In the past month, I have cried for hours. I have been awake almost twice as long as I have been asleep. I’ve stayed awake for the sunrise twice. I’ve broken down, I’ve picked myself up. I finally had a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) session, and I told 2 people about what was happening to me.
I wrote previously about the fear of starting, the fear of trying to get help and to fix my mental health issues. I haven’t fixed them, but I don’t think I can. Not for want of trying, but for want of being the way I am. I finally spoke to a psychologist, who thinks my depression and anxiety is down to a chemical imbalance. This means I can’t just decide to think positively. Equally, it explains why tablets don’t give me many side effects and why they help me so much.
I realise this isn’t very poetic, but I want to talk about telling.
It’s common knowledge that there is a stigma surrounding mental health. It’s not common knowledge that the stigma is more ingrained than you can possibly imagine. In my mind. I am afraid of my own anxiety and depression. Even mentioning having them makes me feel guilty and attention-seeking. It isn’t. No one who really has a mental health issue wants to tell the world.
Telling my mother was not easy, and I barely managed to get the whole sentence out. It was more words and crying than anything. What mattered though is that my mother came to sit by my side and held me. She accepted what I had to say and told me it was okay. It has been much easier with her knowing and helping. And, most of all, understanding like she has.
Second time round, I was texting a guy from home. One night I had an overwhelming panic attack that put me on the floor in the dark, crying and hyperventilating. While we had talked a lot, I obviously hadn’t started with “Hi, I have mental issues, how have you been?”. Yet I felt that I could trust him, and that he might be able to understand. I decided to wing it and explain about the therapy and the tablets, and what was going on in my head. I could never have guessed how well he would take it and accept it, and end up loving me anyway.
It has been so important having someone else know, particularly within a relationship. He knows what I’m thinking and why I’m saying what I am, even if I don’t mean it. Being so honest has worked insanely well and it’s made the holidays so much easier, happier and, honestly, quite comforting.
My housemates do not know of my health issues, or what tablets I’m spending my money on. Currently, I am happy for them to assume I am buying iron tablets and am seeing the doctor to discuss how my anaemia is (partially true). It will not benefit them to know, nor will it affect me. My Dad and brother do not know, but no doubt they will one day. My workplace are clueless, my university knows nothing, and the majority of my friends and classmates have no idea.
The thing is, it’s how I want it to be. I am in control of who I tell and who knows. My mother and sister know, three of my close friends know, and my boyfriend knows. I chose them to know what I am doing and why. It benefits all of us to know, and it gives me just enough room to be alone without being lonely, and a big enough collective shoulder to cry on.
Mental health is not something to define you, but it is part of who you are. I can’t change it, but I can work around it, and having family know allows for greater love and understanding. Having friends know mean that someone is checking up on me and calming me down at 2am because I drank too much while on my tablets and can’t stop crying. Having someone who loves you (and who you love back) means an actual shoulder to cry on and hold, someone to tell my scary dreams to, and someone who just accepts me.
Picking who to tell (if anyone) is entirely up to you. It is occasionally beneficial in full-time jobs, or in a pressurised environment. It could help your family or partner take better care of you. It could allow a friend to tell you things you already know, like how you are good some days, and bad on others.
If I’ve learned anything in the past year, in finally opening up, it’s that nothing is achieved alone.
This is the website for Mind, a registered charity invested in mental wellbeing. The site is great for support and has a lot of useful information.
Samaritans is another established charity that can be reached on the phone 24/7, on 116 123
For students in particular, Nightline has separate branches for each university and you can find the right contact number via the website. They won’t give advice, but will always listen.
By Briony Brake