First of all, I was sad to learn about the death of David Bowie. The man walked to his own beat, which is a rare thing. Only a legend is brave enough to go against the norm time and again, and that deserves both recognition and respect. May his memory live on.
Recently I was reminded of an important aspect of recovery – Acceptance –If you don’t accept that you’re ill then how can you expect to recover? It doesn’t matter whether it’s anxiety, depression or a broken leg. Physical conditions are easier to address because they’re quantifiable to the senses, you can both see and touch them. Can you imagine trying to walk on a broken leg? Once you fell on your face a few times you’d accept the situation fairly quickly. However, mental health conditions are a different story. It took me ten years to fully admit that I had a problem and needed help.
A friend/colleague quit his job recently, due to illness. That wasn’t the official line, but the truth was obvious. His erratic behaviour in the office was a red flag. We went for a drink and it broke my heart to listen to him talk. “It’s a bad time, but it’s all cool, I just need an adventure! My doctor said I’m manic depressive but he’s talking shit, he wants to drug me up. I won’t become a zombie.” When I tried to suggest that having depression is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of, he became angry and snapped “I’m not like YOU. It’s all about the state of mind. I won’t become one of those people who bring the rest of their world down with their negativity.” I took it on the chin. People tend to lash out when you touch a nerve. So what’s the game plan..? Well, he’s booked a one way ticket to Thailand (no seriously). No job, no safety net, no nothing.
I supposed that people deal with things in their own way and who am I to judge? I moved to London to escape my condition, he’s just really pushing the boat out! (For the record, it doesn’t work. I imagine the demons will pass through Customs with him).
Why is it so hard to even consider the idea that we might have a mental health problem? Personally, I didn’t want to because I was afraid, I knew there was something wrong but I couldn’t explain what it was. I was worried that others might judge me. I judged ‘me’ for being so weak. Everyone else seemed to be coping with life just fine, so why couldn’t I? Well here’s a secret that I want to expose… something that might help you. Feeling afraid, embarrassed or ashamed is all part of the mental illness ‘trick’ – it fools you into believing that you’re a freak who can’t be helped. David Carbonell talks about the ‘anxiety trick’ extensively on his website. You believe that you should be able to control your thoughts and emotions, and therefore criticise yourself for ‘failing.’
Acceptance isn’t something that comes easily, especially if you’ve been fighting it for a while. But these are the three key things that I did:
- Asked myself the following questions; 1. Is this ‘thing’ affecting my daily life? E.g. Stopping me from concentrating at work, or going out with friends. 2. Does it make me feel unhappy every day? 3. Do I want it to stop?
If the answer is yes to any of these then it’s time to take action.
- Wrote down a list of symptoms (both physical and mental) to see whether they matched the NHS description of anxiety. They did… I think I got 10/13! http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anxiety/Pages/Symptoms.aspx
- Tell someone. This is something I find myself repeating this time and again. As hard as it might be, the very act of telling another person can be hugely therapeutic. Choose someone you trust and plan what you’re going to say in advance, (just a few bullet points). If you don’t feel ready to confide in someone close to you then why not ring Anxiety UK or Mind Both charities provide an anonymous phone service, staffed by people who have actually experienced mental health problems themselves. The first person I told was a lady at Anxiety UK. I just blurted everything out in one clumsy monologue. She was patient kind and talked me through my options. It really helped and gave me the courage to tell other people.
Shame and embarrassment go hand in hand with mental illness, they’re like a nasty side dish that comes with every meal. No matter how many times you tell the waiter that you don’t want them, they still turn up, (bastard).
Being honest with yourself is not an easy thing to do, try and remember that. It’s takes a brave person to admit they need help.
Mental health is 100% legitimate and there is nothing to be ashamed of. The first step is the hardest, but once you do it you’ll never look back.
Take a bit of inspiration from Bowie, if he can wear blue eye shadow then you can talk mental health!