They Said I Should Lie

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to feel ashamed. There’s absolutely no need to feel ashamed, and this is something I fight against on a daily basis – in my ‘real life’ or through writing – but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think it’s our job as fellow sufferers (and, you know, fellow human beings) to try and lessen that feeling of shame. We need to show people that having a mental illness is valid, and real, and okay.

It can be difficult, however, when a mental health professional doesn’t feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered some amazing people during my mental health journey. I can’t deny, though, that not everyone I’ve met along the way has been all that helpful.

The one that will always stand out for me is a professional I encountered during my mental health struggles in secondary school. Overall, this person was incredibly kind, but there is one situation that always comes to mind where I was left feeling shamed.

Long story short, this person encouraged me to lie about my absence from school. They said I should tell people that I have been having stomach problems, and that’s why I haven’t been able to get to school. Apparently, people wouldn’t react well to me being mentally ill, so I needed to tell everyone I had to be in close proximity to a toilet.

Now I’m pretty sure this person didn’t personally believe that there was anything for me to ashamed of, so why did they encourage me to lie? Maybe they thought it would be easier for me? Maybe they thought the other kids at school wouldn’t accept a mentally ill classmate? I’ll never know. But someone in that role encouraging a teenager to hide their mental illness from the world is just contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental health, and it needs to stop.

I chose not to lie, by the way, and my friends were supportive and loving and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Anyone who wasn’t that way isn’t part of my life anymore, and I’m better for it!

Finding My Place On The Shelf

Have you ever walked into a room and felt off? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. Maybe something has moved; a vase two centimetres to the left, or the TV remote from the armchair to the mantel. You can’t pinpoint what exactly, but something feels out of place. Even as you sit down to watch the television or read a book, your eye can’t help but flit from corner to corner, endlessly searching for the offending object so you can put it right.

That’s what depression feels like to me. Controlled by medication, but always there in the back of my mind. I manage to carry out daily routines, but at the end of the day the misplaced vase becomes my focus once again. I feel out of place, but I can’t explain why.

I no longer have the crippling sadness that depression brought me before the medication. Before the medication, and for some time after, I struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, and I rarely washed my hair. Did anyone care what I looked like? I certainly didn’t.

Now my depression manifests itself through a feeling of emptiness. Instead of feeling sadness, I don’t feel very much at all.

Are those my only options? Crippling sadness or emptiness?

I would love an explanation. I would love to push myself two centimetres to the right, back to my original place on the shelf.


I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced something similar while trying to tackle their depression. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

I’m So OCD: The Reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’m an incredibly messy person. I rarely put my clothes away – most items have found a nice home on my bedroom floor. My makeup is regularly strewn all over the house, and my cream carpet is covered in black kohl pencil. I always drop food and drink down the front of my dressing gown (I can’t drink coffee without supervision). I don’t clean out my hairbrush very often. I drop towels on the floor instead of hanging them up. Mess follows me everywhere.

And yet, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Many people think that having OCD means you have to be an obsessive cleaner. Some people say, “I’m so OCD!” just because they like things clean, not realizing that they are using a mental disorder as an adjective, and actually saying, “I’m so obsessive-compulsive disorder!” instead.

My experience, like it is for many people, is all about compulsions; to check locks, close doors, and turn off switches. When I’m about to leave the house, my compulsions kick in full force.

I scan my room to make sure no plugs have been left on, then I go into the bathroom and make sure my taps are off. I focus on the one I haven’t used – obviously – because that’s the one on the left, and I need to focus on the left side of everything to feel balanced. I usually sing or hum and tighten the tap to whatever tune I have in my head at the time. My taps are completely ruined; they are barely attached to the basin.

Once that part of my routine is over and done with, I check the main source of my panic – the sockets under my makeshift dressing table. I rarely use my hair straighteners anymore (in fact, I haven’t even plugged them in for nearing on six months), but this is where I would plug them in if I did use them. I spend minutes staring at the empty sockets until the part of my brain that controls my compulsions accepts that I haven’t left anything plugged in, and that I didn’t have anything plugged in in the first place, and that the house isn’t going to burn down.

I do a final scan of my bedroom, checking everything is just right, then I turn off the light and shut my bedroom door. Most of the time I don’t make it to the top of the stairs before I have to go back and check again. I get such a strong feeling – I feel sick, my stomach sinks and I feel like an invisible force is pushing me back into my bedroom.

Then it’s time to tackle downstairs.

I go into the kitchen to check that I haven’t left the back door unlocked (I probably haven’t unlocked the door that day, but you can never be too careful). I push repeatedly on the fridge and freezer doors, once again waiting for the green light that tells me the doors are firmly shut (using my eyes to see that the doors are shut is simply not enough). I’ll probably check the back door one more time, just in case.

Once I’ve gone through my routine (sometimes going back upstairs to check something, or going to the back door once again), it’s time for my confrontation with the front door. I push down firmly on the door handle, over and over again, repeatedly pushing down with all my weight and force. Sometimes a few seconds is enough. Sometimes the neighbours give me a look because I’ve been stood there for so long. Other than the idea of burning down the house, this is my biggest anxiety. Scenario after scenario race through my mind; flashes of every bad thing that could happen if I left the front door unlocked. Some are justified, some are far-fetched, and some (most, actually) are downright idiotic.

If I’m lucky, the routine ends here. I can walk away and forget about my compulsions. Forget about them, that is, until I get home and have to repeat most of the routine before I go to sleep.

More often than not, however, I have to fight the urge to run back to my house as I’m walking away from it. On more than once occasion I have gone back to check my hair straighteners aren’t plugged in, or to see if I’ve left the iron on, or the check the back door, making myself late for the bus, and waking up an entire new layer of my anxiety.

