So many people over the years have been shocked and amazed that I talk so openly about being mentally ill. I’m told on a regular basis that I’m brave, courageous, inspirational even. But I’m not. I’m doing what I think I should. But more than that, I’m doing what every person with a mental illness should be able to do which is talk about it – talk freely, openly, honestly and candidly. Stigma stops most people from doing this.
Almost every time I talk to people about my own experiences and my plan to have a career in mental health, someone says “my relative has….”, “my friend’s been diagnosed with….”, or “I’ve struggled with….” and then goes on to tell me how their life has been affected by mental illness. Invariably they then thank me for being so open, for making them feel able to share and for taking on the cause and tackling stigma head on. Unfortunately, they usually then go on to say that they wish they could be as open as I am and ask me not to tell anyone about what they’ve shared.
Since starting my blog two weeks ago and posting on Facebook a few years before that, I’ve received messages of support from the strangest of places and often from people I barely know or haven’t spoken to in years. Each message warms my heart because it’s one more person that I’ve reached and one more person to add to the list of supporters of the mentally ill. I’m so grateful that these people have taken the time out of their day to thank me for my honesty and encourage me to continue but it’s so sad that I’m not the norm. That talking honestly and openly about mental illness isn’t the norm, all because of stigma.
I will never sugar-coat what I write on here because there are far too many sources of information out there that dumb-down the effects mental illness has on its subjects. People need to know the truth of what it’s actually like to be diagnosed and to live with a mental illness. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all cure, no pill you can take to make it magically disappear and the treatment many people think we have easy access to either doesn’t exist, has to be pleaded for, or is rarely given during this economic climate. Talking to people as openly as I do is not easy. It’s not always reacted to well. I’ve had my fair share of people try to change the subject, make me feel uncomfortable or even push guilt onto me because I dared to bring up self-harm or talk about the negative effects of my conditions. It isn’t always easy but if I don’t do it, who will? If we don’t end the silence now, then when? When will it be convenient for society to acknowledge that people like me exist, that we’re suffering but will no longer do so in silence? When will I stop being asked questions like “have you tried just ignoring it?”, “why are you anxious?” and “what have you got to be depressed about?” as if you’d speak to a person with cancer or heart disease in the same way? When will it be understood that I’m no more to blame for having a mental illness than others are for having dyslexia, Parkinson’s disease, or MS? When will being open about mental illness stop being brave and start being normal, accepted and ok? When will stigma end?
It’s vital for us to feel supported, listened to, heard and understood. We need to be believed and accepted, not embarrassed and ashamed. We need you, those of you that are well, to be on our side, to help fight this battle against stigma with us. We need you to ask us how we are, what it’s like and how you can help. We need you to be our allies, so that if the tables turn and you end up being one of the 1 in 3 that will become mentally ill in their lifetime, we’re there to show you the way, so that you’re not alone like so many of us have been. This is not a fight that’s easily won and we certainly can’t fight stigma alone but there’s strength in numbers and it’s not in anyone’s interests to keep the stigma going. As a society we’re worse because of it – we isolate some of our most vulnerable, we stop listening to some of those hurting the most and we lose the spark of some of our most talented and caring individuals (Robin Williams’ death taught us nothing if not that)!
I would like to encourage all of you reading this to talk about mental illness. Don’t let us be silenced, embarrassed or ashamed. I won’t go as far as to say I’m proud of being mentally ill but I am proud of what I’m doing because and in spite of it. The course of my life has changed because of it and I now want to spend the rest of my life working with people with mental illnesses, helping them, treating them and supporting them as well as raising awareness of the issues and stigma we face every day. We need you on board. Even doing something small could make someone’s day and take us one step closer to ending stigma about mental illness. If you’re well then reach out to someone you know with a mental illness. If you’re ill then speak out to anyone who’ll listen about what it’s like for you. If you’re still reading this then please please share this post so that people like me no longer have to suffer in silence. You can help end the stigma!
Ashamed Of Being Mentally Ill? Not Me! ….. And I hope not you either!
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It is amazing to hear that you are standing up and speaking about it. As you mention it’s the only way to break stigma. I am actually coordinator of a new online challenge to help break those stigmas. Would love for you to share your story on our campaign site! I’m posting the link to the site in the details required for commenting. Hope to hear from you! If you submit your story I am able to review it first, so if you post your contact info as well we can possibly talk about other articles if you’d be willing to write some for us! Anyway, let us know!
i have suffered anxiety , panick disorder and depression for the last 24 years.
And yes there still is a stigma out there.
You tell people as I do and there response is always ohhh you wouldn’t guess it! Well yes amazing how you learn to hide behind a smile! Even if you are dying inside.
Keep up the good work! Xxx
Sorry you’ve been suffering so long! You’re totally right, we get very good at covering it up but that’s often our downfall too because then people assume we’re not ill at all. Thanks for your lovely comments and for taking time to read my post. Feel free to share it so the message keeps getting out to people. Keep on fighting! xxx
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my email. Even if my message was short.
I didn’t feel I needed to go into details as you are aware of what it is like. lol
Anyway just wanted to let you know that your words and your sight will and is helping others in such a powerful way! Very proud that you have taken it abored to help and share with others. Yes I’m not happy that I have to live with this illness every day!! It makes me angry and frustrated!!!!!! Some days more than others as it has stopped me from living the life I deserve..
But I do my best on a daily basis and I know a good day from a bad one.
May you be blessed everyday of your life. I have shared your story and I hope others read it and share it as well. As just too reach one more person out there may mean saving a life.
I love this post. I have a habit of purposely making people feel uncomfortable. I bring up things that aren’t often openly talked about such as mental health. My aim is that every time they hear about those things, they will feel less uncomfortable due to the exposure.
