People often say that a problem shared is a problem halved. Unfortunately, I’ve learnt first hand that this is sometimes easier said than done when it comes to mental health. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar and Anxiety Disorder when I was 19, I spent 10 years never really talking about my mental health.
I have always been open about my diagnosis but when it came to really talking about it, discussing what it meant, how it felt and most importantly how to deal with it, that was a conversation that only ever happened internally.
During the course of 2018 my health gradually deteriorated to a point where, by the end of the year, I couldn’t work, had to give up my home and was in a very dark place.
However, at the point of what felt like no return, I did something that had always felt impossible. I spoke up.
A year down the road my life has changed immeasurably and I credit most of that to my improved ability to ask for help, discuss my feelings, communicate my needs and advocate for the importance of simply talking.
Here are 5 reasons how, in just a year, talking changed my life:
My biggest obstacle was simply opening my mouth. When I am depressed or suffering severe anxiety I go mute. I find it impossible to talk no matter how much I may want to. This contributed considerably to my health and made me dangerously unwell. I had never spoken to anyone about having suicidal thoughts and keeping it in was terrifying and very lonely.
I’m not sure I can pinpoint what exactly triggered me breaking my silence I just know I reached a point where I couldn’t cope with the fear any longer. I thought admitting to it would make me feel shame and guilt but the huge wave of relief that came over me was astonishing.
Speaking up broke me out of a 12 month prison and was the first and greatest step in my recovery.
Once the weight of carrying my burdens around alone had lifted it gave me the strength to push for more medical intervention. I was enrolled onto a psychoeducation course that is designed to give people a better understanding of bipolar. For me however, it was meeting other people in my position that was truly invaluable. Sharing my experiences, hearing others experiences and knowing that my condition didn’t define me was empowering. Some mental health symptoms can often be perceived as “irrational” and so having a space to discuss these openly with people less predisposed to judgement was very liberating.
The most frequent thing I get asked when unwell is “what can I do to help?” which is often hard to answer. Part of me never knew what people could do to help me and another part was too embarrassed to ask. Asking others to “make me a cup of tea”, “make sure I wash”, “take me out” felt self-indulgent but this year I have done just that.
My loved ones are now armed with all the information they need in order to proactively help. They know who my clinicians are and how to contact them, what medication I am on and when it should be taken etc. But also my triggers/symptoms and what to watch out for. They know what is often going on in my mind and, most importantly, they know things they can do to boost my mood.
I’m no long afraid to tell them that receiving daily messages makes me feel less alone or that turning up with a coffee and a biscuit will pick me up. They know that running me a bath or even brushing my hair can help.
Arming them with this knowledge makes me feel more prepared for the future but it’s also made it less painful for them. My mother has admitted that seeing me in pain and being completely helpless was heart-breaking. Through us finally talking we are now both better equipped to handle it.
The support group was really important in teaching me that I wasn’t the only person suffering with bipolar. But speaking to my friends, family, strangers, I’ve learnt that we all have more in common than you might first think.
You truly never know what is going on in others minds and through talking and being open about my own struggles it’s opened my mind to those of others. I’d like to think it’s made me more compassionate and understanding.
The thought of losing my job was terrifying. My main fear wasn’t being unemployed but was walking away from a career I had spent 10 years building. I realised fairly quickly after taking a step back, that the industry and environment I had been in wasn’t healthy for me and therefore the prospect of starting all over again was very daunting.
I’ve realised this year that when I’m talking about mental health, be it mine or others, I feel passionate and empowered and, as a result, I came to the conclusion that it is what I want to do with my life. It has given me purpose. And hope.
If I can get all the benefits above from talking for just one year, just think what it could do in a lifetime.