If I’m ever in charge of locking another door – my sister’s front door, or the cellar door at work – then my obsessive behaviour goes into overdrive. The very idea of accidentally leaving my sister’s door unlocked and risking her possessions or leaving the cellar door at work open and risking thousands of pounds of stock almost drives me to a panic attack. In cases like this I use extra force on the handle, pushing to the point of pain and leaving a red mark across my palm. My sister’s door handle has actually come loose; the metal no longer rests solidly on the wood, and it wobbles with every use.

What caused my compulsions? Is there a cause at all? I never used to have such strong urges to turn off taps or compulsions to check door handles. I sometimes wonder if my dad’s carelessness is to blame. Years of hearing drip, drip, drip because my dad left the bathroom tap running, and years of following him around the house to turn them off. It doesn’t make sense to most people. People who can turn the key and be satisfied that they’ve locked the door, or people who flip a switch and don’t have to stare intently at the wall. It’s difficult to explain or give a reason why (if there’s a reason at all). I’ve tried to explain to my boyfriend, who has been witness to my obsessive behaviour more than most, why I repetitively tap my bedside table (which lives on my left-hand side) with my left hand. I need everything to be focused on my left side or I feel off-balance. I get the same feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as when faced with a lock or a running tap. Is it because I’m right-handed? I’ve often wondered if the constant use of my right hand has made my left feel neglected, and my brain is trying to make up for it.

Depression

Depression is drowning. I open my mouth to scream, yet no sound escapes me. Water floods my lungs and burns my chest. Every cell in my body is screaming at me with the instinctive need to take a breath, but there is nothing to inhale but water. Depression is suffocating. I try and escape, but which direction will bring me to safety? I reach for something, anything, that will pull me out from the water and allow me to breathe. I find nothing. I am surrounded by people, all of them blurred and distorted by water. They call to me, voices muted; muffled. I can’t make out the words. I hope and pray that someone will reach into the water and drag me out, but the weight of the water forces me further and further, deeper and deeper.

Depression is numbing. No motivation. No inspiration. No reason. Simple tasks become mountainous chores, and most tasks are ignored completely. Depression is dirty. I have grease in my hair, and oil on my skin. My bedroom floor is littered with clothes. My room is decorated with half empty glasses and half eaten plates. A pizza crust from a pizza that I can’t remember eating is speckled with green. I sort through my memories, trying to remember, but I can’t. Monday blends into Tuesday, then Wednesday, and I’m still in bed. Time escapes me but still each second carries the weight of an hour. Life is filmed in slow motion. Shackles adorn my wrists and ankles, and the weight of them makes minuscule movements feel impossible. I can’t concentrate enough to remember what I’m supposed to concentrate on.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

What If Mental Illness Could Be Seen?

I used to feel embarrassed whenever I had to address my mental illness. I hid it from my friends until it became unavoidable and I had no choice but to tell them; constant days off school and meetings with teachers started to look suspicious. They were supportive – as supportive as people with no prior experience of mental health conditions can be – and, for the most part, didn’t treat me any differently.

Some people, however, failed to offer me any compassion or understanding.

I’ve encountered people who don’t see mental illness as important – or real. Depression isn’t depression, just sadness. You just need to cheer up. What have you got to be depressed about, anyway? Anxious? Everyone gets anxious. Relax. Pull yourself together.

I’ve encountered people who suddenly thought I was crazy. They would walk on eggshells around me, scared to say the wrong thing in case it triggered a mental breakdown. They would tense at the mere mention of anxiety, searching the room for the nearest exit.

I’ve encountered people – and these are the worst – that thought me pathetic for having panic attacks. They reinforced the stigma around mental illness and validated all the hateful thoughts I had towards myself.

If mental illness could be seen, would people treat it with more respect? If my depression was as visible as a cast on a broken leg, would people still tell me to pull myself together? If those things don’t work on physical conditions, why would they work on mental ones? You’ve got a broken leg? Just put some weight on it and you’ll be fine! Pull yourself together. What do you mean you can’t walk? Pathetic.

Don’t treat me as though I’m weak or fragile, just because I have a mental illness. Be there for me, be supportive, but don’t walk on eggshells. Please don’t judge me because I am experiencing something you don’t understand. Trust me, I judge myself enough. Try to be kind, or simply offer a smile. Your actions matter. Mental illness isn’t contagious, and you won’t catch anxiety just because your friend has it. Give me the space I need but be there for me when I’m ready to close the gap. Don’t offer me simple remedies such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop worrying’. Depression isn’t a choice. Anxiety isn’t a choice. Try not to ask for a reason why, because to be completely honest, I don’t know the reason why myself.

Pale Skin, Green Veins

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Stare at the mirror. Plead for change.

Feel the shame. No escape.

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Feel depression’s cold embrace.

Trapped inside a self-built cage.

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Stare at the mirror. Plead for change.

 

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Stare at the mirror. We share a grin.

Take a deep breath. Feel worthwhile.

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Myself and happiness reconcile.

Finally comfortable in my skin.

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Stare at the mirror. We share a grin.

State of Mind

To struggle to catch a breath

to have a mind that never stops

to spend every night worrying about the next day

to spend every morning worrying about the day ahead

to be lost (inside your own head)

to struggle to get out of bed

to struggle to leave the house

to feel unsafe at your safest

to feel a weight pressing down on your chest (that weight is life)

to feel ashamed of your own mind

to be told to cheer up (depression isn’t real, you’re just upset)

to be told to pull yourself together (anxiety isn’t real, stop worrying)

to hide in a toilet for hours because no one will find you in there

to want help but the doctor makes you anxious

to want help but it’s all in your head

to want help but no one believes you

to feel lonely but want to be alone

to think too much

to think too little

to care too much

to care too little

to be scared.


Inspired by “Some People Know” by Rita Ann Higgins.