Mental illness: hilarious, eh?Posted: November 2, 2011
I searched Twitter yesterday for ‘mental health week’ and learned to my dismay that ‘taking a mental health day/week’ is a phrase some people now use when they fancy ‘throwing a sickie’ or – in other words – skiving off work.
More about that in a moment…
I’m in my third week off work with depression and have been fighting it for two years. It would seem the old adage of ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ is, in fact, stupid and pointless. You can’t sort your brain out if you keep bombarding it with more and more stress, while pretending that you’re fine.
Sometimes your only sensible option is to accept that you need time off so you can get better. I’ve had some excellent counselling, which I am now revisiting to help me tackle the dark forces at work in my mind, and I’ve been taking Citalopram, an antidepressant, since April 2010. I almost managed to break free from it this summer, but now I’m back up to my earlier dose. I no longer see this as failure, though – if you’re ill, you take medicine, and it’s no different with depression. If the pills help, I will take them until I’m better.
So when I say I’ve got depression, what am I talking about? Well, let’s go back to our friends on Twitter and their ‘mental health days’, because they won’t want to miss this. They’re only joking, of course. They don’t mean it, do they? So let’s see what they’re joking about, because all of these things are pretty funny:
- Crippling lack of self-esteem and confidence – you’ve taught yourself (or been taught) that you’re no good and you believe it. You say ‘sorry’ for things that aren’t your fault and can only see weaknesses and failings in yourself.
- No energy or enthusiasm for anything – you don’t look forward to anything. You feel empty and weary. You want the world to stop turning so you can get off.
- Anger – you’ve pent up all your stress and anger, then you turn it in on yourself or bring it out on people who don’t deserve it.
- Sleep deprivation – you’re lethargic by day, but at night the demons come out to play and you’re wide awake, reliving bad memories, having imaginary arguments or worrying about the future.
- Negative thinking – the destructive thoughts that constantly whirl around in your head, beating you senseless from the inside.
OK, I’ll stop there. Your sides will no doubt be on the verge of splitting and your ribs are most probably tired of the tickling. And that’s just depression – imagine the mirth that would ensue if I were to talk about other mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, anxiety, stress… oh, the hilarity.
One of the great problems in raising awareness of mental illness is that people don’t want to talk about it. I was one of those people until recently, and completely respect that each person must handle their illness in the ways that suit them best. But if one good thing has come out of my own experience, it’s that I DO want to talk about it. I’ve kept it, unhelpfully, to myself all this time for fear that people wouldn’t understand, and that I would be stigmatised. I have come to realise, though, that the only ways to lift the stigma, to enlighten the ignorant, to improve understanding and to raise awareness, is to bring mental illness out into the open, where it can’t prey on people so easily.
I’m lucky to have a loving family, great friends and a supportive employer, but not everyone has these blessings. Many employers see mental illness as a weakness and place enormous pressure on their staff, not recognising that their own practices and demands are the cause of the illness in the first place. There is still support out there, though – GPs see a lot of people with mental health concerns and can help you in a number of ways. And there are excellent charities offering extra support and information, such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness: http://www.mind.org.uk/ and http://www.rethink.org/
Autumn sun shines a light into the gloom
On a lighter note, Mind is encouraging people to get out and about in the fresh air to improve their mental wellbeing, and that’s what I did for an hour yesterday afternoon, armed with my camera. The sun shone through the autumn leaves, and the golden light lifted my spirits. Here are some of my pictures, taken down Chantry Lane and Ferry Lane by the River Ouse in Bishopthorpe, York :