My most recent posts seem to have centred on my anxiety disorder that I was officially diagnosed with only this year. I have received a fair amount of feedback about this and let me just start by saying that I'm not speaking about my issues in an effort to get attention and I'm definitely not trying to sound like I'm trying to be some kind of hero. I write about it because it helps me, and if someone comes across my writing and it helps them in some way too, then that is my ultimate aim. I know how terrible it is to live with a crippling fear that nobody else understands. I know how it feels to be belittled and told to just "toughen up" and I know how it feels to be so frustrated by myself and my brain that I start to believe what others are saying - but no more.
I was lucky enough to attend a seminar that was run by Fay Jackson last Friday that was about mental health and how to deal with it not only on a personal level but also within the family unit and ultimately the community and society itself. To be completely honest, I was not really looking forward to going. I had a huge week at work and missing a day going to this was going to put me even further behind, but far out, it was so worth it.
After Fay was introduced and began speaking, she immediately made the audience feel at ease by being totally honest about her own mental health. She was diagnosed with bipolar when she was 37 years old, but has been suffering for much longer than this. Her right hand has a persistent shake due to a side effect of lithium which is one of her medications and while a few people I noticed were fixated on this shaking, she explained that lithium was in fact a friendly drug and assisted her to make a great cup of tea and an excellent martini! This She told some pretty horrifying stories about not only her own battle with mental illness but about those that she has worked with and helped along her way. However, the way she discussed and delivered these thoughts and stories really enabled me to connect with her, even though she wasn't speaking directly to me. She touched on issues including depression and suicide and spent a lot of time talking about the seriousness of anxiety. She explained that often anxiety is seen as the least serious out of mental illness, however this is not the case. Often more serious mental illnesses are either follow by, or include, anxiety of some sort. I am lucky in that I do not often suffer the debilitating fear that can be a 24/7 issue for some people. I am lucky that I have a supportive husband and a loving family, whose hearts are in the right place, even if sometimes some of them can be harsh and dismissive. Not everybody has a support network. Not everybody has someone to turn to when they are struggling. I believe it is everyone's duty to be on the look out for people who need help and to offer it willingly.
The main message that Fay sent to me, was that it is OK to admit that you have struggles. It is OK to admit that you need help. It is OK to talk about mental illness as a serious issue, not something to be laughed about or avoided due to the stigma that has been placed on these issues for years. It is OK reach out to people who need you and may have been abandoned by everyone else. It is OK to be honest and real and it is OK to have weaknesses. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is strong all the time and nobody deserves judgment because they are struggling and are not fitting into their expected social mould.
Be patient with others. Show them kindness, show them understanding and ask if you can help. Don't avoid asking difficult questions, don't hide behind a fake smile and don't assume someone else will ask if they're OK. Support each other. You never know when you might be the person who needs help.
As Fay Jackson would say, I am a psychologically diverse citizen, and I am proud.