I feel like I’m making progress. People seem to become less uncomfortable with the topic each time I talk to them about it.
I’m glad you talk about your own experiences so openly. Together we can get past the stigma of mental illness.
Thanks for speaking out and sharing your story, Lucy. The more people do that, the more the stigma recedes. And by sharing your experience, other people also feel less alone and are more inclined to share theirs as well. I have anxiety too, which led to an eating disorder, and for a long time I internalized the stigma I saw around me — I was ashamed of who I was for having a problem. Slowly I’ve shed that shame, and I’ve begun being more open about my struggles. Doing so has been incredibly empowering and helped me to fully let go of that misplaced shame. One thing I’ve learned in life is that we’re all a lot more alike than we are different — and we ALL have issues. For some people that’s a mental illness, for others, it might be physical. Regardless of what it is, it shouldn’t make us feel ‘less than’ or separate from the rest of humanity. Because in the end, we’re all just human beings trying to get by. We’re all on this journey together, and I, for one, am glad to be on this journey with people like you 🙂 I look forward to following along with your blog.
Hi Jen, Thanks so much for reading and commenting! It’s lovely to hear what people think. I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve moved beyond feeling shame and feel able to speak out, and you’re right, it’s very empowering! Great to be journeying with you and I hope you’ll like my future posts. I’m off to have a nose around your blog now 🙂 xxx
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great reading well done, I am a full time care giver/ family member only just found this site but suspect I will spend many hours in here
Thanks so much for reading and commenting, being a carer must be really hard! It’s great to have you here and I hope you’ll enjoy what I write in the future 🙂 xxx
I’ve had anorexia for 30 years. I should have grown out of it by now…. always made to feel ashamed of myself, always being judged… you could stop if you wanted to etc. People outside looking in will NEVER understand it. I am not proud of it, but i am not ashamed because i do the best i can, i didn’t choose to have it, and if how i am isn’t good enough for you, then screw you and move on please!
Hi Julia, thank you so much for commenting and for reading my blog. It’s great to hear that you’re not ashamed because you absolutely shouldn’t be! None of us choose the conditions we’re dealt and we have to deal with them as best we can. It sounds like you have a great attitude and that you’re really fighting your condition and anyone that can’t see that isn’t worth being around and should absolutely move on! Lovely to hear your thoughts xxx
It can’t be denied that talking about a taboo, which might get an unpleasant response, IS brave. Just as 30 years ago talking about being gay was brave.
You’re right that it should be normal, and eventually it will be, I just don’t get the holier than though idea that it’s not brave. Let’s be honest… it is.
Taking a risk, the risk of getting abuse for being open, is brave.
Opening up in front of a crowd, I.e. showing your complete vulnerability, is definitely brave. I feel like it’s belittling to say it isn’t.
We will have to agree to disagree. I’ve heard the ‘It’s not brave’ argument before and I don’t like it. It comes across as false modesty to me. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my impression.
Maybe at the very least it’s in the eye of the beholder? Some people find talking about it ok, so to them it’s not brave, but to others it’s nerve-wracking and therefore brave.
I applaud anyone who risks abuse and rejection by supporting the common good.
Hi, thanks for reading and commenting. I wasn’t saying that it’s not brave, just that I don’t think that what I do is, and more than that, I certainly don’t feel brave. My bigger point was that it shouldn’t be brave because it should be the norm and that’s what I’m fighting for. I can assure you I wasn’t being falsely modest, I truly don’t feel that what I’m doing is brave, I’m just telling the truth and being open and honest and for me that’s what I should be doing, I do however understand why others think it’s brave because of the reasons you suggested, that you can get a negative response – I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of my fair share of that. I also wasn’t trying to be holier than thou at all! I have very low self-confidence and self-belief and anyone who knows me offline will tell you that. I totally agree that plenty of people do behave like that though and that can be very irritating when it’s obvious that they’re just downplaying things. It’s hard to get across exactly what you mean in text online. I kind of have double standards for myself and everyone else so I would never say that someone else opening up about mental illness wasn’t brave, I think it would be but for me, I think I just expect it of myself and I expect myself to not just be upset by stigma and affected by it but to actively challenge it and try to change it. In anyone else I would see that as brave and I’m trying to in myself but depression has very much taken away a lot of my ability to praise myself and so I just tend to have high expectations, that when met, mean I’m doing ok but don’t mean that I feel I deserve praise or recognition. I really wasn’t trying to belittle it and I’m sorry it came across that way because it wasn’t my intention, I just wanted to point out that people think it’s brave and that it shouldn’t be. Talking about mental illness should be as normal as saying you have a cold or a bad back, that’s not brave, it’s normality and that was the point I was trying to get across.
Thanks for your thoughts 🙂 x
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Hi Lucy. Sorry for being not as understanding as I usually am in my comment. Someone I know died yesterday afternoon and I was reeling from that. I am in a over-sensitive state. Your response was great. I understand you more now. You’re right that it’s very difficult to get a point across, exactly as we feel. The other reason I felt upset about it not being brave is that I saw someone talk about their harrowing experiences of their mental health yesterday. Your points are right though. I understand now. Anyway I’m in no state to talk properly on these things. Probably too emotional to do so. Thanks for getting back to me.
Hi Mike, I totally forgot to reply to your comment, sorry! Thanks so much for explaining why you’d found my wording inappropriate. I’m so glad that I explained myself a bit better in my reply to you and your response to it was completely understandable given everything you were going through that day! I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope you’re feeling a little better and a little less emotional now. Thinking of you. Make sure you take time out to look after yourself. I look forward to seeing you around in the blogging world again soon 🙂
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Thanks Lucy. Really appreciated. Your kindness is well received. I’m definitely feeling less flaky. I probably shouldn’t have gone online that day. Hope you’re OK 😀 Take care, Mike
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