Tag Archives: time to talk

Why we're still struggling to talk about mental illness

We’re making a lot of progress as more people get involved in talking about mental illness but it’s still very difficult for individuals to put their hands up and say “I’m struggling”. I believe fear is at the centre of this and there’s no easy way to break this down but we can do with small steps. 
1. Lack of understand and confusion
When I was first suffering with symptoms, I had no idea what was going on and I had no way of describing my distress – I didn’t know that the tight bundle of thoughts in my head, increased heart rate and tension was anxiety, I had no idea my lack of appetite was caused by an illness, I had no idea that feeling low and having to fake smiles was a sign I was unwell. I was frightened but I had no idea what I was frightened of. I didn’t know anything about mental illness and I had no language to describe it.
We need to raise awareness of signs and symptoms and make talking about our feelings common place, just like we talk about physical problems. More knowledge will make everyone more likely to see if someone gets unwell, and if we’re already talking about, it’ll feel less strange and awkward.
2. Fear of stigma
In general mental illness still has a negative reputation; people perceive the individual as weak or lacking in something. There are many misconceptions, such as thinking that we’re dangerous, unpredictable or unreliable. Some people think it’s our fault we’re ill, that we’ve done something wrong.
The truth is, mental illness does not discriminate, it is not a sign of weakness and we have good and bad characteristics, just like everyone else.
The way I fight this one is to go about my life and when someone least expects it, I let them know a little bit about what I’ve been through – this helps people see me for who I am first, then they realise being mentally ill is just part of me, it does not define me.

3. Fear of discrimination
“What will I miss out on?” is the fear. People worry about all sorts of things if they divulge a mental illness, “will I be able to get a job?”, “Will I lose my job?”, “Will I be able to get the promotion I want/deserve?”, “Will I have fair access to healthcare?”. I have heard stories about people being discriminated against in both work and personal life simply because they happen to have a diagnosis.
Someone’s mental illness should not be used as a excuse to overlook them in anything – it’s important to look at an individual’s characteristics and skills rather than judging them and making assumptions about them based on their diagnostic label. This is not unique t mental illness, there are numerous reasons people will be overlooked or left at the back of the queue – fortunately, the law is on our side. I sometimes feel like I have to work extra hard to prove myself but with perseverance, I hope we can stop discrimination.
4. Normalisation
When I first started having problems, in my teens, I thought it was ‘normal teenage angst’, I thought everyone hated their changing bodies and so I coped with it as best I could. Turns out my intrusive thoughts and anxiety were pathological!
I was trying to explain what went on in my head when I was embroiled in anorexia to a colleague recently (they asked!). I explained about the fear of food, of fat, of calories and of putting on weight. The reaction I got was “don’t all women feel like that?” – this person may have been trying to make me feel better or they may have completely missed my point, that these fears paralysed me and stopped me functioning. No – these feelings are not normal and I had to undergo years of therapy to enable me to eat with strangers or in public.
Sometimes it helps to see symptoms as ‘on the normal spectrum’ but this can prevent people from seeking help if they do not realise what they are experiencing is illness.
It’s important that talking about symptoms is normal but we need to remember the symptoms themselves are part off an illness and need treatment.
5. Wanting to protect other people
When struggling with something, it’s a common human instinct not to want to burden other people with it.
When someone you love is mentally ill, it’s natural to worry about them and want to help, not being able to help/solve the situation can add to the worry! When I’m ill, I do not want people to worry about me, I don’t see the point in someone worrying when there’s not usually anything they can do. It can make a relationship awkward.
Keeping loved ones in the dark does not protect them; people are more likely to worry if they think something is going on but they don’t know what it is. It can help, when telling someone about your illness, to also let them know what they can do. This may be something practical like cooking a meal, to come to appointments or to listen to you, without judgement, criticism or advice, but whatever it is, if someone feels the can be helpful, they are less likely to worry.
6. Guilt and shame
Due to stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding, people feel guilty and shame about being ill. We feel guilty about being ‘a drain on public resources’, we feel ashamed that we’ve relapsed despite therapy, we feel we ‘should’ be better but would anyone say any of this to someone with chronic lung disease or someone or renal dialysis? Of course not!
There is nothing shameful about being mentally ill – it is what it is, an illness, none of us choose to be ill nor are we to blame. We need to have compassion for ourselves, we need to talk to ourselves as we would talk to a close friend who was ill. Once we’re making steps to diminish the (wrongly placed) guilt and shame, we will have more confidence to talk about it.
I know, it can be very difficult to speak out but the current situation with discrimination and stigma will never change if we do not bravely continue to talk about mental illness.

