Mental illness. What a weirdly inappropriate term. How is it that people with mental illnesses are still all grouped together like some dysfunctional rabble of lunatics? It’s 2018, man. Mental illness shouldn’t mean anything more than illness.
And yet it does.
At least once a week, someone asks me whether or not it’s difficult to live with anxiety and depression. I’m sure it bloody is. I don’t know though, or at least not from personal experience. I am lucky enough to never have had depression. Anxiety, yes. Depression, no.
There are many many different kinds of mental illness, just like there are different physical illnesses and having one of them does not automatically earn you another.
It isn’t that people mean to be ignorant about it when they ask, I’m sure. It’s a lack of education and awareness that surrounds a lot of mental illness and if you haven’t been diagnosed with one (or maybe even if you have) you’re probably lucky enough not to have to think about it at all.
Not thinking about something at all often means that there’s no motivation to try to seek any of the information about it that’s out there. It is unlikely though, that you’ll never come across a mental illness, whether it be your own, or someone you love’s.
Saying you don’t know much about mental illness, is every bit as silly as saying you don’t know anything about illness. I’m hoping that by venturing onto my blog in the first place you’re at least somewhat interested in what it might be like for someone to live with anxiety, but please know that it’s as important not to assume someone with anxiety has depression as it is not to assume that someone with Multiple Sclerosis has Irritable Bowel Disease.
Even before I started this blog, I knew several people who lived with anxiety every day. I now know that many more people who I have known a long time also live with anxiety. And I have found that people with other mental illnesses are more likely to open up to me too.
Why? If what we’re going through isn’t the same thing, then why have they opened up to me?
Well, I think first and foremost it’s a matter of being united by the fact that the majority of people we encounter in every day life don’t know what it is to live with a chronic illness. Knowing what it feels like to have to explain how much of a drain that can be, awakens a desire to be kind, to show compassion and to try to empathise as much as possible with people who have equally different paths to walk.
My own experiences with anxiety meant that I wanted to understand and help, when a good friend of mine was diagnosed with ME and that I’m drawn to people who have had slightly harder times of it than your average Joe.
There are so many different kinds of illnesses that people could be talking about when they say mental illness, and the best thing you can possibly do is to ask, rather than assume. I’m absolutely NOT a medical professional, or an expert on anxiety, but I am an expert in my own life and I can tell you that it is difficult sometimes to be repeatedly misunderstood. I feel the need to try to explain to people that I’m not depressed (and when has anyone looked less happy than when they are trying to explain to you that they are?).
I have multiple kinds of anxiety disorders, which include but are not limited to:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder - characterised by an intense level of worry about day to day things, like social occasions, money, people, etc
- Panic Disorder - Recurring panic attacks
- C-PTSD - Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by repeated exposure to trauma
- Illness Anxiety Disorder - hypochondria
- The “checking” part of OCD - disproportionate worrying about doors being unlocked, repeatedly checking my dog is OK, etc
There are also other types of anxiety disorder. In addition to these, there are many many other different kinds of mental illness.
The list is extensive, and that’s just the tip of the mental illness iceberg, but I really hope it gives you some idea of just how unspecific a phrase mental illness is. And just like you’d ask someone who said they were ill what’s wrong, it’s also definitely OK (if not encouraged) to ask follow up questions when you learn that you or someone you know is mentally ill.
I lend my mind and my platform to multiple conditions that I think deserve more attention, you may have already heard my podcast about Alzheimer’s (if not, you can listen here), because I really believe that the more we talk about these things, the easier they become to live with for those of us who have no choice.
I hope that in time, enough of us will have opened our minds, ears and hearts to understanding each other, that we can stop banging the mental illness drum and actually start talking in enough detail and with enough knowledge about these chronic and debilitating conditions that we can make a real difference to those affected by them. Until then, we’ll have to just keep singing loudly from the same hymn sheet in order to get our voices heard.