Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Why I Talk So Openly About My Mental Health

This month is Green Ribbon month - where See Change and their supporters encourage people to wear a green ribbon in support of those struggling with their mental health and to help us end the stigma around mental illness.

I've been an ambassador with See Change for about four years now. With See Change's support, I share my mental health story in interviews and in talks.

But for a long time I struggled to find meaning in my mental illness. I had suffered in silence for years.

While I struggled with my mental health throughout secondary school,  I never identified it as ‘I have a mental health problem’. It wasn’t something I was aware of, or even educated in.

My only understanding of mental illness as a teenager was how it was represented and portrayed in the media; asylums and straitjackets. Sinead O'Connor and Britney Spears going 'off the rails'. Being 'depressed' was bad and those people were not fun to be around.

As a result, years of bullying in school went unaddressed. Years of anxiety and sleepless nights were never mentioned. Years of low self-esteem, years of feeling isolated, years of hating myself.

When I moved away from home for college, these feelings escalated. My low moods began to affect me physically. I couldn’t sleep, I lost my appetite, and I started to throw up when I was nervous. Without a support network (friends or family) around me in college, I felt isolated and alone. I felt like I was 'missing out' on the college experience I was supposed to have.

I lost hope that things would ever get better and my thoughts turned to suicide. I didn’t know how to ask to help. I didn't know I was supposed to ask for help. I wasn’t sure anyone would help me.

It took a while for me to realise that what I was going through wasn't normal, I wasn't okay. Eventually, an old friend I got talking to convinced me to see a doctor. A diagnosis gave me relief and comfort. I learned this was an illness and that it was fixable. There was hope.

Before my diagnosis, and for months afterwards, I felt so alone. I felt like a failure. I'd disappointed those around me, I'd failed to have the ultimate college experience - whatever that was.

Once I started to see glimmers of recovery, I knew I had to turn my mental health into something positive.

I hated the thought of anyone feeling as alone, scared or lost as I was.

I hated the fact that people who were struggling, who needed help, didn’t know how to ask for or where to get support.

So I joined local campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues and the supports available.

A few years later, when See Change invited me to join them as an Ambassador, I jumped at the opportunity. Together we could reach more people in dire need. I could show others that things do get better, not to give up hope like I had.

And every time I spoke, someone I didn’t know or who I had lost touch with over the years, would approach me and say ‘me too’. ‘I’ve been there’. ‘Thank you’.

So I would keep going. And I started this blog because I knew I had more to share. I had my whole journey to share. I had stigma to challenge and day-to-day struggles to document.

It’s been 7 years since my diagnosis. And I can’t stop talking about my mental health. It pours out of me.

Because over the years I've learned what was never taught to me in school -
Mental illness is normal; it isn’t something to be ashamed of.
I want to change the way we view, discuss and represent mental illness so that no one ever has to feel as alone as I did.

Find out more about the Green Ribbon campaign taking place all this month at SeeChange.ie.



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