Talking is key

So sorry I’ve not published a blog for a long time. Basically I’ve moved house and I’ve changed jobs – 2 of the most stressful things anyone can do!
It’s blogging that appears to have taken a back seat, not a conscious decision but none the less, it’s happened and I’m now working to rectify this!
My job change has only been to a different department within the same hospital but there have been a lot of changes, not least a massive change in hours. I have been used to working shifts which, although you can’t form a routine, there are huge benefits, for example, having time off during the week! I was working 3 long days (out of the house before 7am, home after 8pm), but this would mean I had 4 days off a week! In my new job, I work 8-4, 5 days a week, great if you like a regular routine but I’ve lost a lot – commuting an extra 2 days per week stole 2 hours of my life and in admin, you get 1/2 hour unpaid lunches, another 2.5 hours taken from my week!
Other changes, of course, include working with different people, managing a very different style of work, managing my own work load and prioritising. I’m also working in an office for the first time and I’m experiencing some, apparently normal, office culture, such as an ongoing conversation about food, weight and dieting!
The stress of moving house is immense, the physical moving went pretty well but there’s so much paperwork involved and money, a lot of money!! It’s mostly over but I’m still working my way through the infinite list of people who need to know my change of address, and decorating and DIY have become an ongoing fixture in my life!

It’s a very confusing time as these positive events happen, I ‘should’ feel happy but it’s important to acknowledge what’s been lost and no matter how positive the change is, everyone finds change difficult.
Managing these life events a few years ago, I would definitely have needed time of work and there’s a high chance I would have ended up in hospital.

The last few months have been highly stressful BUT, I have remind relatively health and not ended up in hospital!
So what’s changed?!
I think the title of this blog says it in one! I now talk about how I’m feeling, about what I’m thinking and about what I’m struggling with. Previously, I have not had the language or emotional understanding to explain the knot in my stomach is related to anxiety or that the tension in my shoulders, causing migraines is related to worries I don’t know how to solve.
Often it’s difficult to know how to start talking but my husband and I find a good start is “I don’t know what’s going on but…” or simply “can we talk about…” the conversation then moves naturally from there even if it’s in a stop-start way, we manage to talk about anything and everything! Although we like to solve each other’s problems, we’ve learnt that ‘just’ listening is often what we want from each other, but we do have to remind each other that’s what we want – we don’t expect each other to mind read!

When trying to talk, it’s ok to say “I don’t know how I feel” or “it just doesn’t feel right”. Not every conversation has to go all deep and meaningful, it’s ok to not have the exact words but it’s important to say that. Starting to talk is the hardest thing but expressing our thoughts and feelings is important, no matter how jumbled it is, not just for our own mental wellbeing but for the good of our relationships.
I snapped at a colleague the other day, not like me at all! But, I took a deep breath and apologised. I didn’t need to poor my heart out to her, I just said “I’m sorry, I’m stressed about other stuff and I didn’t mean to take it out on you” I felt better for having said what was going on for me and the mood in the room lightened immediately.
It’s best not to take our stresses out on others people but sometimes this is inevitable, if we spend a lot of time around someone, they’ll get the sharp end sometimes. But emotional intellect is about being about to take responsibility for our feelings, for our actions and how we impact others. Apologies may be hard but being honest about our feeling helps mould healthy relationships (and helps you move on from unhealthy ones).
Today is Time to Talk Day with Time to Change. Let’s use this as a opportunity to, not only raise awareness of mental illness, but also to forge more honest, deeper, healthier, more meaningful relationships by talking about what really matters to us!