Equality, mental health

Button Bashing

A lot of people, myself included, would say that mental health issues isolate the sufferer. They make you believe that you are a burden to everyone. They make you feel paranoid that everyone is talking about you. They make you question your self-worth, and sense of identity. You lose sight of where you fit – if you even fit at all.

There is no question. Depression and anxiety make the world a lonely place. People I have known who have been victim to these illnesses have often lost their careers, their friends, even their family…


and I am just as surprised as you are that there is a ‘but’.

I have had my whole life completely crumble to the ground around me, and lost ten years’ worth of career. I have hit rock bottom, been admitted (twice!) to a mental health unit, and undergone eight rounds of ECT. I have lost friends that I have had since childhood, and learned that my belief that I was of no value to anyone, unless I was giving something more than myself, had provided a platform for others to treat me as if that were the case.

The first few times that I tried to change the way I thought about myself, and subsequently what I was prepared to accept from others in the way they interacted with me, the outcome was (as I feared it would be), negative. Those people walked away from me, and I was left questioning whether this new-found sense of worth had been tremendously misplaced. But I kept with it (if you’d met my psychologist, you’d know I didn’t really have a choice!), and yes, I had a few people who decided that my friendship was not something they wanted, if I was going to voice my feelings. And that’s ok. We can’t all get along with everyone – and I was simply learning that the person that these people had had a relationship with was, in fact, not me. And when I embraced the real me… it turned out that the friendship wasn’t such a good fit after all.

What this sense of isolation did for me, as I began to feel better, was make me ache for connection. I was becoming confident in who I was, and the types of relationships that I wanted to foster… and I found myself taking chances, and making decisions, that I never would have taken before, to seek these friendships out.

I put myself out there. I said ‘yes’ more often. I went to functions with complete strangers… and it was terrifying.

But it was worth it.

And suddenly, the illness that had stolen so much… was the catalyst for giving something back.

I have spent the last year building true connections, with the most amazing people. I have been completely surrounded and consumed, by people who lift each other up, cheer each other on, and are right there with you if you happen to stumble along the way.

I have shared my story about this beast that I have wrestled, and it has opened the way for people to come into my life that have been there; that have wrestled that beast too… or, that are gallantly still fighting.

And for us… the players at the boss level in this game… things look a little different. Things feel a little different. And whether we have passed that boss level, are not yet ready for the battle, or are right in the thick of button bashing that beast into oblivion, we all seem to share an understanding.

We share something deeper. Something bigger. Something real.

Maybe it is because we have seen how easily darkness can contaminate light. Or maybe because we have a renewed sense of just how easily life can be taken. Maybe it’s simply because that superficial small-talk layer of connection fails to exist when you are looking into the soul of someone who has felt so deeply what it is like to be without hope.

Whatever the reason… my illness; my beast… he has served me. This boss level has boosted my armour, and upgraded my weapons. Instead of starting the next level on a road filled with enemies to defeat… I have started it on a road filled with people to love.

People who love.

In the words of Ingun Black-Briar from Elder Scrolls V, ‘we’re made up of thousands of parts with thousands of functions all working in tandem to keep us alive. Yet if only one part of our imperfect machine fails, life fails. It makes one realize how fragile, how flawed we are.’

Once you realise this, you realise that we are all in this imperfect game together. We need each other. We have to forgive the flaws in others, because we need them to forgive the flaws in us… and trust me, none of us are without our flaws.

So, I might have depleted health levels, and a low ammo count… but this boss level?

I reckon I’ve smashed it.

And just like that…


mental health

Caution: Me.

“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.

Thrown in.


…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.


And terrifying.

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.