DISCLAIMER – I’ve literally written and re-written this piece like twenty fucking times because I don’t want this to feel like it’s a pity party, that’s not the aim. I don’t want pity, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, I just want to put this out there in the hope that it might help even just one person feeling the same way I have or to inspire others to reach out to their friends if they don’t seem okay. So apologies if this is all over the place, but I need to get some shit off my chest.
I had a friend reach out to me recently because she’d noticed through my Instagram that in a lot of my stories I’d been looking defeated/exhausted and not my upbeat self; I cannot begin tell you how important it was to me that she asked – even though I didn’t think I needed someone to check in on me, it was really comforting that she did.
This isn’t even a friend that I speak to or see all that often, but she had the decency and the heart to see if I was okay, to see if I needed to talk or if there was anything I needed – we need more people like her on this earth, because simply checking in on someone to show that someone gives a shit can honestly save a life.
R U OK? Day is an incredible initiative to get people talking about mental health, but we need to be asking the question more often, not just when prompted by a day – we NEED to do more. People are taking their lives every day because they feel like there is no other option or that it doesn’t matter what happens to them.
I have been wanting to write this piece for the longest time but have put it off for fear of judgement and a fear that people will think it is ‘attention seeking’ – which is beyond ironic because that’s the stigma I want to help break. So, bear with me if this is all over the place, my mind is running at a hundred miles an hour trying to get everything out in a way that might make an impact.
Writing is a tool I’ve always used to tell other people’s stories. I love having the ability to give someone a voice who might not otherwise speak up – so why am I so scared to speak up myself?
It’s a double-edged sword.
I want so desperately to help break the stigma around having a mental illness, but I’ve been too terrified to publicly talk about my struggles to it’s fullest extent.
I’ve never shied away from admitting I struggle with anxiety, but I’ve also never gone into depth about it because I don’t want people to think any less of me, which is so ridiculous because I will be the first to tell anyone that it’s worse to keep things to yourself.
I’ve had Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder for around 13-14 years and always felt like I’ve had a relatively good handle on it – developing coping mechanisms if I feel a panic attack coming on or letting someone know I’m just not doing too well.
But last year I missed all the signs that my mental health was declining because my symptoms weren’t like my usual anxiety symptoms – shortness of breath, restlessness, exhaustion etc.
For the first time in my life, I fell into a depression that I was so unaware I had; I had talked myself into thinking that I had something physically wrong me, as opposed to mentally.
So, for someone who is deals with mental health issues to miss signs and symptoms, how can we expect others to notice symptoms before it’s too late?
WE NEED MORE EDUCATION – it’s as simple as that and it needs to start young.
Education on the little things that might indicate something is wrong; not just typical symptoms like withdrawal from social activities, problems sleeping, irritability etc – even though they are important indicators to look for also.
I’m talking about about people who, at least on the surface, seem successful at school, at work, or at home. On the inside, however, they could be experiencing a near-constant state of depression and anxiety.
But because these people are often high achieving, no one thinks that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them and they themselves may not understand why these things are happening to them because they can’t find a ‘good enough reason’ to feel the way they do.
I didn’t realise that dizziness, stomach issues, fatigue, weakened immune system, loss or increase of appetite, chest pain and so many other things could be indicative of an underlying mental health issue. I just assumed that there was something physical going on and never thought that it could mean I was developing depression because everything else in my life was in a really good place.
I had literally lost any and all motivation to leave my house, see anyone, WRITE (which is literally the thing I love doing most in this world) and do just about anything that involved effort, but I kept telling myself that it was just because I was so sick all the time, not ‘sad’.
We need to be told at a very young age to look out for these ‘silent’ signs within ourselves so we know what they could be before it gets too overwhelming – we also need to be taught how to look after our mental health the same way we are taught to look after our physical health, one is no more important than the other.
Awareness and acceptance of mental illness may be getting stronger, but suicide rates are still climbing, so are we doing enough? I don’t think so.
Mental health education needs to start in school, it needs to be more spoken about on traditional media platforms, it needs to be a focus of every workplace, open conversations need to be had among friends and family – we all need to educate each other.
We also all need to remember check in on our mates, our family and even people we may have lost touched with, far more regularly than we do, you never know when a simple: ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ could save a life.
Shoutout to everyone who may be struggling at the moment, you’re fucking awesome and don’t ever think otherwise.