So, technically, World Mental Health Day was two days ago, but I only found out about it on the day so I’m writing this now. And, besides, there shouldn’t be just one day where everyone speaks up about their brains, only to stay painfully silent every other day of the year. I’ve written some fairly personal posts about my mental health on this blog over the past six months and I firmly believe that writing about them has helped me not only come to terms with my own mental health, but also to seek help and support. My mother, completely accidentally, stumbled across one of my MH blog posts and it was actually how she found out about my depression. Now, I’m incredibly open with her, and I feel closer to her than I have in a long time because she knows the worst in me, and still loves me, still supports me.
One of my friends told me, on Tuesday, that she wanted to write a blog post for World Mental Health Day but was worried of judgement. Our group chat was all like, ‘SCREW DA H8RS’ and then she followed on that she was also worried of what future employers might think (which is more relevant to her than most, as she’s training to be a journalist). And it got me thinking about MH stigma again, in a way I haven’t for a while.
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I am ashamed of my mental illness, that I think it makes me weak. That it’s terribly ironic that I come across as the most confident, loud and chatty person you’ll ever meet, but inside, all I want to do is crawl into bed and/or disappear and hurt myself. But it annoys me so much when other people whom I care about fear stigmatisation because of their poorly-wired brain. Their MH does not define them. They are all strong, independent capable people whom I admire greatly. Anyone would be lucky to have them as a friend, partner, colleague or employee. And yet this fear of being seen as inferior is perhaps the biggest obstacle to people with poor mental health to overcome.
My experience has, very surprisingly, been mostly positive since I’ve been open about my anxiety and depression around two months ago. My mother reacted better than I ever could have hoped and has been a wonderful pillar of support for me as I went through the horrible side effects of my first anti-depressants. My father, however, dismissed my MH blog posts to my mum as ‘some really weird stuff’ and they haven’t spoken about it since. This, I expected from him so it didn’t surprise or bother me and he’s not been a part of my life since I moved out anyway. My friends were incredibly supportive, as was the blogging and twitter/insta community as a whole – although that, I could have predicted too!
The person I was the most terrified of telling was my boss. When I started on citalopram, the side effects were so brutal that I worked two half days as I had no appetite and felt faint, numb and sick all the time, as well as having a constant lack of energy. As I wasn’t going to be acting my usual self, and I was trying my new policy of MH openness, I decided to be open with my boss about the new medication and how I’d been massively struggling with panic attacks at work. Now, my boss is a tyrant. He is known throughout the entirety of my business as a hard manager and a harsh person. A lot of people say that they ‘hate’ him. And, yes, he is rude and insensitive and he makes anyone with anxiety feel constantly at their very worst.
But guess what?
He was sympathetic and understanding and barely blinked an eye. I didn’t once feel that he thought me any weaker, or any less of a worker because of my mental health and how badly I had been struggling. Ok, he still makes me feel like I’m losing my mind with panic on a daily basis, but at least I’m not treated as someone who can’t deal with work or responsibility. One other member of management who I also told has since taken to telling me, ‘don’t worry’ or ‘stop stressing’ all the damn time, having never once told me that before finding out my diagnosis. That said, this same member of staff also keeps telling me to go to ‘calm control’ classes and group talking therapy classes and I’m like HELL NO! My actual boss, though? He treats me just the same as before, but doesn’t mind if I need to duck off the shop floor and sit on the floor for 30 seconds to gather myself.
Basically, people can surprise you. Let them. You’ll find that if they do react badly, it won’t make you actually feel any worse, you’ll just feel a strange brand of condescension for them, a pity that they’re small-minded but also a gratitude that they obviously don’t share the same pain that you do – and a small part of you – though simultaneously envious – will be happy for them that they don’t have those same struggles. But the people who listen and nod and support and talk to you, they will enrich your lives more than you knew they could. Even if they’ve known you 25 years.
Anyway, I wish you all health and happiness and love. And my DM’s are always open if anybody wants a chat.
See you tomorrow! P.