Many of you may be aware that today is World Mental Health day. Where possible I try to be as honest as I can about my mental health. Some of my friends understand. They resonate and support, like most things it hasn’t always been that easy. In the past others have greeted my concerns as a joke. I tend to exaggerate from time to time for entertainment purposes so I don’t solely blame them. Yet it can often lead me to feel embarrassed for even mentioning how I feel.
Instead of writing another post on how to look after or improve our mental health, I wanted to cover a topic I know I have struggled with and that is being embarrassed about my mental health.
Mental illness can affect anything from your thoughts to your behaviours, relationships, career and beyond. I have known my mental health to zap me of my energy. Where I am usually a very energetic, self-motivated person I can feel it changing my mood. Taking from me my motivation, my sleep, my appetite and my desire to see my friends. Poor Mental Health can distort the way you see yourself, mentally, physically, professionally and hinder self-esteem in ways you wouldn’t imagine your own self to do. It may feel like some days are much harder to trudge through than others. Yet worst of the all the mental health issues can lead you to feel an overwhelming sense of shame. Shame that you are the one with these feelings, behaving this way. Feeling as though you are broken in some way, without the reassurance of knowing a doctor can bandage it up and know within 6 weeks you will be running again.
I have suffered various mental health issues. From eating disorders which I still struggle to name like it is Voldemort, to social anxiety where I have actually made myself go see friends after deleting the excuse I was going to give, only to get home and regret going and talking. I have woken up consecutively each night with something irrational to worry about. I can feel anxious about nothing until I find something to feel worried about. I concern myself with my family’s health to the point I worry if I have not heard from them for a few hours.
I was embarrassed by how different my feelings were compared to others. How I was never going to be that super chilled, laid back girl everyone wished to be. And for so long I was ashamed of myself, ashamed I had been left feeling like this whilst everyone seemed so easy and breezy. That was until I began to see friends going through things I had been through. I began to identify the struggles they too were masking and not speaking out about. I realised that by being ashamed and not talking I was not only doing a disservice to myself but also to those friends who were then also struggling alone.
I believe there is embarrassment around people not feeling well mentally but not feeling justified to label it because they are not ‘suicidal’ or having suicidal thoughts. Or concerned they have everything they have ever wanted so they shouldn’t be allowed to feel this way. Mental health issues are not circumstantial, your mind despite telling yourself that new jumper will make you happy does not care what you have. Environment and money, yes can make your life easier. For many lifting financial stress can help but it doesn’t result in a guaranteed cure of happiness.
My shame didn’t end at just learning to be ok with how I felt. It also came loaded with the guilt and the feelings that during those times I had not been the easiest friend, best daughter, kindest sister, nicest housemate. It was hard to accept that how I had felt had repercussions on those that meant the most to me. By talking and being honest with myself, putting myself in their shoes and deciding what I would want from them if they were in those situations I was able to learn from it and grow in a way that could help me.
The one thing I have struggled with the most, however, is the difference of support you get between mental and physical illness. If I have a sickness bug, or a broken bone ( the latter happens a lot more often) I receive kind messages, small gifts, people popover, they encourage time off work, plenty of R and R and to just concentrate on making myself better. However, when struggling with issues with mental health, I am reminded of all the great things I have in my life, encouraged to go to work or told to brush myself off, go see friends and get on with. (I, by the way, have never felt the urge to not go to work because of my mental health, and if I did I know my work would be fully supportive of this but I know many aren’t faced with the same attitude). I don’t know whether it is because a physical illness has a time frame? We know a broken leg is only going to be a few weeks of caring texts and maybe a quick thoughtful batch of lasagna. A sickness bug is only 24 hours of ‘if you need anything let me know’ (but expect it to be posted through the letterbox) or is it our stiff upper lip, that mental health is just that taboo many still don’t want to address?
The point I wanted to make with this post (if I haven’t lost you already) is anyone today, who is suffering with their mental health, who have read many posts on how mindfulness, journals, yoga, talking and going for a walk, followed by a hygge night will make you feel better and are feeling even more lost by it, you are not alone. You don’t need to feel embarrassed or shamed by any thoughts or feelings you have. There are so many resources and people out there who can help you get through this. Be open about it to the people who care about you, mental health illness is no more embarrassing than a cough, cold or tripping over and cutting your knee.
Points to remember
1 in 4 people will suffer from mental health problems
Some of the most successful people have suffered from mental health issues. Princess Diana, Stephen Fry, Matt Haig, Prince Harry, Emma Stone, Zoella (A very random selection I know but they were the ones that came to me first)
It is not circumstantial, you can have all the worldly possessions and the nicest house on the street, it doesn’t guarantee constant feelings of happiness.
Feeling ashamed will never help you break from it. Your first step will always be accepting what is happening and talking to just one person about it who can help you.
Because being perfect isn’t a thing, (and trying to achieve it drove me to most of my mental health issues), as soon as you stop seeing others through your rose tinted glasses, life becomes clearer
You are not depression, anxiety, anorexia, OCD – You may struggle with them at the moment but they will never be your forever if you don’t let them
Steps which have helped me
Talking about it – it only takes one person to start it off before you realise how many people around you to want to talk about their mental health. I have one friend in particular who I can go to about all my worries I feel trivial. I honestly feel I became more confident in who I am and accepting of situations when I realised I could text her to run through concerns on my mind. I would like to think she treats me the same back.
See a therapist or find somewhere or someone safe you can discuss how you are feeling without opinions added. I have never seen a therapist, despite my line of work but if I could afford it I wholeheartedly book myself in and go. I am a firm believer I have a gym membership for my physical health so I should have the same for my mental health.
Learn what makes you feel happier. I know a lot of advice such as ‘go for a walk and talk about it’ frustrates many, like curing someone’s depression is as easy as thinking happy thoughts. Yet there is some truth in happy endorphins and finding that something that gives you a sense of happiness, pride, achievement etc. Even if its for a short period hone in on what they are and see how you can fit them into your life more regularly.
I would just like to clarify I am not expert in this area. In fact, I have little knowledge and I am not offering solid, groundbreaking advice, I suggest you take it at your own free will and don’t hold me accountable. I find writing cathartic and hope that it can make sense to at least one person. If it can make a difference to just one person today, to help someone come to terms with the fact that their anxieties, depression, eating disorder, grief, PTSD etc is not anything to be ashamed of, my night of typing will be worth it.
However, if you would like professional advice I would always recommend seeing your GP and talking with a friend, parent or guardian (even if you are a parent yourself). Or if you know you want to speak with a therapist there are many therapist directories online who can find you one in your area. Remember there are so many therapists out there, just because one hasn’t worked for you, I would always encourage you to try another. Lastly, don’t forget all the amazing charities on call to help you out. The lists are too long but the NHS has put together a great link here.