Time to Talk
Stigma - ME vs Mental Illness
My mental health is another invisible illness, and despite it affecting approximately 25% of us, the stigma surrounding it is still massive.
6th February 2020, 9.00am | Written by: Laura Moulding
Since the end of 2019, I was seen by over 15 different health professionals and had quite a few different tests too. My constant visits were not due to my mental health though. I was struggling with severe lower abdominal pain as well as weakness in my legs, and pain in my lower back amongst a range of other symptoms. I now know that this was caused by ME.
I wasn't shocked by my new condition, and if anything, I'm personally glad to know.
However, this blog isn't about my diagnosis of ME specifically... But I want to talk about the different reactions you get from having an condition like ME to mental illness.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve felt the need to use a walking stick to help me get about; this isn’t an everyday need, but I use it quite frequently. Besides this, I don’t look any different.
With ME being an invisible illness, I was fearful of the judgement I was going to face. I was waiting for the “faking” my illness, or “you don’t look sick,” or even “you are only 23” comments.
However, every single person I seen or walked past has been extremely kind; “how can I help you,” “get well soon,” “thinking of you,” “can I get you anything? Anything at all you just let me know” are just some comments I’ve heard. People have insisted I don’t rush around, just sit up, and rest. I never expected this level of kindness, and it has been helpful.
My mental health is another invisible illness, and despite it affecting approximately 25% of us, the stigma surrounding it is still massive. Comments include, “You clearly aren’t unwell,” “You have to rest? Stop being lazy,” “There are people in worse situations than you, just be grateful.”
Even prior to my ME diagnosis, I was told by a medical professional that my experiences was just my “anxiety playing havoc” and that I wasn’t in pain.
I'm no medical expert, but I am an expert in my own mental health and I know when I’m in pain. Yet the doctor admitted that they judged me based on the short minute of looking at me from a distance, without asking any questions relating to my symptoms or prodding my body as medical professionals do. I wasn’t listened to or taken seriously about my pain, and for her, it was simple to just put the finger on my mental illness because I’ve had it for so many years.
You can’t blame mental illness simply because it seems fitting. Nor can you say it’s “obvious it’s your mental health” when you haven’t listened or asked the relevant questions. Situations like these to what promotes stigma.
ME is an invisible illness that can't be seen on any tests and can only be diagnosed by ruling tests and checks out. Yet despite my pain, I’ve been told I can still accomplish great things!
With my mental illness, scientists can see brain wave/patterns that suggest (for example) tablets work for depression etc. Yet it is treated like it doesn’t exist at all, and your treated like you might as well just give up…
Well, I’m not.
Despite my mental illness, ME and many other health conditions, I’m striving through life. I’m a third year university student about to embark onto a masters course. I’ve recently signed contracts to move into my own place outside of student accommodation. I am setting up small dressmaking and music projects/businesses, and recently, I was part of the team that ran a top selling music festival in Cardiff that raised money for charity.
I am not ashamed of my health conditions. I’ll always be that voice to end stigma, and continue to endeavour in new and exciting opportunities.
In April, I celebrate 4 years of being a Time to Change Wales champion. I’m proud to say that we are making an impact on mental health stigma. I see people talk more openly now than ever before- without fear, or judgement and with kindness and questions of “how can I help,” and “how can I be more aware of…”
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” - Unknown
Ex-Manchester United player Rhodri describes how talking to family and close friends was a lifeline when he was struggling with his mental health after an injuryFind out more
Eventually I spoke to someone - it was a lifeline. I have learned mindfulness practices that have really helped alongside better self care. It’s meant letting go of the brave face and learning to say ‘no’.Find out more