Monday, 22 February 2016

My Glass Box

Some time ago I had a nightmare that I was trapped inside a glass box, but no one believed it was real because they couldn’t see it themselves and, although I didn’t think much of it at the time, the glass box became my go to metaphor to describe mental illness to those who had never experienced it themselves, because honestly that's exactly what it is. Mental illnesses are a prison, an invisible cage holding your entire being hostage. It isn't romantic or beautiful like teenagers on the Internet would have you believe. It's ugly, it's painful, it's destructive and it's a darkness that consumes you like you couldn't begin to imagine, and the worst part is that it's created entirely in your mind. It is as fictional as your favourite childhood book and yet somehow it is the realist thing I know. 
I’ve found that metaphors are the easiest way to describe how mental illness has affected me because it’s a difficult concept for some people to get their head around, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. I barely understand it myself so I can't possibly expect anyone who hasn't lived this way themselves to understand it. However, there's a special place in hell for the people who reject the concept entirely. 

You see, there are three types of people in this world. There are those who will believe in the glass box even when they can’t see it, those who will question its existence but ultimately take your word for it and those who will never, ever, no matter what you go through, believe in the box. Every single day without hesitation I find myself thanking my lucky stars that I was given the family I have who, although unsure how to handle it at first, have never once pushed against or questioned my illness. I was also blessed with the financial stability that meant I could get professional help when I urgently needed it, to which, in no uncertain terms, I owe my life. My heart breaks for people struggling to get by in families whose belief in mental illnesses is nonexistent, or who have to get by on the minimal help offered on the NHS, usually only accessible when the medications forced on them have failed to complete the job and the six month waiting list has finally gotten round to them.

Around 1 in every 4 people will experience some form of mental health issue each year, and yet, it’s still a topic we’re afraid to talk about and this mostly comes down to the stigma of being “over dramatic”, “crazy” or the simple fact that so many refuse to believe in its severity. My mental illness snuck up on me like a bad cold in mid-summer, eventually forcing me to leave college and put my life on hold at the very age you're supposed to start living. It's understandably hard for people in your life to handle, I lost friends and relationships and opportunities that I’ll never get a second chance at. Despite this, every so often I find myself faced by a person whose mentality is simply that I just need to “try harder” and “stop over thinking it” or even better “take more walks” and “drink some tea”. Promise me you'll never be that person. Your leaf water can't cure this. There will always be people who treat mental health as an option, whose opinion is that it was a choice to allow my life to end up this way, as if it’s not that I have a medical illness that means I struggle to breathe when I leave the house, I'm simply attention seeking. 

It wasn’t until I developed the illness myself that it became apparent to me just how many other people, even some I’d been close to for a very long time, had been struggling too. Of course we keep each other’s secrets; it’s like an unwritten code of conduct among the mentally dysfunctional. You wouldn’t believe how many people in your life have a mental health problem and simply haven’t felt the courage to speak out about it. To those people, I say this, you are not, nor will you ever be alone and you don’t need to feel shame for what you’re going through. 

I wish I could say something like “it’s going to be okay” or “things will get better”, but if I’m totally honest I’m nearly 2 years down this road and I’m still not sure if that’s true. It’s a day-to-day battle and that’s okay, some days you’ll win and some days you’ll lose, hard. What I can tell you is this, the human mind is an incredible thing and on the worst of days I try to remind myself of one simple message, if your mind is powerful enough to create the chaos you're living with now, then it’s certainly powerful enough to fight back. 

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