Today’s blog post is something a little different from what I normally write, but in light of recent comments on the matter, I felt it was something that needed to be written about. Today’s post is about suffering with mental illness.
The thing is, I haven’t had the easiest life. Right up until I had Oliver everything was an uphill battle, filled with negatively and people willing me to fail. So despite the general consensus that having a mental illness doesn’t make you a weak person, it certainly feels that way to me. For me, having anxiety, low self esteem and the occasional spell of depression reminds me that I’m not as strong as I want to be – or more to the point – as I feel I need to be.
Even in a day and age where mental illness is more widely acknowledged, I find that I am still faced with comments such as:
“Can’t you just get over it?”
“What have you got to be down about?”
“Why do you worry about how you look?”
“You need to snap out of it.”
When I had postnatal depression after I had Oliver, one family member actually told me I was being a bad mother for having a mental illness. Talk about supportive!
The thing I find interesting about people’s reaction to mental illness, is that unlike physical scars, people can’t see the psychological damage caused by people and events of our past. So people just assume that the person they see in front of them hasn’t been through something that could ultimately alter their mental well-being.
Social situations, such as meeting new people, attending large events or even group meetings with friends are extremely daunting ordeals for me. However people on the outside looking in would have absolutely no idea, because like most people who suffer with a mental illness, I’ve learnt to cover up any trace of it.
Growing up I lived in a house with a violent stepfather. There were times I went to school with bruises up my arms from being given Chinese burns and marks around my neck from being held up by my throat until I started to go dizzy. I’m petrified of the dark because of the time when the light bulbs were taken out of my room and I was locked in. I screamed and screamed in fear, but he refused to let me out and let’s not forget the night he stabbed my mother repeatedly for asking for a divorce.
Like most children from an abusive home, I myself at 19 found myself in a violent and abusive relationship. I was belittled, bruised, cheated on, stalked, blackmailed and eventually mugged when I finally built up the courage to say enough is enough. It took every ounce of strength and courage I possessed to get through a court case that freed me from the merry – go – round of a toxic and abusive relationship.
When people meet me or read my blog now, they don’t see the scars those experiences have left and why would they? I do my absolute hardest to cover them up. But just because I’ve built a life I love, where I am surrounded by good people who I love and who love me, who I protect and who protect me, who make my world, my life complete, doesn’t mean that those scars still aren’t there. It doesn’t mean I don’t still wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat panicking because I’ve relived moments from my past in a nightmare. Just because I smile doesn’t mean that I don’t doubt or question if I even deserve to be this happy and just because I survived and moved on from bad experiences, doesn’t mean they are forgotten.
Mental illness isn’t something a person can just ‘get over’. Trust me I’ve tried. Mental illness is merely a reminder that sometimes, we aren’t as strong as we would like to be. But that is okay, because sometimes we don’t need to be. Sometimes our strength comes from those around us and in time those scars will fade, they may not ever completely disappear, but with time they will fade. Mental illness does not make a person weak, it just means that sometimes they need the support of others to stay strong. So when someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, don’t tell them to “just get over it”, but be their strength when they – temporarily – have none of their own.