“What on earth is wrong with you?“
“Are you mental?“
“You must be bipolar or something“
“Your mood swings, you must be f***ing crazy!“
“You’re nothing but a filthy p*sshead” (from the man who used my obvious predilection for alcohol to get me, then used it against me as soon as it became obvious I wanted out of the relationship)
These, and other less than helpful comments have all been levelled at me over the years.
Along with comments and criticism about how messy, disorganised, forgetful, ‘flighty’, overly excitable, and chaotic I was. Am.
For years I absorbed all these comments as indications of who I was. I had a very strong sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a human being. That I was fundamentally flawed in some way.
This sense of wrongness contributed to its own growth, as my self-esteem dwindled, my coping strategies diminished, and I sank deeper into the abyss. Never seeking help, because I didn’t think I merited it. The one time I did, after a trauma so deep I still bear the scars today, the doctor told me ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, you just need a job’. So I did the only thing I could do. I went straight to the pub, and never asked again. I was so sure that everything I felt was further evidence of my failings as a human being, all I could do was numb, and keep numbing.
What WAS Wrong With Me?
Eating disorder, drug abuse, alcohol dependency, smoking despite being asthmatic, suicidal thoughts, constant underachieving, restlessness, trouble holding down jobs and relationships, depression, anxiety, stress…all fairly constant factors in my life for the whole of my 20s and 30s. I did tests online that scored me as high for Bipolar disorder, but that had been used to question my parenting ability, and as a threat to take my youngest son from me, so I was never going to ask my doctor about that. The same for addiction – deep down I knew I was an alcoholic but was terrified that if I admitted it, I would lose my precious boys.
I have recently discovered that much of my problems originated in the undiagnosed ADHD that means that I cannot help but be messy, disorganised, forgetful etc. I absorbed all the criticisms about that and decided that there must be something deeply wrong with me that meant I seemed incapable of functioning properly in the world. Apparently addiction is quite common in people with undiagnosed ADHD, I can completely understand why.
The stigma that surrounds mental health is a killer. I would have drunk myself into a self-medicated early grave rather than admit I had a drinking problem (I have only been able to do so since I stopped drinking and could look back at my life a little more objectively). But the alcoholism was only the medicine to try to heal the other problems I had been experiencing. I started drinking to oblivion because I realised that if I drank enough, I couldn’t feel my pain quite so much, so it became a very appealing choice. Had I received better support when I went to that doctor, maybe I would have had another way to manage the way I was feeling.
One in four of us will, at some point in our lives, experience a problem with our mental health. Some of us experience more than our fair share. This can make life difficult enough to manage and even survive, without worrying about the fact that it is still hard to ask for help.
If one in four of us are experiencing it, then that means that you almost certainly know a few people who are going through some sort of inner turmoil in their lives. You may know about it. You may suspect there is something up, but not know how to broach the subject. You may have no idea. Your friends, family member, colleague, employee, boss…all might be going through their own private hell that you might not know about. An reported 12.7% of workplace absence is related to mental health conditions. Given that many people would rather blame a physical health condition than a mental one, the true figures are likely to be higher.
You Can Help
Please be kind. Remember that people may put on a front, and may not tell you how they are really feeling. If you want to be supportive, let people know that you are there for them, but don’t try to force a conversation if it doesn’t seem to be wanted. Time To Change have launched the ‘Ask Twice’ campaign, to encourage people to recognise that often we will tell people we are ok when we really aren’t. You can choose the easy route and accept the ‘fine’, or you can take the bold step and ask a compassionate ‘are you sure?’, and allow them the space to open up to you. The video that accompanies the campaign hits home
Watch the way you talk about others. If your friend hears you talking disparagingly about mental health, they are unlikely to reach out to you for the support they might need. And please, never use mental illness as an insult, even as a joke. You might think it is harmless, but if the person you are speaking to is struggling, this will only make things worse. Trust me, I know!
We all want to help and support those we care about, today, on World Mental Health Day, let’s do something to break this stigma and show those you care about that it is ok not to be ok.
What will you do?
What can you do today to help end the stigma of mental illness? Share in the comments one thing you are going to to to support those around you.