In honour of mental health awareness week, if the pursuit of breaking down the stigma, for education and understanding here is a brief journey of my mental health and what I have learnt about mental health.
I was 9 years old when I first became aware of mental illness.
I have many fond memories of my early years. Picnics at the park in the snow, Christmases squeezed around a table full of family, sneaking downstairs on New Years Eve to pinch leftover chips from the adults takeaway. Then I have the balance of many stark memories of my mums struggle with her mental health. At first the things I witnessed I simply did not understand. I had not associated them with a label or cause. There was a distinct atmosphere constantly permeating my home. One of fear, danger, anger and misunderstanding.
I would watch my mum by escorted into the back of ambulances by the police, see blood pooled on the bathroom sink, hear voices strained and worried from behind closed doors. No one explained to me at first. I think they hoped to shield me from the upsetting reality in which I living. At least in my experience this didn’t work. As a child that knew something was wrong but was offered no explanation I would seek out answers.
The first time I heard the word Mental Illness I think I was visiting my mum in hospital. I was told it was a “special hospital” and after pressing on which grounds it was special was advised people who were mentally ill were cared for there. I am pretty sure at that point I was not clear on what that meant. But I am a fast leaner.
My own mental health has at times not been great.
Probably understandably with everything I experienced in my younger years. Being fostered for many of my formative years and then struggling with bullying in high school my mental health has not always been the best. However I have always tried to improve my wellness, I have spent years perfecting my own unique recipe of wellbeing. Overall I have done really well.
Then I suffered some burns and had a formal diagnosis.
I was cooking soup, day before my daughters birthday celebrations and I burnt myself. It was the worst I have ever been burnt and after months of treatment for the physical damage I was diagnosed with PTSD. Even though I had a great foundation of wellbeing I was not immune. Long after the burns had healed I was being treated for the mental impacts, compounded no doubt by years of trauma.
So what have I learnt about mental health.
It can impact us all – None of us are immune. You can invest time and effort in your wellbeing, meditate, exercise, connect, challenge and you can still struggle.
It impacts more than just the person suffering – In my experience it is an illness that reaches well beyond the person diagnosed.
It is not a death sentence – Whilst for some mental illness can result in the tragic end of a life, for most of us we can be well again, we can be happy fulfilled, complete.
It has no prejudice – Mental illness is something that cuts across every barrier. Anyone can be effected by it. Young, old, black, white, rich, poor.
If you don’t treat it, it will get worse – All my experience of mental illness has taught me if you don’t treat it, the illness will get worse. Treating it could include, medication or counselling however it could simply involve changing your focus and activities. My experience tells if you just leave it alone it will never go away by its self.
More people suffer with it than we know – When I “Came out” about my mental illness diagnosis in work so many people approach me and shared their journey. I think there are even more people that suffer than the statistics even know.
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