Mental Health issues affect 1 in 4 people in the UK each year, so even if you don’t suffer yourself, you are pretty much guaranteed to know someone (or many people) that do. And yet, talking about mental illness is still seen as a taboo. It is hushed up and down-played, people are embarrassed for those suffering. Things are changing – there are celebrities talking now, not just charities and support networks. People are starting to listen and understand. But far too often, ‘mental health’ is seen as a synonym for ‘depression’. And whilst depression is a massive mental health issue (the most commonly diagnosed in the UK), it is not the only one. Today, I am talking to Nick, whose mental health struggles are not those of depression, but PTSD and EUPD.
Talking about mental health is beginning to become more socially accepted, but accepting that you have a mental health issue is still incredibly tough. If you think you have a mental health issue, check out my top tips on starting the conversation, and try to remember that you are not in this on your own.
OCD is a very real mental illness that is often downplayed, joked about or stereotyped. My OCD is mild. And I am extremely lucky and thankful for that. But I do still have my own set of rituals that the logical part of my brain says are ridiculous, but the OCD part says that are totally necessary.
You have done it. You have found a beautiful hostel. It is safe and clean, has just the right amount of life – not too much that you get no sleep, but not so little that you feel bored. It is just close enough to the big-ticket items of the area that you can walk, but far enough out that you aren’t paying a ‘tourist tariff’. And the beds are comfortable with no little surprises (*cough* bedbugs *cough*).
Suffering from a mental health issue can feel extremely lonely and isolating, so it is important to remember that you are not alone. The WHO estimates that 1 in 4 people worldwide will suffer some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. So you are not alone, but that feeling will likely persist. I created this interview series to share the mental health journeys of others, and to share insights into different mental health issues.
For someone opening up about their mental health, it is difficult. But it isn’t necessarily any easier to be the person they open up to. It can feel like an immense pressure, especially if you are the only one they have opened up to. Chances are, the reason you were chosen to be spoken to is because they believe you are trustworthy, caring and compassionate – so it is a compliment – but it is a compliment with strings.
Talking about your mental health issues is scary. It is highly personal and often seen as a weakness. But in reality, being able to talk about it is a huge step. And it shows huge amounts of strength. If you are trying to build up the courage to talk to someone for the first time, check out my here.
The first time you open up about your mental health is likely to be difficult. Choosing the right person to speak to can feel daunting, the person should be someone you feel comfortable with and trust, such as a friend, parent or partner. Try to choose a time when the conversation will not have to be cut short, and in a place where you feel comfortable.
Talking about mental health is hard. Partially because it has been seen as a taboo for a long time, and partially because it is simply hard to explain what is going on inside your head. But things are slowly changing. I have created an interview series about mental health to share with you all. Please remember how personal each journey is, and opening up about it is scary and leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. Without further ado, I shall begin my first mental health interview!
You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.
*I initially wrote this for my personal Facebook, it was to try to explain a little of what goes on in my head.
Some days are harder than others.
Sometimes I find it difficult to do things, I lose track of time: minutes, days, weeks, months. Some days I can’t even leave my bedroom on my own. Some days I feel normal, and on others I forget how to exist. I can feel fine one minute and an hour later I can barely function. I fight every day. Sometimes I fight myself, my thoughts, my mind. Sometimes I fight to get downstairs or out the house. Sometimes I fight to put a smile on my face and pretend it’s all ok, it’s fine, I’m normal. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not easy to explain. It’s anxiety. Not a ‘I’ve got a test tomorrow’ nervousness, not a ‘I’m starting a new job and I don’t know anyone’ scared, not a ‘I don’t like spiders’ fear. It’s is an anxiety disorder. It breaks me. I’m not in control of my own thoughts. I fear things I rationally know are safe. I push people away, and yet, I fear losing them. I feel overwhelmed around people, yet don’t like being alone. There is no major trauma in my life that has caused it, there doesn’t need to be. But sometimes, I think people would understand better if there was.
Some days I’m exhausted from the moment I wake up.
Some days I sleep for twenty hours and I’m still tired. Some days I have too much energy. Some nights I don’t sleep. Some nights I wake up crying and shaking, sweating and afraid. Most nights are interrupted by vivid nightmares. Some days I am exhausted by having to put on a normal façade, when everything inside is screaming. And some days I don’t have the energy to put on that face. Equally, some days I am normal, I feel normal, I feel like me.
Some days I can’t eat.
The nausea is constant. I can barely keep in water. Some days I feel sorry for my self, and on others I feel guilty about it. Sometimes, I know I go quiet; I fidget, fiddle or shake. Sometimes I have to sit in a certain place in a room, sometimes I have to do certain things in a certain way or order to help me show myself that I am still in control of me. These are all coping mechanisms, things I use to get me through. I know I look crazy, I know it seems weird, but it’s what I need at the moment. Sometimes I struggle to respond to people, not because I’m not listening, but because listening to someone else speaking is calming and listening to someone else allows me to ignore my own thoughts. Some days I can’t concentrate. My mind is racing, I can’t take things in, I can’t remember, I don’t always even know that I’m meant to be listening. And some days, it’s like my mind has grown infinitely. I can see every shade of colour, hear the tiniest sounds. Movements seem like slow-motion and yet too fast to comprehend. These days are the scariest, because everything is so overwhelming.
And then there are days like today, where something small happens.
And that small thing can knock me either way. Today, I received a tiny piece of post from Andrea [awesome bestie] and suddenly the clouds in my mind all lifted. I’m not fighting my own thoughts. I’m not fighting all the physical symptoms, the shaking, the nausea, the tears, the racing heart, the shortness of breath. I’m just able to be.
So, thank you.
To Samuel, my parents, and to all my lovely friends that have been there for me, waited patiently for me to actually be able to see you, to feel up to leaving the house. Thank you to those of you that know, even though I’ve not been able to talk to you in a long time, I’ve not forgotten you. Thank you to those of you that have treated me like normal, even when my mind isn’t. Thank you for still telling me your problems, issues and moans, because they help me to feel normal, and I do try to always reply, even if it sometimes takes a while. Thank you for putting up with my panic attacks and my moments of doubt, and for always saying something, even though I know you are worried you will say the wrong thing (there is no wrong thing, I promise!) Thank you for asking me about things if you are not sure or not understanding, I do my best to explain, it’s not easy, but I’d rather you asked than assumed, or were scared or confused, ultimately, I’d always rather you ask. Thank you for your thoughts and gestures: a text, a piece of post, an invite (even knowing I might not be able to make it), encouraging words, grounding words, normal words, a hug. They all mean so much to me, more than I can explain. They help me to get through the tough days. And they make the good days better.
At the moment, the good days are outnumbering the tough ones, and that means I’m winning. I’m winning the fight with my own mind.
But I’ve not won yet.