Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Guest Post #3 - Mental Health Awareness Month - Talk and Cheese

1. I've displayed symptoms of mental illness from an early age. I think I was around 8 years old when it first became apparent that all was not well. I had dreadful anger issues, and would sink into significant periods of depression. Sometimes they were preceded by a high, which usually featured a degree of OCD tendencies, but sometimes they just descended from nowhere.

2. I didn't seek support or treatment until I was in my teens, as this was 35 years ago when there was far less awareness about mental illness, and even GPs knew far less about it than they do now. Plus I think my parents assumed this behaviour was just my personality, so they bought me an inflatable 'Smurfs' punch bag to try to alleviate my rage, and offered love and cuddles to try to treat the depression! They did what they felt was best at that time.

3. This is a great question! Knowing what I know now I would reassure my younger self that we can explore ways of treating my illness, which although not a cure, will help to lesson the extent of these extreme moods. I'd also reassure the young me that I am not a 'weirdo' and that mental illness, sadly, affects a huge proportion of the population. Plus I'd do my very best to encourage the young me to seek support as soon as there are any signs of either a high or a low coming on, so that I don't feel alone during these vulnerable and frightening episodes. Lastly I'd hammer home the point that my parents actually want to support me and to learn about my illness, so not to push them away.

4. Sadly, there are still huge misconceptions about mental illness. I've been faced with people saying things like, "Yeah I have ups and down too. I think maybe I have bipolar. Do the tablets work?" Either that, or people think it's a load of rubbish and that it's just a trendy label given to weak people. I've heard things like, "If we're all being quite honest here, they just need to pull their socks up like the rest of us and stop feeling sorry for themselves."

5. There is still a serious issue with the stigma surrounding mental health which only serves to alienate those fighting an illness even more. As a result, many people will make an excuse if their mental illness has become so debilitating that they can't go to work. To tell the truth, and explain that you're currently battling a severe depressive low, or severe anxiety is often met with a less than sympathetic response from your employer. Someone with the flu, on the other hand, would be told to get some rest and be wished a speedy recovery. 

There are so many fabulous charities, organizations and initiatives aimed at raising mental health awareness, and therefore reducing the stigma, which is great, but it will take time.
In terms of what needs to be done in the future, I think each and every one of us has a duty to do our bit. If every single person living with a mental illness was open about it, the stigma would disappear overnight as there are so many of us that it would be impossible not to sit up and take notice! I absolutely understand that some people are not comfortable sharing though, and that's absolutely fine. I completely understand that, and in fact I fall into that category at the moment, although am 99% ready to put my name and face to my illness. I still do my best to raise awareness and therefore reduce the stigma under the guise of 'Talk and Cheese'. We're a strong bunch. We can do this.

6. On bad days I sometimes attempt to function and to do whatever I would normally be doing, although it's utterly exhausting, and I'll feel as though I'm not actually present. It's as though I'm an onlooker on my own life.
In all honesty though, I often find myself making up the most elaborate of excuses so that I can cancel all plans and hide out at home. In a deep depressive low, I simply can't function. It's not an excuse for a duvet day, it's the reality of battling with a serious mental illness.

7. I started blogging on my life with bipolar a couple of months ago. I also joined Twitter and Instagram and use these platforms as a means of sharing my experiences in the hope that it may offer some comfort to others, and help make fellow battlers feel less alone.
Having lived with my illness for so many years, I've managed to shape something that resembles a meaningful life. I still get some exhausting highs and pretty devastating lows, but can manage them far better than I used to, so feel strong enough to offer my support to others in the mental health community.
I also guest blog for the charity SANE, and have another potentially very exciting project in the offing, but I don't want to jinx it so won't say any more about that just yet!

8. Instagram: talk_and_cheese
Twitter: @talkandcheese
Website: talkandcheese

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