit on Facebook (which I wouldn't even be on if weren't to keep up with friends and families lives in America), would grind my gears to a halt. 

Now let me get one thing straight. I know I do not know the struggles of every single person I'm friends with on Facebook. People have shit they have to deal with: illness, death, divorce, financial difficulties, etc. And I commend the people that don't throw their dirty laundry out on the Facebook line for the world to see. However, of the 245 "friends" I have, I'm pretty sure most of the whining is just that, whining. For someone who literally has to fight through every day, because yes even good days are exhausting, it wears you down. If you have a mental illness, you understand what I'm saying. If you don't and you are reading this, then you may want to take a step back and think about your daily life and whether you are one of these people who speaks without thinking. Think about the old adage of "walking a mile in another's shoes". So in other words, don't be a whiner.

But enough about Facebook and all the pettiness that it entails. I'm here to talk about mental illness. Specifically my mental illness because that's what I know. I cannot speak of other's experiences with mental illness, because I haven't walked a mile in their shoes. I have, however, done quite a bit of research on my illness and read a lot of different blogs about it. We all have pretty much the same things to say: first and foremost it sucks cause it's a life sentence, getting help is a pain in the ass because frankly it's treated differently than other chronic illnesses, the stigma still exists, and the world is horribly undereducated. 

Let me throw out an example... Robin Williams... When he committed suicide a little over a year ago, there was shock and dismay across the world. How could someone so talented and wonderful be so sad that they decided they only had one way out? While I personally was just as shocked and saddened by the news, I understood how he felt at the moment just before, because I've been there. I've been at that precipice in time. I tried three times to end my life. And for those of you who don't know statistics, men are more likely to finish the act because they choose things like guns or hanging, while women choose pills or slitting their wrists which are more likely to have life saving possibilities. I used pills every time. One time, I came frightenly close. But back to Robin, the outpouring of public sympathy led me to believe people would start the conversation about mental illness. It didn't. People simply reminisced about his films or more shockingly called him selfish. Suicide is not selfish. If you haven't lived in a hell that has led you there, don't judge. You know nothing of the pain that gets you there. But the conversation seemed to stop there. And that's where the problem lies. Communication.

I haven't talked about my illness openly in years because of fear. I'm not ashamed, I was just scared of how people would react. I was scared about how I would be able to get a job if I was honest. Truth be told, I have found that there are times I have needed to or should have lied about my illness but didn't to my misfortune. I was honest on a life insurance application about my illness and was denied coverage because of it. That's unacceptable. Everytime I fill out an employment application regarding medical info there is always a tick box for "do you or have you suffered from depression". I always hesitate. I mean sure depression is a part of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly it's a damned if you do damned if you don't thing. If I say no and get ill while working, I lied on my application. If I say yes, I might not get the job. And that's not fair.

I shouldn't have to hide or feel ashamed of my illness. Sadly I do sometimes. I liken it to when AIDS was first making headlines. People didn't, and still don't, want to announce it to the world because of the recoil reaction people have. You won't "catch" my mental illness anymore than you will "catch" AIDS by speaking to me. I'm not contagious. But people don't understand and people fear what they don't understand. So I want and need to educate people. If I save one person from stepping off that ledge, I've done my job.

If you know someone who has a mental illness, gently ask them about it. You may just find they are willing to speak if you are truly willing to listen. But heed my words, be willing to commit. Be willing to listen, understand, educate yourself, read about it, and comfort. Don't just nod and hear without listening. That is exactly the kind of reaction that will push us away. We have so much uncertainty in our lives, friends and family can not be one of them. I don't want or need sympathy. I'm okay, really. I will be okay. Just realise that my days at best are still a fight. And at worst a nightmare you never want to experience, and I pray you never do. I'm not really religious but I'm spiritual, and I pray for all my family, friends, and acquaintances daily. I pray for them to have happy lives. I pray for them to understand the things they don't understand. I pray for them to appreciate the little things that are taken for granted. Because I take nothing for granted. I've seen and lived through horrors I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Life is precious. We all are precious. Listen and care. Educate yourself. About all things foreign to you. If we all did... What a wonderful world it could be.