Tuesday 15 March 2016

Breaking the Stigma

It's hard not to let something like anxiety define who you are. It's hard because it begins to take over your life, from parents who are so concerned they seem to serve merely as a reminder that something is wrong rather than a comfort to the demands made of you by a therapist whether that be filling in behavioural chain analysis forms in-between meetings or just trying to remember certain feelings you have had. It's hard because it's difficult to separate yourself from that person who suffered from a panic attack or anxiety or, in my case, lost his voice. It's difficult to convince yourself that it's okay now. Or that you're through the worst of it. Not just because there are no guarantees that you are. There are constant reminders. The sudden feeling of not being able to breathe or forgetting the word you wanted to say and it feeling like a stutter. Or just feeling a bit panicky and worrying, for a split second, that this feels like the last time. 

They all serve as constant reminders that you are less than perfect but less than perfect in a way that is not seen as normal. Because we are all not perfect, that goes without saying. But some imperfections are more acceptable than others. Some imperfections are more understood than others. Some imperfections are just more "normal" than others, in the figurative sense of the word. Because mental health issues are normal. They are common and vast numbers of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. But, for some reason, it is not a normal imperfection. Mental health issues are not fully understood, hardly productively discussed and rarely effectively engaged with as an issue. Despite how common they are. And by less than perfect, I include, of course, just not good enough. A feeling that somehow being depressed or having anxiety or suffering from panic attack means you just are not good enough.

I saw and shared a post on Facebook recently that neatly sums this up. Its caption was the following quotation from Kevin Breel:

"We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way. That's the stigma. We are so, so so accepting of any body breaking down other than our brains. And that's ignorance. That's pure ignorance, and that ignorance has created a world that doesn't understand depress, that doesn't understand mental health. And that's ironic to me, because depression is one of the best-documented problems we have in the world, yet it's one of the least discussed. We just push it aside and put it in a corner and pretend it's not there and hope it'll fix itself"

It won't fix itself. If you suffer from mental health, you know that from experience. I had my first notable panic attack in America last June. I am still receiving bills and payment requests from American hospitals. I have had three or perhaps even four or five since, each of varying degrees of seriousness. I've been in hospitals, I've seen doctors, I've been prescribed medication, I've been told my stutter is related to anxiety, I've been told the exact opposite. I've sat with a GP who seemed that she could not care less that someone was sat in front of her reduced to communicating by writing down what he wanted to say. I forget the time of my appointment, but I can only imagine it was just before lunch time and she was especially hungry because I have never been rushed out of a room with such fervour. Despite meeting with her over 4 weeks ago, I still have not been contacted by the NHS Mental Health Service, which probably says just as much about the lack of funding as it does about the ignorance about the immediacy of these problems. 

I've been lucky to have had people who did not run in the other direction, who were very much there and maybe they did not understand, but that they tried was more than enough. Some people are not so lucky. That needs to change. If you ever need someone to listen to you or to talk to or heck, you just need someone to sit with you, then please just message me. Anytime. 

I will leave you with some words from Stephen Fry: 

"If you know someone who's depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do."

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