Above any other form of health issue, mental wellbeing is an issue that is largely misunderstood. It carries a stigma, one that perhaps we are all guilty of perpetuating knowingly or unknowingly – “don’t tell her/him, she’ll go MENTAL!” – we’ve all heard it, most of us have said it. What it implies is a lack of control, perhaps even a negative response to a situation. I do believe that a huge number of people perceive mental illness as a weakness on the sufferer’s part – almost a condition that is brought on through one’s own fault or even fabricated for attention. The difficulty is, I believe, that mental illness and (genetic) personality disorders are confused as one and the same thing. I don’t think they are – experts I apologise in advance!
Mental ILLNESS implies a condition that can be improved, hopefully cured. That’s the good news. Personality disorders are, in my humble/ignorant(?) opinion, something that is written into a person’s DNA. I’m sure someone may put me straight on this and again, I apologise for my ignorance…
However, it is apparent that some of us are more prone to mental health issues – be it through nature, nurture, trauma etc. and the key is to recognise and try to understand why people suffer with depression, anxiety and a whole range of complex, life-limiting problems that cripple self-esteem, confidence and the hope of leading a full life. If you find it hard to understand, that is infinitely more acceptable than allowing your ignorance to scoff, ridicule or refuse any sympathy for these conditions.
Fear is fear – whether it is fear of real danger or any situation where you find yourself in a blind panic; the symptoms are all the same. Fight or Flight – heart racing, nausea rising in the throat like an erupting volcano, limbs turning to jelly rendering you immobile and frozen to the spot. It could be facing a particularly hostile interview panel, diving off a rock into the sea, facing surgery…or sitting at home watching TV. That’s the erratic, irrational nature of fear. Some situations warrant it in order for us to release the adrenalin needed to help us through a tricky situation, whilst for those who suffer with panic attacks, sometimes there are no triggers.
My first panic attack occurred whilst sitting on a bus on my way to school when I was in Fifth Form. A lovely sunny day – I was grateful for two free periods in the morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and a pleasant stroll to the bus stop in the early summer sunshine. One stop away from school and suddenly my heart began to race ferociously. My vision blurred as I tried to distract myself by looking out of the window, confused and scared at what was happening to me.
Once you experience that kind of fear, you don’t forget it. Your mind is very clever, and associates that terrible moment of impending doom with where you were and what you were doing. Hence, getting the bus to school the next day was filled with blind fear and gut-wrenching trepidation.
I think fortunately we have come a long way since my mental health issues began. I didn’t know what was happening to me or why; just that my everyday, carefree life was over and suddenly I was afraid of everything; this resulted in severe black moods that jeopardised my faith in life itself. I now believe it was a mixture of emotional stress, hormonal imbalances and shyness. Had I sought the help I needed maybe it would have enabled me to rid myself of chronic anxiety for good but I chose to get myself through it, rightly or wrongly. Now, rather than resent what happened to me I am grateful for what it taught me. I do hope it has made me a more understanding person – and the thread of anxiety problems that have woven their way through my life have given me a ‘think outside the box’ philosophy that has held me in good stead. We are a product of our thoughts and our interpretations of those thoughts; the first step though, is a clearer understanding of mental health issues, an acceptance that we are all susceptible to them at any time and that seeking help as soon as possible is the key. Too many people suffer in silence, too many sensitive souls have passed before their time after struggling through life became a burden too heavy to bear. Mental Health is not possible for all, just like any illness that is prevalent in the world, but changing our attitudes towards those who suffer will enlighten and educate everyone so that we can all learn to recognise problems and get medical advice sooner rather than later.
“No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your own head” (Terry Josephson).