I didn't know whether I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis after so long or whether I'd been hit by a bus.
If you saw me in the street, you'd probably walk past me and think nothing of it. If you met me, you'd see a bright bubbly female, currently working in an emotionally and mentally draining job which needs my full attention at all times.
That’s not the 'real' me, because over the past 10 years, I've grown a mask, not only with make up but in myself.
This is due to my fear of what people would say if I told them the truth about my mental health and the reaction I'd receive and the fear of being judged. When people hear that you've got depression, reactions can be negative and the worst of all is when you hear people talk and they think its little bit of the 'blues'. This understanding of depression is a hard one. Until you've suffered it yourself, people won't understand the feeling of depression. Its certainly not as easy 'as pulling yourself together'. When you’re having a 'bad day', getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do, when all you want is a dark hole to open up and swallow you whole so that the end is in sight and the feeling of self hate can leave you once and for all.
Earlier this year I was finally given a definitive diagnosis, 'Borderline Personality Disorder'. It was like a wave of emotions had hit me. I didn't know whether I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis after so long or whether I'd been hit by a bus. My emotions were overwhelming if I'm honest.
Having the diagnosis can be a useful thing, especially when professionals within the NHS system understand mental health. I honestly believe I have the best. My GP is so understanding, I can be totally honest with her without the fear of her being judgemental and my local CMHT are on hand when ever I'm having a real hard time, currently more often than not. I'm currently receiving 'Cognitive Behaviour Therapy', for the second time in 5 years for an eating disorder 'Bulimia', which I'm extremely grateful for. Therapists say that patients may 'lapse' after recovery, unfortunately I 'relapsed', and currently fighting to get better and that’s hard, especially when you feel that there's no way out.
In truth, having a mental illness comes with stigma, which isn't helped by the media, who only give it the time of day when a negative story hits the headlines. No wonder so many people don't talk about their mental health, and why would they. The fear of being 'labeled' is scarey and the shame that you’re made to feel is horrible. I'm sure that some of the older generations associate 'mental health' with the old fashioned 'mental asylums', which is so unfair and definitely not true. If people have more understanding of mental health, then the stigma can start to shift and one day end.
When I started my job two years ago, I was petrified of what my new employers would say if I told them the truth. I had two options, tell the truth and deal with the consequences or say nothing. I opted for the truth and believe it was the best thing I could have done. My employers are fantastic, I'm honest with everything that goes on, they give me time off when I have appointments and help me through the day if I'm having an 'off day' which is a great support for me. However my family don't understand. It’s a struggle for me to explain to them about my mental health so I say nothing. It’s as if it’s shameful to have mental health problems. They know little bits but I can't be totally honest with them due to the reaction I received when they found out I was a self harmer seven years ago. I was devastated. I felt so ashamed about being depressed that I built a public face and to this day my public face is used on a daily basis.
Breaking the silence of mental health is crucial, because living in silence is hell. If more people came forward and spoke about mental health the stigma will start to shift. I understand that it is difficult especially with some reactions but being honest can make a difference, being alone is hard but knowing that you’re not the only one suffering does bring some comfort. I believe if we all pull together and start being honest and open, it will end stigma.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org