The Mental Illness Conversation

The association of mental illness with weakness has been a long-standing problem in society. While physical illness is considered to be a ‘real’ problem and the person with it is rendered blameless, mental illness is often thought of as an issue where one has the power to change by fixing their mind-set or thinking. This is unfortunately not true. One's mental health isn't completely in their own hands. It takes a lot more than lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy eating and an improved sleep cycle to alter the composition of your mind. It's essential now more than ever to normalise seeking therapy for one’s mental well-being.

Living with a mental illness means the world always thinks you're at a disadvantage, and on your bad days, you believe it too. When I was in school, I would fight so hard to hide how much I was struggling from those who weren't close to me. Self-harm equalled attention-seeking behaviour, sadness had to have a reason, and that tired feeling that would make your bones heavy? That was just "lack of sleep". I was so overwhelmed all the time, I didn't understand any of my emotions or why I felt them all so deeply. We live in a world where we're always competing, so when I saw that I wasn't even in the race everyone else had made it to, I would crumble on the inside. I wanted to be worthy of my parents' respect, I wanted them to be able to boast about me, but I was too exhausted to do anything about it. It's hard to work when you don't love yourself. It's even harder to explain these concepts to another person without immediately feeling guilty for what you view as self-victimising behaviour. It's important to note that you're not victimising yourself or asking people to feel sorry for you by speaking up about your struggles. You're raising awareness, you're starting conversations and most importantly, you're asking for help, something you should never be ashamed of. It's easy to feel like a burden, but you're not. 

I spent so long feeling like I was disappointing people. When people would claim I was too much for them and leave me, I would envy them. I too wished I could leave the person I despised so much. But of course, I couldn't. Waking up every day and telling yourself there's something to look forward to is tough. I remember hating people saying "there's a light at the end of the tunnel" because no matter how many steps I took forward, I would still only see darkness. Today, I'm that person who says there's a light at the end of the tunnel, because I've seen it and I'm glad I stuck around to do so. 

When you can't achieve in certain departments, you over-compensate in others. I made my personality larger than life, I was loud, open, and I had no filter. I tried to be as fun and uncaring as possible lest someone recognise how ordinary I was. I fell into life-threatening behaviours and I watched it slowly destroy my relationships, my strengths, and my personality. Pretence in itself would consume all my energy. I was in therapy for five years and I only started feeling like I was getting better after finding a psychologist who was a good fit for me. That happened around year three, and by then I was tired, frustrated, and ready to give up. It felt unfair that I had to go through so much before I finally began to make some progress, but everyone's journey looks different and by comparing mine with others I wasn't doing myself any favours. There are still days when I struggle but I've come a long way from being that girl who thought it was never going to get better. I now know that I was unbelievably wrong. On the bad days, I have to repeat all the clichéd lines to myself no matter how ridiculous they sound. I'll say "this too shall pass" a dozen times over until it actually does pass, and suddenly the lines don't seem as ridiculous anymore. 

Recognising mental illness often comes along with the stigma of it defining you. The fear that people will now associate all your actions with your illness is a real one. The solution to this isn't not speaking up about your mental illness but rather, an overall sensitisation and awareness that needs to take place in the world. How do we make other human beings see a part of us without them immediately assuming that is us in our entirety? Start with bringing up uncomfortable conversations at home until they're no longer deemed so out of the blue that they cause discomfort. Talk to your parents, your siblings, your extended family, your friends, your peers, and anyone else in your direct circle about how common mental illnesses are and how struggling with one's mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. More often than not, people will open up about how they themselves have been having a hard time. 

I've had to work hard to battle these stigmas in order to be able to finally focus on looking after myself. However, I couldn't have done it without the immense support I received from my family. It can take some time to broaden one's mind-set to fit the notions that may have once seemed alien, but it’s necessary to push for that widening to happen. Change is so important because the moment we stop asking the world to adapt, we stop questioning society and just accept it along with all its evils, is the moment we begin failing as members of that society. 

There's nothing embarrassing about asking for help, sharing your hardships, or seeking out therapy. Mental illnesses are like any other medical problems that you would go to a doctor for. They're a change in your mood, thinking, or behaviour, and they are never your fault. Most mental illnesses are treatable or manageable via therapy or medication.

It's been two years since I left therapy and went off my medication, I feel happier, stronger than ever, and grateful. I'm really glad I no longer think it doesn't get better, but I don't know if I'd be able to write these words had I not spoken up. So if someone you know or you yourself are struggling, talk about it. Defeat the stigmas associated with mental health so the generation after ours won't have to think twice before asking for help.