Anyone observing my outside life day-to-day might assume that I do a great job pulling together the different strands in the fabric of my life. I am balancing work, study, family life, volunteering and running a home and most of the time I do it with a smile and lots of enthusiasm. My inside life, however, often looks rather different. Living with mental illness can be challenging, particularly because so much of it exists in the inner world of the mind and is, therefore, quite difficult to escape from.
Like any other chronic illness, there are ebbs and flows- good times and bad times. Practicing gratitude, improving my mindfulness, taking care of my physical self and getting enough rest are all strategies I use to manage. In addition to the blessing that is medication, these strategies ensure that I have far more good times than bad, but there are still times that I retreat into my box and it is a struggle to get through the day.
Sometimes I wake up wracked with guilt for no actual reason. I revisit conversations, long forgotten I am sure by the other participants, analysing what I said or didn’t say. I agonise over what others must think of me, feel ashamed just to be me and have to work incredibly hard to silence the voice inside my own brain that tells me I am not good enough, I am a failure, I should do more, be more.
I spent years thinking that I was the only one who felt this way – that I was the only one who lived with the incessant chatter and constant whirring noise in my own head, so it was such a relief and so liberating when I realised how common this illness is.
It is encouraging that young people today are generally so much more open to conversations about mental health than I remember from my own younger days and my hope is that as time goes on, the stigma around mental illness will continue to be lifted for people of all ages. This will only happen though as people become more open to sharing their own experiences, their own illness and their own journey and so I want to encourage you to be brave.
Share your story with one person, maybe two, because mental illness is not something to be hidden away to be a source of more shame and guilt. I see my mental illnesses as a badge of honour. They have shaped me to be the person I am today – a strong, capable, resilient woman – someone I am proud of and I want to encourage you to see yourself and your experiences in this way too.