“Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?” – Rumi
I have been out of hospital one week. One week of ‘freedom’… or so I’m told.
What I do have, is a new appreciation for anyone who has ever been held in any kind of institution for any length of time. Whilst you are locked away, the world does not wait for you. It doesn’t stop. And now that you’re out, it isn’t halting for that either. It isn’t waiting for you to find your feet or readjust.
…Or don’t… Either way.
I remember the day that I was downgraded to Category One whilst in hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means – I was given the freedom to leave the ward for short times, whenever I wanted. I could venture out on my own. Go for walks. Get a coffee. Nip to the shops. And I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to step outside, not have to have someone with me constantly. Be alone – what a novel experience that was going to be.
I literally took two steps out the doors, before turning back and walking inside, where my nurse was waiting with words of encouragement. It is amazing how institutionalised you can become in such a small span of time. The world was foreign, and frightening. I was not confident of my capacity to navigate it anymore. Everything was so overwhelming. So bright. So loud.
Nevertheless, I built up some courage, and eventually my two steps turned into three steps, into four steps… into small outings on my own. But every time… every. single, time… I could scurry back to the safety of the of the unit. The walls of my room. Quiet. Dull. Calm.
Out here, in the real world… It is anything but.
Every sense is heightened. Colours are so bright. Movements are exaggerated. Noises are deafening. It is a sensory overload 100% of the time. It is both breathtakingly beautiful, and tremendously overpowering. And there is no ward to scurry back to. There is no quiet, dull, or calm hospital room.
There is just me; me against the big wide world.
Since discharge, I feel like my lack of hospitalisation has resulted in a perceived lack of illness. It is as if as soon as I walked out those doors… it was now up to me to prove I was sick. Or alternatively, to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘decide’ not to be.
It is heartbreaking to know that anything you do hurts the feelings of another – particularly someone close to you, like family, or friends.
But for some reason – when you have a mental health condition… people feel the need to let you know just how badly your illness affects your loved ones.
I do not know of any other illness, where the sufferer is held responsible for the heartbreak their illness inflicts on others; as if, somehow, they are able to control this. If someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, for example, they would never ever be told that, because of their condition, they were ‘hard to deal with’, that it ‘wasn’t all about them’, that they needed to recognise that they were causing ‘heartache’ and ‘sleepless nights’ for others. They would never be left to feel like they needed to repay a debt, when they were offered support during their treatment or recovery.
I have been out of hospital one week… and I am still wearing my hospital identification arm band. I can’t bring myself to cut it off. I feel like I need it… I need it to prove that this was real for me. That I needed real help. That it is an actual condition… and I am not responsible for it. That I am recovering. That I need support… and that is OK.
And that support has come in waves, from so many people, in so many ways… and it has been amazing. I am so thankful for the people in my life. And I am so sorry that my illness has caused them heartache and pain. But I think it is so important for me, and for anyone who is suffering a mental health illness, to remember that it is not you causing that pain. You are not your illness. You do not need to constantly try and remould your shape to ensure that other people are not impacted by the fact that you are unwell. People do not need protecting from you.
“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” – Anonymous
I think there is a big void, between us, as a society, being aware of mental health conditions… and understanding and accepting mental conditions, as legitimate medical conditions. I do not think the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced until we are able to recognise that distinction.
I am not my Depression.
I am not my Anxiety.
I am not my illness. And neither are you.