Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Sound of Silence and The Stigma of Ignorance

This is the first time I have ever written this down, ever shared my whole story. There are a few reasons why but the biggest of those is the stigma. We live in a society that is full of people who think they are experts on mental illness. They are people who have never suffered, never battled the black dog. People who have never sat in a living room while their family live and felt totally and absolutely empty. Dead inside, yet still breathing. These people, these experts, are the very ones that spread the lie, give the stigma its power. Some of them don't even realise they do it, such is the insidious and creeping nature of this untruth. Yet, it is this attitude that keeps so many in chains, unable to break the strangle hold that threatens to throttle them to death. It is time that those who suffer in silence are given a voice, it is time that I tell you what I have experienced and make myself vulnerable. There is an answer, if not a cure, and there is a way you get to live again. But first you have to admit you have a problem, a serious one.

Seven years ago I sat in a Psychologist's room and was told that I had a Border Line Personality Disorder and serious Anger management issues, I didn't know how to react. Part of me wanted to weep and not stop but part of me was glad. Ever since my childhood I had felt I didn't fit in, not with my family and certainly not with any of my school friends. Why is it that the most vulnerable within our education system are so easy to spot, not by the teachers that can offer support but by the bullies? Bullies made my life a living hell at school and mercilessly pushed me near to the edge of despair. Verbal and physical abuse were a daily occurrence for me yet when I defended myself it was me that was vilified. I was terrible at sports and had such  painfully low esteem that I just didn't find see my worth. I had never learnt how to process anger or control it so it welled up inside me, building up like a broken pressure tank until I just blew in the most dangerous and out control manner. This was to continue into my adult years.

The other issue I faced was one of self identity, meaning I had none. I did not possess the first clue about who I was and whether I mattered and this was to have near terminal consequences for me later on. To be perfectly honest with you, it wasn't all bad and I did discover a natural ability to compose music and a deep love of theatre and drama. For the shortest time and only whilst I was involved in school performances I found a place that I belonged. It has been said that the Theatre provides a haven for those that don't belong elsewhere and I can see where this opinion comes from. My work at our local theatre provided some of the happiest times of my young life and was to shape my future. All of the experiences I have just related are relevant and I was to learn that my reactions to life's unexpected shocks were routed in my childhood.

My years at college were to uncover another issue for me, I have an addictive personality. First rearing its head with a love for alcohol and it always seemed that I was unable to enjoy "just the one". This didn't seem to be a problem at college as I really did fit in well to the drink and excess culture that so many enjoyed. Trouble is, this didn't stop when I left college and then all of a sudden the effects of excessive drinking really was frowned on by my employers. I was reminded of Michael Keaton's Batman when trying to explain his dual existence to Vicky Vale, "There are two truths" With me there was the ebullient and outgoing person and also the shy and self hating persona and both were real. My issue was that the mask of confidence got stuck and I was losing any grip on what I actually was, to be honest, I don't think I ever knew.

My first breakdown happened suddenly and without warning one day at work, a few years later. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday, an audible snap and I wanted to kill everyone in my office. I didn't know what I was doing and I had no idea where I was, all I knew was that I needed to get out there. I felt like I was sinking into the deepest and darkest pit and no one could see me and no one cared. I panicked, it was terrifying, but all my Doctor did was sign me off for two weeks and throw some anti depressants at me. The truth I think is that even the medical profession don't really know how to combat mental illness, Everyone is individual and each person is different, so symptoms and severity are also individual but, added to this, the issue that the real problem lies within the mind. I think I started to be taken seriously when I attempted to kill myself. Twice. The pressure in my head had got too much to bear and I was so very tired of fighting. Anyone that believes that people die when they take their own lives doesn't know what they are talking about. They have died long before that and it's depression that is the cause. Depression is an illness that is potentially terminal and you cannot prevail over it on your own. Either you end up existing in a kind of half life or you end the pain. Neither of these options seemed particularly attractive to me and I am nothing but stubborn.

After my second breakdown I was diagnosed with a Personality Disorder but it was at the more severe end and, coupled with my inability to process anger appropriately, life had become intolerable. It was agreed that a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may provide some support and potentially some answers. I would say that just because C.B.T worked for me does not mean it works for everyone. I describe this as like lifting the lid on my mind and allowing me to re wire myself, I started to learn how I could stop taking everything so personally. I also learnt coping mechanisms on how to deal with my anger and how to re build my self image. None of this has been easy and I still suffer from days where there are challenges but I have learnt to live with myself.

The real issue with any illness of the mind is that there are little outward signs. Mental illness stigma is spread by ignorance and fear so we need to eradicate it by educating people and standing up and being honest.. Fear of being rejected and judged can be paralysing and there are still large swathes of society who do not understand depression. I hope they never do, only when you have experienced the horror of depression can you ever hope to empathise with those who suffer. Our society is a cold and callous place that offers precious little in support for those who do not fit into its boxes. When you are in the grip of an illness which steals your joy and robs you of your voice it can be impossible to speak up. But speak up you must! Only by acknowledging that you are in pain and that you cannot manage on your own can you see the hundreds that suffer from the same affliction. By standing up and being counted you are able to see that there is support even if there are no clear and defined answers. I am not for one second belittling the battle that you are facing or the real feeling that it will overwhelm you.

Today, I write this article in the hope that some of it will connect with one person who feels as I have. I was fortunate enough to have such a person who reached out to me and made themselves vulnerable in the hope that I would reach my hand up. You cannot do this alone and you do not have to. Don't suffer on your own, lets all stand up and shout out. Lets break the stigma of ignorance surrounding mental illness and depression.

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