Just Because I Look 'OK' Doesn't Mean I Am
One of the things I find frustrating with having a mental illness is the way in which people often judge you by the way you are functioning at that precise moment in time. They assume that just because you can go to work, or engage in a conversation for five minutes with a smile on your face, you must be OK.
I would say I struggle with “high-functioning” obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. I can lead a fairly fulfilling life while managing the symptoms of my illness.
Do not get me wrong, I have bad days — very bad days. I have had relapses with desperate trips to the hospital and my symptoms are guaranteed to flare up during stress and hormonal times, but for the most part, I am lucky enough to be able to continue with my life in the best way I can.
However, what most people do not seem to realize is that just because I am able to function doesn’t mean I am “cured” or free of my mental illness. I have a smile on my face and I can engage in conversation therefore I am free from my mental illness. Wrong.
You see, when you have struggled with a mental illness for most of your life, you learn to shield the battle going on in your head very quickly. You learn to multitask. In other words, you try and deal with your illness whilst attempting to live your life as best as you can.
The battle can often become exhausting, you start to break at the seams but still, you must go on.
There really does not seem to be much leeway with society when it comes to mental health. We are expected to just “get over it” and are consistently judged if we need to take time out for our mental health. Mental illness is often not even recognized as a real illness. Instead, it is viewed as a personality flaw or a temporary change to our mood.
The frustrating thing is, most serious mental health conditions do not have a cure, they are something that cannot be helped by the person struggling and it takes a hell of a lot of work to be able to manage our condition on a daily basis.
The problem with mental illness is of course symptoms cannot often be seen. When my anxiety is high, outward signs may often appear, however, those physical signs are often just a fraction of what is really going on.
The predominant struggle is in our brains which sadly often makes it invisible to the outside world.
It is believed that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives (www.mind.org.uk) which is a huge percentage of society.
The attitudes and beliefs around mental illness really needs to change. People struggling should be able to not feel embarrassed about opening up about their condition and needs. Mental health problems really are so common, they are part of our everyday lives, so the stigma attached to them needs to be abolished.
The only way that can happen is for people to speak more openly about it, bring awareness to something that you have nothing to be ashamed about.
And remember, if someone looks OK, do not automatically assume they are.
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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns