Trigger Warning: #BellLetsTalk
January is nearing its end.
Snow is piling up outside, seasonal affective disorder is running high, and #BellLetsTalk Day has arrived (Jan 30th).
The point of this day is to help raise money for mental health causes and to get people talking about mental illness, which is supposed to help "end the stigma." However, I find that as time goes on, I don't feel much of a stigma anymore, at least in my own personal battle.
When I became an adolescent, I started struggling. First it was one thing, then it was another...and another...and another. For years, this pressure and sense of not understanding what was happening in my head (and therefore my body) was taking over my life. I was becoming someone different, and I was embarrassed to talk about it. However the more I hid it, the worse I got; and the worse I got, the more I self-medicated in really unhealthy ways.
Eventually I imploded. I sought out help and was regularly attending counselling. I saw a professional who diagnosed me with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Depression Type 2. I was given some meds, some pamphlets on how to deal, and sent on my way. I felt an instant sense of relief thinking that the end of my problems were near, but 3 years later I'm learning that this will be a lifelong struggle.
The next few years were up and down quite a bit, but recently I noticed a lot of changes in my personality and a lot of inconsistencies. I was sent to the Mood Disorder Clinic at St. Joseph's (The Psych Hospital as many people call it) and found out I had been mis-diagnosed those years ago. What I was actually dealing with was Brief Recurrent Depressive Disorder with strong attributes of Borderline Personality Disorder. The first few days after this appointment were very hard.
WHY ME? Why can't I be normal? Why is this my shitty luck?
But I also realized how incredible of a support system people are if you open up to them.
My work is incredibly understanding about my mental health, and although I rarely call in sick, when I do they understand and let me take the time I need to heal. My family is slowly understanding more and more about these illnesses, and will always listen unconditionally when I need to talk. My boyfriend is my #1 supporter, and always lets me cry and scream and let it all out, as well as give me some tough love on what I can do to help myself. If I had never opened up about my ongoing issues with these people and tried to hide them, they would never be able to provide me with support and mental nourishment in my times of need. Sometimes people create their own barriers without even realizing, and then blame others when they don't get the help they need.
Perhaps this is where the stigma starts and ends?
You can't just assume anything about anyone. If someone is calling in sick to work all the time, you can't assume it's because they are lazy or a bad employee, but you also can't assume they are dealing with a health issue (mental or physical). If someone is acting out, are they sick, or are they just an asshole?
I won't lie, it is very very hard to come forward and admit "hey I'm ill, but here's how you can help." It's almost a shot at our own pride, but we also live in a generation and world where everyone's life is supposedly picture perfect. I guarantee if you do get the courage to speak up, many doors will open for you and people (over time) will be so much more understanding and helpful. If you're honest with yourself and others, and don't take advantage of kind hearts, the stigma you see will disappear.
I know not everyone has the luxury of having friends or family to turn to, but there are also tons of anonymous services you can use if you need someone to talk to. I've listed some numbers at the end of this post.
I feel like we play a huge role in our own awareness of mental health. We can't just assume that one day a year using a hashtag is going to change things. You have to research and educate yourself on what is going on, and NEVER EVER self-diagnose or self-medicate. If you feel like something is wrong, seek help. Speak out year round, not just one day in January every year.
By all means, support #BellLetsTalk, but let's also support each other and help ourselves.
Speak up, get help, and move forward.