What I wish I knew… you are not alone and talking does help.
Oh, if only we had the pleasure of hindsight, what an easy life we would be able to lead. But would I still be the same person? Would it, in fact, be better? Would life have been any easier?
These are not questions that I dwell on too much, to be honest. I am of the belief that I should continue to look forward and not worry about the past.
My life has been one blighted by the fog that is mental illness, having lived with anxiety and depression for most of it. There have been some damn unpleasant times when I nearly succumbed to my suicidal thoughts but those experiences have taught me some very valuable lessons and have shaped who I am. They are part of me.
However, there are still things that I wish I had known when I was first aware of my illness.
It is OK and not unusual
For many years I thought that I was unusual, that the feelings I had of being worthless, a burden and not being good enough were unique to me, that I was odd. Alongside this I was constantly worn out by the brave face I was putting on each and every day because I did not want someone to see I was ‘less of a man’.
Those feelings are not unusual. Having a mental illness does not make you odd, it is not something to hide and more than anything it is OK not to be OK. Mental illness does not mean weakness; it does not mean you are less of a person. It just means that you happen to have an illness; like diabetes or colitis or any other hidden disability.
And what is ‘less of a man’ anyway? Having emotions, crying, showing vulnerability? Yes, these are all traits of a man.
You are not alone
I have seen many depictions of people with a mental illness as someone who is sitting head in hands, alone with their thoughts. That is how I felt too, alone. No-one would understand, no-one would care and no-one could help. How wrong I was!
There are many people who can help you and they come in many guises. Some will be able to rely on family; others do not have that luxury. Some friends will be your rock; others will melt away like spring snow. Some GPs will dismiss you, while another will sit and listen and offer help. There are charities like MIND (and Young Minds), local action groups, a teammate or the person you sit next to at your lecture, your tutor and of course never forget the Samaritans!
Give someone the chance to help, open up to them and feel a weight lifted.
Talking does help
Opening up to people can be a scary prospect, especially when you consider the first two points above and how your mind can convince you otherwise. It is something that I struggled with greatly – and still do at times. I vividly remember sitting in a weekly group therapy session convinced that I could not talk. It took 6 weeks before I did say something and I cannot express what a relief it was. There was no judgement, only nods and empathy. And it was then that I knew I was not alone, weak or stupid.
I now talk a lot about mental health and I raise awareness whenever I can. Talking does help whoever it is with and I cannot encourage you more to do it as soon as you can.
Physical Health makes a huge impact
Mental health is not yet where it needs to be, that is on parity with physical health, but we should look at them as equals and understand the impact one has on the other. It is, after all, health!
Within the last two years, I have found a way to help me manage my mental ill health, running; running outside to be precise. It gives me the perfect headspace; just me, my headphones, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and being outside in nature. I started by doing a couch to 5k programme and it was a bit of hard work but 2 years into it, I am loving it! I take part in Parkrun (a brilliant concept) every weekend and do some races as well.
As it said at the start, the benefit of hindsight would have been great. But I am who I am in part due to my mental illness and some of the struggles I have had. However, I hope that some of the insights I have described, enable you to thrive with your mental ill health and dispel any feelings that you are alone!