I find having a mental illness very different to having a physical illness in terms of people’s reactions. 

Whenever I have been physically ill, friends and colleagues and acquaintances have always been quite comfortable discussing it and been very supportive. Having body dysmorphic disorder and being housebound is rather different. 

Although most friends are supportive, they rarely mention my BDD and I can often feel people’s discomfort if I bring it up – I know quite a few feel embarrassed somehow and don’t know what to say – it seems to make them feel awkward – am not quite sure why. I think it is because people don’t relate my situation and there is a view from some not expressed – but I sense it - that it is some sort of weakness and I have failed somehow. Some friends began after a while when I didn’t get better by reacting angrily and telling me I needed to get on and get over it. Others ignored the whole thing - as if - if they didn’t talk about it I would get better quicker; they thought it was best not to focus on such negativity. One said that quite openly. Occasionally people are quite comfortable to chat about it and accepting of the whole situation – but that tends to be more unusual.

Because of the reactions I have had I too tend to avoid mentioning it now, unless pressed, as it avoids the above reactions and I too have a sense myself somehow of having failed, having been weak. After all I had a successful life and senior job for many years. Whereas now I don’t work, live with my parents and don’t go out except for my treatments. There are some friends I haven’t even told it is BDD and just know it is a mental illness – I found that after telling a handful of friends and the reactions I had, I didn’t tell the rest the details.

A sister of a close friend recently said about me ‘well you can’t listen to Louise’s advice she has a mental health problem and is taking advantage of her parents’. This is a more extreme reaction than from most people and again not expressed to me, but when I found out about it I was very angry. I get most irritated these days by such judgmental comments and often think if a debilitating physical health condition left me housebound and living with my parents, the reactions would be very different. Other more extreme reactions include the reaction of a social worker when I was being assessed by the local mental health team who said to me ‘Well we should be focussing on people with drug and alcohol problems not people like you who have come down from London and been to the Priory’ as if I was somehow a spoilt rich Londoner who had indulged herself by having a mental illness and had no right to treatment in Wales. I had been to the Priory for treatment as an outpatient and my work health insurance had covered it. Again I was pretty angry and decided not to go back or seek any treatment for a whole year as I was so put off.

Again I was pretty angry and decided not to go back or seek any treatment for a whole year as I was so put off.

I should counterbalance the above reactions with the very positive supportive ones I have had since then from both the local psychiatrist and Community Psychiatric Nurses who have been great and very understanding and accepting, doing everything they can to help me. But these positive reactions are certainly far less frequent than the other reactions I have had above.

I regularly find myself wishing I had a ‘normal’ illness (of course mental health problems are normal) so that I could talk about it openly and enjoy the sympathy and support that I would if I did.

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