1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness. That’s a statistic that we hear thrown about a lot. We’re all just part of another statistic that no one really pays much attention to. Yet when you think about it, reeeaaally think about it, it’s amazing just how many people will become affected by one of the least treated illnesses in the world.
Next time you’re in a group of people, look around and pick out 4 in your head at random. Based on the statistic, one of these people is, or will be, in some way affected by mental health (obviously you’re not Derren Brown reading minds, it’s just an exercise).
So what does this tell us? Well mental illness is more common than people would care to think about. In one way or another, mental illness is affecting someone we love in some way, and more often than not this is not only going untreated, but getting pushed to the back of our minds because it’s not cool to talk about it.
I’ve often felt stigmatised by my Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I’ve shied away from telling people, keeping my little secret to myself and only a very limited number of people who even then only know certain aspects of what I have to go through. Yet recently, word began getting out (or at least it felt that way). I accidentally sent out a notification to everyone who had my number stored in their phone that I was opening an account for cooking with anxiety (I almost died!). Then my girlfriend told someone about my twitter account (very innocently) which I’ve always kept anonymous. All of a sudden I was becoming ‘exposed’ and my secret no longer feels like as much of a secret. Instead I began to feel like I’d done something wrong, that I should try hiding it or come up with excuses and it’s plagued me quite a bit.
However, recently my mind frame is changing. So, I have an anxiety disorder. So what? Does that make me less intelligent? No. Less funny? Well, I’m not that funny to start with, but no. Less of the person that people enjoy interacting with? Nope. What does it mean?
Well, it means I find things a little harder to deal with sometimes. Sometimes I don’t want to share a taxi with people just in case I feel a bit off. Sometimes I struggle to breathe because tension from situations life throws at me makes it a little bit harder. Sometimes I don’t want to be in the middle of a crowd in case I suddenly need a quick escape. That’s all really. Nothing drastic, no straight jacket or padded cell. Just a normal guy who thinks a little differently to everyone else.
I watched a video the other day from my new twitter favourite Karen Unrue who talked about acceptance. In it, she explains that you aren’t your diagnosis, you just have one. Like any other illness, you HAVE a cold, you’re not a cold. You HAVE a bad back, you’re not a bad back. You HAVE an anxiety disorder, you’re not an anxiety disorder.
It’s OK to have a mental illness. It’s OK if someone you know has a mental illness. It’s OK if you need to take medication for it, it’s OK if you choose not to. It’s OK if for one day you’re depression means you can’t get out of bed. It’s OK to try getting out of bed, failing and crying all day. It’s OK if someone at work is irritable because they’ve had a journey into work that triggered their anxiety.
It’s all OK. Just keep going, do what’s right for you. You will definitely come up against stigma. There is no way to get around it, people will judge you. Your choice is whether you let that affect you. If someone is prepared to judge you based on something they don’t understand, how much of your time do they really deserve?
Just do you, be who you need to be in order to get through life in the best way you know how. Whatever you’re going through, whatever diagnosis you have, whatever struggles you’re facing, whatever adjustments you have to make – it’s OK.