I am no academic. I have no medical training other that how to put a triangle bandage on and do some sort of CPR at a push. However I have known for quite some time that I have a problem. Thirty odd years to give you an idea how long, I’m now 41 so the best I can assume from my rather unreliable memory is that around my early teens the stage was being set. So what stopped me getting help? I understand that until my 20s I probably didn’t know I had a problem although I guess it was there as the symptoms were.
There may be a medical term for it but I am cyclic, I never stick to things for more than nine months to a year; jobs, relationships, hobbies, education never seem to get past a year. In fact the only thing that has lasted longer is my current partner who has put up with me for thirteen years. When I say nothing lasts I mean I will not let anything last, I will go out of my way to make sure the job is lost, the relationship destroyed, education quit. I think you get the idea.
I would give you my illness but until I see the psychiatrist on Thursday I have no idea. It says depression on the sick note but I think the self harming and suicidal planning, etc might change that. I have, however, never seen a psychiatrist so maybe I’m being a bit optimistic about any help I get. Thus far excluding the five days I spent in hospital I have had very little contact with the medical professionals, in fact I have received more help from other sufferers on forums and social media.
Which brings me towards the purpose of this article: Stigma, the kind of word you would expect to be the real name for a wasps stinger but we all know different. You see in my mid twenties I was diagnosed with Photo sensitive Epilepsy, passed out playing an arcade game, woke up in hospital. Before I knew it I had an appointment for an EEG so lots of sticky things on my head, lots of flashy lights and a few weeks later Doctor tells me I have epilepsy and here are some pills.
I had applied to join the Royal Marines the week before, they suddenly didn’t want to know.
In fact for a few years after I dreaded filling in forms “Do you have epilepsy “, didn’t take me long to start lying. I also did not take the diagnosis lying down, for the next few years I spent countless hours off my face on drugs staring at nightclub strobe lights daring it to happen again, it never did. So as my twenties drew onwards I started taking an interest in medical matters, reading books that listed symptoms that in my head I was ticking off like a list. I’m not saying I self diagnosed myself I just kind of confirmed I had a problem. Remembering how my life changed with the epilepsy and how they were treated and knowing that mental illness basically had you packed off to hospital, all one-armed jackets and crayons I kept my mouth shut.
Now trying to hide the fact that you have a mental illness isn’t that easy especially if you have severe mood swings, long periods of depression and then times where you are so on your game everyone loves you. However when you have sussed out the nine month cycle thing you can get quite good, alcohol was always a brilliant excuse. When your are on a high, become party man, buying drinks, paying money that should go on the bills to buy expensive cigars for the boys. I think in those years my parents would either receive a card at christmas (down) or some outlandish gifts (up) but nothing ever lasted, I moved so often I can’t even remember all the places I have lives, friends came and went, nothing was permanent.
Even when it go to the lowest point and I found myself on the phone to the Samaritans for hours, eating pills and washing them down with anything at hand, I still never sought help. Thirty years of my life was destroyed and still counting, but my last trip into darkness I did seek help, I came close to within a few hours of running that blade down my arms but I promised myself I would go and tell the truth. They listened and saved my life, nobody laughed, nobody called me a liar or even a Nutter, they helped. Since that day I vowed I would never lie about how I felt, not shy away from being open about my feelings and most of all not worry what other people thought and do you know what, nobody has said anything negative.
You see it is obvious to me now that I was so afraid of being labelled, being defective, damaged goods I wasted my life. I let the stigma of mental illness become more than the illness itself, I often wonder what would have happened if I had got help years ago? What would my life be like if at twenty-five I had got help? So while most people think of mental health stigma as being others oppressing the sufferer, what they need to know is stigma is just another tool sufferers can use to inflict pain on themselves.
Tomorrow I have a meeting with my boss, I am still within my six month probationary period and if I was him I would get rid of me. Trust me this is bloody hard to write but from a business perspective I am a liability. Is that stigma or good business? Employ a project manager who has a full on breakdown within six months and has been on the sick for over two months and no confirmed date back to work. So being mentally ill changes us and whilst we can raise awareness and teach understanding the stigma will continue because just like racism and sexism we are going up against hundreds of years of stigma reinforcement, just be thankful that undoing that damage seems to be working slightly faster.
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Having spent a long time denying I had a problem now I have done a U turn and have decided that if I speak out it may encourage others or even let others know that they are not alone. My motto “Help others,Help yourself”
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