I think every person who suffers any kind of long-term illness is aware of being labelled. Pidgeon holed and categorised for life. Diabetic, Cardiac, Asthmatic, Manic Depressive and on and on. But of those four one is slightly different isn’t it, did you spot it? That’s right one of them is a mental illness. Now I never ever want to give the impression that I think that just because I have a mental illness I favour it over any other illness. What I hope to highlight is that of those four many sufferers feel ashamed of, in fact of those four illnesses you probably know more of the first three than you do the fourth because of this shame. Lunatic, nutter, psycho, such wonderful names and even now people still use those labels for mental illness.
I know the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness has come a long, long way as have all aspects of medical care but the stigma that is attached to mental illness is still present, unfortunately it is mostly in the minds of those who suffer. For thirty years I have suffered and for at least twenty I have known there was something wrong with me, I hid from it, lied about it, never wanting to face the fact that I could have a problem. In fact since I decided after my last trip in the dark that I would never hide from my illness or lie about it again, I have had many messages of support. One thing I noticed though, was that those who offered their support and explained they understood because they too have suffered all did so by private message or in a whisper.
Admitting you suffer from an illness of the mind is still so misunderstood, both by those who suffer and those who don’t. For those who don’t suffer it is not a very well publicized subject and preconception of mental illness is oft based on history and fiction. Also some of the symptoms of mental illness when they manifest can be extremely distressing to see. Anger, mania, self neglect all symptoms of mental illness but how many raving drunk homeless people have you passed and thought “hey’ that guy might be a manic-depressive? How many quiet shy people have you seen on the bus looking somber and thought “hey, that girl has an anxiety disorder?” I think the hardest part of having a mental illness is that to admit to even close friends and family is very difficult, to admit you have a problem to anyone outside that circle is near impossible.
Please don’t think I’m blowing my own trumpet for being so honest about my illness and speaking out, who knows how it will affect my future? and don’t doubt for one second that thought hasn’t crossed my mind. However since I have opened up I have received immense support and I have been so moved by those that have reached out to me. I have started to realise that the stigma attached to mental illness is as much in the heads of sufferers as it is in the minds of everyone else, possibly more so. Another reason it is possibly getting harder for sufferers, is that the medical profession is taking more time to better diagnose people and therefore label them correctly but this also leaves the sufferer in the dark as to what is wrong with them. I am suffering Depression NOS, my latest label and until I have my first visit with a psychiatrist in July I am still in the dark as what is wrong with me. So how do you help yourself if you don’t know whats wrong with you?
Now I have studied self-help over the years, meditation, CBT and I am especially interested in hypnotherapy so I kind of have a bit of an idea. I also have read quite a bit about mental illness over the years but I am not like most. A lot of people who suffer from mental illness have very little idea what is happening to them, they know how they feel but often they struggle to even vocalise even this. In fact the most common question I see asked on forums is “why do I feel like this?” and “what is wrong with me, my doctor said I have mild depression” there seems to be very little information given to sufferers to help them better understand what is happening to them and because of the fear of the mentally ill label they are less inclined to ask for help. So if you suffer remember there is no shame in your illness, you didn’t choose it, it chose you. Ignore it and it will fester and grow, ask for help and forget the history and fiction. You have depression, anxiety, mental health problems, you need to talk because when all is said and done talking is the best cure. The cruelest twist of fate for us is the very term we live under, mental health. The word mental has for a long time been used with those I started with, nutter, psycho, weirdo. People make logical simple leaps mental health = mental problem = mental means mind = you have a problem with your mind = your crazy.
So whilst I wait for my label for life, I’m thinking of having a badge made ” David Leader, Depressive level 4 ****” like they have in some shops. But until then I will continue to work on easing my symptoms, being open and honest and spreading the word. “I never chose to be ill but I do chose to fight”.