Am I ‘faking it?’ Thoughts on having an invisible illness

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I look perfectly well.

I can get out of bed. I shower, I wear clean clothes. I apply make up. I smile and chat and laugh.

But I’m not ok, I’m far from it. This picture was taken when I was severely depressed in March of this year. My medication had been lowered and it wasn’t working as it used to. I was left feeling like I was on the edge of a precipice, and I was barely clinging on. At the time of writing, my medication has been reviewed and increased, and I’m feeling more stable, more like myself. But I still look the same. I look as healthy as I did when I was struggling. Having Bipolar, or any mental health problem, means understanding what it’s like to have an invisible illness.

I have good days, good weeks, and if I’m lucky good months. These are the times I can get on with life. I can go out and enjoy living without the ogre of Bipolar looming large. Although, there is a voice. A voice that at first irritates and then consumes my thoughts,

“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re faking it.”

It tells me I’m just lazy, or attention seeking. That I’m making all of this up. Even when I’m depressed, or in the midst of a psychotic episode or panic attack, the voice is there. Sometimes I believe it. It’s a dangerous voice, because on more than one occasion I’ve stopped taking my medication when I believed what it was telling me. That has never ended well. Missing Medication: Withdrawal and Side Effects

I know I’m not the only one that lives with this voice and the fear that they’re faking. For me, it comes from years of misdiagnosis, and the worry that maybe this diagnosis is wrong too, and actually, really, there was never anything wrong. Even after nearly five years of being diagnosed with Bipolar I still compare myself to others with the condition and convince myself I’m fine. Deep down though, I know Bipolar is a complex disorder, and everyone has a different experience of it.

It comes from people misunderstanding mental illness, believing sensationalist ideas, or making sweeping comments such as,

“I don’t believe in mental illness.” or,

“Medication and psychiatry is all a lie.”

To be told that everything you know is happening in your mind, that you feel so intensely is fake, a lie is suffocating. It’s wrong of these people to make such judgements. It’s strange to me that although mental illness touches 1 in 4 people in their lifetime, it is still so widely misunderstood and underrepresented in society. That leads back to the beginning of my post. Because it’s invisible, mental illness is difficult for people to relate to or understand. People often want to find an explanation for behaviour and because they can’t see mental illness as a cast or bandage on someone’s body, or on an x-ray, they look for other ways of defining what it means. As humans we want answers. We want to fix what is broken. There aren’t always answers for where mental illness comes from. There aren’t any quick fixes, and for some it’s a life time of mending over and over again what’s broken.

I know that seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication has saved my life. I know that I wouldn’t be here without the intervention of medication. No amount of exercise, calming baths and cups of tea would’ve had the same effect. I have to remind myself of this fact on a daily basis. I know I need to educate and inform friends, family and strangers about Bipolar and mental illness in general. The more people I talk to, the quieter that voice becomes.

 

‘I thought the voices were normal.’ Realising I had Psychosis

 

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I suffer from Bipolar disorder, well known for it’s symptoms of mania and
depression, but what many people don’t realise is that some sufferers also
experience psychosis. These could include delusions, auditory and visual
hallucinations. For me, I hear voices. This happens during periods of extreme
moods, so when I’m manic or severely depressed. I may hear voices that are
comforting or spur on my mania. Sometimes the voices are just a jumble. When
I’m depressed, it becomes disturbing. Voices will scream and shout at me,
or sneer vindictive threats. I write about one such experience here: Doubting Myself – Hearing Voices

When I was younger I thought having someone talk to me in my head was normal.
Then, as I grew older, I believe I was in denial. Something like this
couldn’t happen to me, it just didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t until I
stumbled upon an article that explained the symptoms that I began to truly
except this wasn’t right. I sat reading, with tears welling up as the
realisation dawned on me; I had been experiencing psychosis. I cried for a
long time. The idea of telling anyone I had psychosis terrified me. What if
they were afraid of me? What if they thought I was dangerous? My fear of
being labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ stopped me from being honest with
the people closest to me. I didn’t want to lose friends or have family
treat me any differently.

Even as a sufferer my view of psychosis had been skewed by pop culture
representations. You were a disturbed, dangerous individual that didn’t fit
into society if you heard voices. It couldn’t be further from the truth in
my case. I was just an ordinary woman; I was in a long term relationship, I
worked, I went out with friends. Yet I felt stigmatised before I even reached
out to anybody. I stayed silent for years, only telling my psychiatrist after
a year of treatment for Bipolar.

