Mental health is something that's increasingly appearing in conversation these days. This is a huge, huge step in the right direction, because historically it's the stigma around mental illness that has been one of the biggest obstacles for people in seeking help, or in fact, in even acknowledging that there's a problem in the first place. I'm impatient though. I want to see this conversation go further, much further.
For me, as someone who has long struggled to take control of clinical depression and borderline personality disorder, simply acknowledging that more people than previously thought experience mental health problems isn't enough. I want to hear about what it feels like, how it impacts people in their day to day lives, how they cope with symptoms, what happens when they can't cope. All too often, albeit for good reasons, the focus is on recovery, and in my experience, this can lead those with a chronic issue to feel that they are failing because they haven't recovered. Yes, it is important to offer people hope, and for some, recovery is possible, but equally, it's important to offer realism. For others, there isn't recovery - there's management, and acceptance of what may well be a lifelong diagnosis. I fall into this category.
It's taken me a long time to be able to say this, and often, acceptance escapes me. On those days, I resent every single ounce of effort I have to make to keep myself well. It would be so much easier to keep following the old patterns of behaviour - withdraw, stop taking medication, stop working with my therapist, hurt myself - none of these things lead to a good conclusion, but they're easy. They're familiar, and this familiarity, however painful, is strangely comforting. I realise this probably makes very little sense, but that's how it seems at times. However, having put years of effort into reaching something that resembles stability, I can't afford to let all that progress go. So instead, I take all those old patterns of behaviour and rather than giving in, I see them for what they are - signs. Signs that I need to be more wary. Signs that my thinking is becoming skewed. Signs that I need to take a step back and really look at what I'm doing, how I'm behaving, and see what needs to change.
This all sounds very simple and easy to do. It's not, and often, it doesn't work. I still need to take medication, am under the care of a psychiatrist and see a Therapist weekly, as well as attending a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT group) through the hospital. I need to watch what I eat, be mindful of how much rest I get, how much exercise, and always be alert to disordered thinking. It takes a lot of effort to keep myself well. This is why I want to hear more about peoples' personal experience with mental illness - it helps me to know that I'm not the only one who feels like this, or who has to put in so much effort to achieve what seems to come so easily to others.
A little over a year ago, shortly after my discharge from hospital due to a particularly nasty episode, I began to blog about what it's like for me to live with clinical depression - how it manifests, how it impacts on my family, various forms of treatment I've tried, and what I've been able to do to help myself along the way. I started out very unsure of where the blog would go, how much I would share, and who would read it. I was writing predominantly for me, to try and make sense of the storm that was raging in my mind. The more I wrote, the easier it became, and gradually people began to respond, both virtually and in the real world. It soon became apparent that I'm far, far from alone.
It's been a long time coming, but I think we're starting to reach a point where society is ready for a fuller conversation about mental illness. It's real, it affects 1 in 3 of us, and it isn't going away. Hiding doesn't change the fact that it's there, it only makes managing it harder. I would love to think of a future where we're able to admit to experiencing depression (for example) as readily as we're able to admit to having the flu, where mental illness isn't something to be talked of in hushed whispers behind closed doors, but accepted as a part of everyday life, albeit a part we'd much rather not experience. For my part, I'm going to keep writing and keep talking. I've started, there's no taking it back, and the more I talk, the easier it gets. I would rather not have depression, and I'd certainly rather not be trying to manage BPD. But I am. Talking about it helps. Not feeling the need to hide it helps. Knowing that readers can identify with what I've experienced helps hugely. We're only just beginning to understand mental illness, and I've no doubt there's a long road ahead, but the steps have to be taken, and talking is the start.