Wonderfully brave

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Wonderfully brave facebook post made by one of my friends from university:

I’m not usually one for personal/emotional statuses, but here goes.

Two years ago today I posted a generic status about mental illness, about how anxiety and depression are not signs of weakness, but of trying to stay too strong for too long. It talked of how approximately 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems and made mention of the lack of support that people face due to the stigma attached to mental illness. At the time of posting it I wondered how helpful it really was to use a generic status and that surely to fight stigma, real people must share their real stories. I contemplated writing something personal but I chickened out. What I wish I’d written is this:

At any one time, 1 in 4 people are living with mental illness, and I’m one of them. I’ve had frequent episodes of major depression and anxiety for over a decade and frequently struggle with intrusive thoughts. I used to try to manage my symptoms through self-harm among other things. However, through counselling, other talking therapies and medication, I’ve become more able to handle my illness. I am not crazy, I’m not stupid, I am not dangerous, I am simply ill. And while my illness is an undeniable part of who I am, it is not all that I am.

I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and to want to hide from the world. I know what it’s like to not be able to silence the voice in your head telling you you’re worthless. I know what it’s like to truly feel you will never be happy, to believe that you will only ever feel pain, to not be able to imagine a future where you are functional, let alone happy, to not be able to imagine a future at all. I know what it’s like to wake up and immediately burst into tears because the prospect of facing another day is simply unbearable. I know what it’s like to be in such psychological pain you think your heart is going to give up and just stop beating. I know what it’s like to contemplate ending it all and to honestly think that would be the best thing for everyone, and that while it might hurt the people I love, they’ll survive and eventually see it was the right thing to do. But I also know that there is help out there for people like me, that those thoughts can be controlled and can even go away. It is possible to feel happy again, to achieve things, to have normal human relationships and to lead a normal life. It’s not easy, it’s not simple and it is not quick, but it is possible.

If you are suffering, please know that you are not alone, that there is help available and that if you want to talk to me, just get in touch and I’ll be there. Please don’t suffer in silence. You are not weak, you are not selfish, you are not stupid, you are simply ill. Being ill is nothing to be ashamed of. Please get help. Your life can be filled with happiness and people love you. You’re more loved than you could possibly imagine and you’ve touched more lives than you realise.

If you know someone who you think might be suffering, then reach out to them, offer them a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. You don’t need to offer answers or solutions, just friendship. It can make all the difference. You can make all the difference.

Two years ago today I posted a generic status about mental illness, less than a month later I lost a friend to suicide. He was not stupid, he was not selfish, he was not dangerous, he was simply ill. Even though I hadn’t known him long, his death was one of the most intensely painful things I have ever experienced. It broke my heart. Meeting his parents and seeing our friends in agony made the true devastation that suicide causes unavoidably real, it rips people apart. You can’t slip away un-noticed and people don’t just get over it. It’s been almost two years since I lost my friend and the pain has barely eased, remembering those days still floors me. I had known him for just shy of 3 months.

I know he read the generic status I posted, I know because he posted the same status minutes later. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, if I had been brave, if I had been honest, would he have spoken to me about it? Would he have asked for help? Could I have made a difference? Looking back, it’s just one of the many things I wish I had done differently, but I guess it’s too late now. The only thing I can do is refuse to stay silent about mental health, tell my story and encourage others to do the same. It’s time to fight stigma, it’s time to be honest, it’s time to talk about mental health.

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