You’ve heard it all before, no doubt.
You’ve heard the earnest cries that it’s ok not to be ok; that medicating a faulty mind is no different from medicating a faulty body; that this too shall pass.
You’ve heard it all before, but I’m frightened that you haven’t heard it enough. I’m frightened that though we’re saying these things, none of us are really listening.
Did you hear what I said?
Are you sure?
Because I really don’t think it’s getting through.
Things may be better, but in all honesty, they’re still bad. Shame is endemic among those with mental health problems.
And no wonder!
I am met with surprise when I am open about my conditions (which are intermittent anxiety, depression, panic and OCD, by the way), as though I am expected to hide them away. People react differently to my therapy visits than they would if I were to mention say, physiotherapy.
This, despite the increasing volume of people who are taking the step and saying: ‘hey, me too.’
I will not live in shame for the sheath of pink pills in my purse.
Quite frankly, I’ve had enough. I will not live in shame for the daily tablet I swallow in the morning or the sheath of emergency pink pills in my purse.
There is as much sense in this shame as in that of a diabetic taking her insulin. And as for the emergency beater blockers: that’s nothing other than sensible, like the condom I carry around alongside them.
I am here to tell you that being mentally unwell does not make you weak, or dramatic, or crazy. Having been called all three of these things – and believed them for a time – I have come to realise that I am not any one of them.
We are unfortunate because we exist in a world where stereotyping of this kind is prevalent. When you would rather call in sick with explosive diarrhoea than admit to a panic attack, we as a society have a real problem.
And this state of shamed secrecy we the 1 in 4 still live in makes me really, really angry.
I’m angry that my anxiety and depression went undiagnosed for six years, and my OCD for ten. I’m angry at the GP who rolled his eyes and said “I don’t know what you want me to tell you” when all I needed was a little hope. I’m angry that an application for a niche NHS therapy I needed led only to an eighteen month-long waiting list.
If I’m angry for myself, I’m furious for people who have it worse.
I’m furious that suicide is the biggest killer in those under 35, and that still there is more conversation and sympathy surrounding car crashes, cancer, and myriad other less serious things that don’t actually kill you. In Matt Haig’s seminal Reasons to Stay Alive, he lists things that garnered more sympathy than his depression. Among them: living in Hull in January.
All this despite those horrendous statistics that show 10 and 20 million people try to kill themselves annually. 1 million succeed.
Still there are those who will not listen; who hear then dismiss; who, worst of all, scoff.
Far from just rude, regressive and insensitive, sweeping mental health concerns under the carpet is incredibly dangerous. Talking can be an invaluable combatant to mental health problems, and silence a deadly co-conspirator in misery. Perhaps it is even talking-as-therapy that bred the saying “to get something off your chest” (depression can leave the sufferer feeling as though a tight band is constricting his or her lungs.)
Remember this though: talking is wasted bravery if society isn’t hearing.
You’ve heard it all before. But this is 2016.
Now’s the time to truly listen.
You can contact Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123 and find more information about mental health at mind.org.uk.
My email (email@example.com) and DMs are always open for you if you feel comfortable enough to discuss with me (anonymously or not) what you might not with others.