The seriousness of mental illnesses is often overlooked, this weeks Slice of life looks at depression and mental illnesses and what it is like living with a mental illness.
“Your life is so good, why aren’t you happy ?” “You are stronger than this!” “Other people are worse off than you.” People are inclined to make these comments when mental illness such as depression is mentioned.
To a person suffering from mental illness, such comments sound as if one is choosing to be depressed, as if the illness is not so serious.
This underestimating of the seriousness of mental illness contributes to the stigma attached to it, whereas mental illness is a debilitating fact of life for many of us. Some get professional help while others suffer in silence. I have been fighting depression for nine years. For a long time, I kept it hidden, too afraid to ask for help.
In my mind, every bad thing that happened in my life added to my depression, screaming at me to end my life. That’s when I realised I couldn’t cope on my own anymore and sought professional help. The group therapist once said, “It is as if you need to have a bandage around your head for people to take you seriously.”
Mental illness as a whole can be crippling for a person, especially if professional help is not sought. Mental illness is the boa constrictor of life – crushing you, making you gasp for breath in your panic and anxiety. As quickly as an episode arrives, it leaves. This cycle continues, and can last for long periods, even a lifetime.
Society seems to accept physical disorders far easier than mental illness. A blog post on depression written by Rebecca Trites makes reference to her experience of cancer as well as depression, which of the two you are more likely to speak out about, and the kind of support you receive. She says, “Mental illness is hard. It’s hard to have. It’s hard to help people who have it. It’s hard to understand just how different everyone’s experience with it is.”
Chris, a friend of mine whom I met at the clinic is diagnosed with a similar illness and we formed a strong bond that still exists today. It helps to talk out about the struggles we deal with daily, like suicidal thoughts and a lack of confidence.
He says, “Sometimes it gets so dark in my head, that nothing else matters: the support I have, my job, the things I have achieved mean nothing and ending my life means everything. Snapping out of these moments is hard, fighting against it is even harder.”
Chris has attempted suicide and a friend found him before he succeeded. These moments where the darkness takes over happen upon a person with mental illness without any warning. You feel alone, you feel as if ending your life would be easier than the disappointment in yourself. You do not want to die, you just want the pain to stop, as any professional person will tell you.
We are doing well, Chris and I. We have our bad days. We take the good with the bad. We are fighting and achieving our goals in spite of the mental obstacles.
Mental illness is real. It puts undesirable and insane thoughts into your mind. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is courageous, and with the right medication mental illness is survivable. I am living proof of that.
- Wits Vuvuzela CCDU launches second year of stress therapy programme for students, April 2016
- Wits Vuvuzela High or low, there’s always a place to go ,March 2014