'NOT SICK ENOUGH'
Mental health was something, until November of last year, I never thought twice about. Studying medicine, I would have told you I was passionate about health, yet I never looked beyond the physical. And ironically, it was when I was the most ‘passionate’ about health, that my mental, and then with it my physical health, hit rock bottom.
I feel like I’m always talking about wanting to break the stigma surrounding mental health and illness, because I don’t believe that anyone should feel fear in opening up, or feel shame when being honest about what they might be going through. But I don’t want anyone thinking that because I’m open about topics like these just for my own benefit, just so that I feel more accepted or less judgement from others.
Because it’s not about that.
I choose to open up, because it’s not a lack of awareness but more so a lack of understanding that is ultimately killing lives. We know mental health and illness exists, but we don’t really understand it. The stigma that conjures the idea of being ‘not sick enough’, that tells people to hide and suppress and buckle up or to ‘stop being so stupid/sensitive/dramatic.’ The stigma that stopped me, and continues to stop countless other people reaching out for help because they don’t fit the stereotype - so they must be okay. Things mustn’t be bad enough.
I choose to open up with the possibility that reading what I write, that sharing what I share might help even one person to recognise what’s going on inside their minds, or to give them that ounce of confidence that they might be needing in order to reach out; to tell themselves that although it might not be the same as someone else, or the preconceived ideas our society holds - but for them, in relation to their own life, it is bad enough. And that they are always, always worthy of help - no matter what.
Last year, in my worst times I was still functioning. In fact, I’m sure lots of people would have said I was highly-functioning; studying hard, doing well at uni, doing every extra-curricular under the sun, going to the gym, still socialising an acceptable amount - if slightly less than usual. But I was breaking. And I hid it well for a while, suppressed and got on with things, until it broke me completely.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what things might have been like if I’d recognised what was happening to me sooner. If I’d listened to those little inklings I had that actually, I wasn’t okay; that my thoughts and behaviours weren’t ‘normal’, instead of shutting them down and powering through - because if I passed exams then everything must be under control. To me, even the thought of having a mental illness was a weakness. It was something that would isolate me from others as they judged me, something that would detract from the future I had meticulously planned out, something that would bring shame to my family.
It would ruin my life.
And it felt like it did, for a while. Especially when I left Dundee, my university course and all of the amazing friends I had met there.
But the other side has given me so much more than I could have every imagined, and for that I find myself feeling grateful that this happened to me - because I don’t think I would have every learnt so much about real ‘health’, or about myself otherwise.
Today is World Mental Health day.
And today, I ask you to look beyond what you believe health to be, to look beyond the health and fitness industry that infiltrates so much of our world.
But most importantly, today I ask you to look inwards. To look within yourselves, be honest about how you really are, and how you feel today. Don’t try to avoid the stigma and the shame like I did. Don’t kid yourself on that everything’s okay, that everything’s under control when in reality, you know somethings controlling you.
And please, don’t ever, EVER believe that you aren’t sick enough.