content warning: mental health and suicide
"I don’t quite know how to start this." That’s how this conversation usually begins for me. What I’m here to speak about is so incredibly personal to me that telling anybody else, particularly people who know me, makes me feel weak and vulnerable. I suppose the thing that I’m going to be talking about makes me feel weak and vulnerable in and of itself anyway, but at least when I keep it to myself it makes me feel stronger.
Recently though, I’ve realised that I can’t keep doing that anymore. Keeping it to myself. It’s like holding this giant fucking weight in your chest, throat, head and mind that’s slowly just eats away at your energy and your being. Bringing you down a little bit closer to the ground every time until you feel the need to just lie down and stay down for days at a time.
What I’m about to open up about is something that makes me feel literally paralysed, both mentally and physically, and that’s why I want to speak about it. If this ‘thing’ has that much power and that much control over me that it can manipulate and torture me enough to make me feel paralysed, then fuck it, I want to speak about it.
I want people to understand what it’s like, and that if they’re going through the same or similar, they know they’re not alone.
Mental illness. I’d chance a bet, that as soon as some people read that, they’ll have let out a sigh, a huff and puff, and let themselves go and look at something a bit happier. One of those people may be you right now, but please read on.
“Ugh, another young female speaking about how awful mental health problems are. What a surprise.”
I am aware that may make me come across as flippant or as if I’m generalising there, but I know that is the reality for many people. I’ve heard it first-hand time and time again. I’ve seen the way people look at me once they’ve been made aware of my mental illness. Sometimes they’re understanding, but at other times I feel like they’ve just mentally picked me up and put me on top of their pile of ‘whinging, annoying females who love nothing more than a good complaining session…’
So, why do I want to speak publicly about my experience with mental illness, if I think I could run the risk of people assuming such negative things about me? I want to speak publicly about it because, for the first time in the years I’ve suffered with a mental illness (eight since a formal diagnosis to be exact), I no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed by it. I don’t feel like I’m a failure for having a mental illness anymore. I don’t feel any less worthy. I honestly cannot tell you how great and freeing that is to say, but I spent all those years from the age of twelve truly believing that there was something terribly, terribly wrong with me and that I was an unworthy, broken human being who was going to have to keep this heavy weight on her shoulders without letting anyone else know for fear of them hating me. It was absolutely exhausting.
My mental illness does come with some parts that I’ve been able to turn into positives. My Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD/EUPD) means that I feel all emotions at a higher intensity. So, when I’m happy, I’m really fucking happy. But when I’m sad, I’m really fucking sad.
In that latter emotion, I’m often capable of doing some really awful things. At the age of 15 I was hospitalised after trying to take an overdose and attempting to strangle myself to death because I felt so depressed and anxious about anything and everything in my life that I thought that being dead would be the happy way out. I didn’t tell any of my best friends, bar one or two, about that. That was the intensity of the shame I had for feeling this way. I was in hospital for trying to kill myself, and I didn’t tell the majority of my best friends. The people who, at the time, I loved and cared about the most. It was the most heart-breaking, tiring and draining secret I’ve ever had to keep.
Five years on from my hospitalization, I still feel the same. However, with age comes maturity, and as you grow as a person you learn new ways every day of how to try and keep yourself and your illness in balance. I can still slip and fall into that place though, and when I’m down there, it still feels almost impossible to come out.
This is why I want to talk about mental illness. It is an illness. It is not sadness and it is not ‘an off day’. I take medication for it every day, like people do for other illnesses. You may not be able to see it – I often get told that I’m one of the happiest and bubbliest people they’ve ever met – but lurking beneath those smiles is my mental illness and the burden it carries. It can bring me down with it whenever it pleases. That knife edge on which my life is lived riddles me with anxiety, and yes if I thought about that all the time, then I’d never be happy, but even when ignored it can happen, and it does happen. Way more often than I’d like it to.
So, if I’ve ever ignored you for days at a time, come across as harsh or blunt, cancelled plans or just simply been awful – please don’t always assume that I’m just being a dick. I’m probably going through a difficult time and feel unable to speak about it openly with you. I’m not using my mental illness as an excuse to every mistake I’ve made and will make, that would be foolish, but it definitely accounts for some, and I feel like you should know that and be given the chance to understand that.
I want to share this because I don’t want to feel like I’m whinging, complaining or just being a moody, miserable fuckhead for speaking about my mental illness – and no one else should feel like that if they want to speak about theirs either. Mental illness is a serious thing and needs to be treated as such – by both peers and professionals.
My mental illness doesn’t define who I am, it merely explains some parts of me and the journey that I’m on. I’m not embarrassed of it anymore. I’m not ashamed of it anymore. I’m not hiding it anymore, and neither should I have to.
Illustrations by the incredible Rebecca Hendin, check out her work and hire her: www.rebeccahendin.com