I eventually opened up to my partner. It was an awkward conversation, with
many pauses and silences as I struggled to explain myself. Although he
initially found it difficult to understand, he was supportive and caring. He
could see how upset I was becoming and how much of an internal ordeal I had
been through keeping this bottled up inside, and knew all I needed from him
was a hug. Later, I told my family and they excepted it with an ease I
wasn’t expecting. I have begun to be open about my experiences on social
media and the outpouring of support from friends has been incredible. I am
truly lucky to have such open minded family and friends.

I know there are people out there who don’t understand and some that are
scared of psychosis. If these people opened themselves up and had a genuine
discussion with someone like me they wouldn’t be afraid. I have met people
who believe it is edgy or cool, or use it as fashion statement. It is none of
those things and  is not something you should ever wish on yourself. It is
debilitating, bewildering and terribly frightening, but with support can be
tackled.

Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

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I’ve had many conversations about mental illness and Bipolar. I am very open and honest about my illness, and have refused to hide it. I want to show people that even though I have a mental illness, it does not make me weak. On the contrary, I believe to be able to keep fighting this disorder I am stronger than I ever would have been without it. People like to think mental illness doesn’t define them but sometimes it can. It has moulded me into a fighter, and I won’t ever stop.

There have been times where I faced stigma because of my illness. Below are just a few instances;

A few years ago now I worked for the local council. I thoroughly enjoyed my job as a Family Worker but was suffering with depression and trying to keep it at bay. Unfortunately it meant I had to take time out, to look after myself. A certain colleague would make snide remarks about my time off, saying,

“At least I’m actually here all the time, not like some people.” or “Some people are just not able to cope with stress as well as others.” They would look at me directly as they made these comments, a smirk across their face. It made me feel like I was a failure at my job, a job which I took great pride in. I hadn’t been diagnosed with Bipolar at that time, and felt like I was always having to make excuses or justify why I was depressed.

Later, I applied for a job at an NHS day nursery. the interview went well and I was offered the job the same day, subject to references. I was ecstatic and went out and celebrated that evening with my boyfriend. A few days later I received a phone call from the manager of the nursery. The first thing she said was in an abrupt, unsettling tone,

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Naturally I was confused and taken aback so I asked her what she meant. “Your sickness record is very poor, you should have explained this at interview.” I knew there was nothing I could say, and my heart sank. I didn’t get the job. At the time I had still didn’t have a diagnosis, so felt I couldn’t pursue them for being discriminatory.

When I’m feeling high and a bit manic, I will talk to anyone and everyone. I started talking to this lad at a nightclub, he was quite young and seemed nice enough. He started telling me about himself and how he was an awful person. Me being kind and sympathetic said,

“No, no don’t beat yourself up, you don’t seem that bad to me.” He then asked,

“So tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?” I replied.

“Well, what do you do?”

“I’m unemployed.” I said reluctantly.

“Why aren’t you working then?” he asked.

“Because I’m not well.” I said simply. Then he asked what the matter was. This was the point where I paused. Did I want to be honest? I had only recently been diagnosed. I thought why not, I have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.  I suppose I felt guilty being out at a nightclub when I was ill and that some people may not understand how I can manage to do that. I decided to be honest, expecting more questions. “I have Bipolar.”

“Oh” he said, sounding disappointed. This was when the mood changed and I was subjected to a tirade of negative opinion about the illness. “I had this girlfriend with Bipolar. I had to leave her, she was a fucking nightmare. I couldn’t handle it, she made my life hell. You lot are all a nightmare.” Then he asked if I had a boyfriend. I replied I had and he started again. “Fucking hell, how does he manage living with you?! You know you’re lucky to have a boyfriend if you’ve got Bipolar.” I was seething. How dare he judge me when he had just met me, all because I had a mental illness! I looked at him and calmly said before walking away,

“Well, I feel very sorry for any woman who has to deal with you. You’ll be very lucky to find another girlfriend with an attitude like that.”

Near the end of last year I had to take time off work because I was struggling with a deep depression. When I returned the manager was acting very strangely. He hardly spoke to me and didn’t ask me how I was feeling or welcomed me back. I had a conversation with another member of staff who I found out also had Bipolar. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone at work. However, I was given a word of warning.

“Just be careful, I was nearly sacked because of my Bipolar.” I was shocked and concerned.

“What! Why?”

“The manager doesn’t get it. I was told to cheer up because I was bringing the rest of the team down. We had a massive argument and he nearly fired me.” I instantly felt worried that I would have to paint a mask on at work every time I felt unwell. I then understood the managers reaction when I returned to work. I knew that Bipolar was not seen as a legitimate illness and I was deemed a nuisance for suffering from it.

The stigma I have suffered has been upsetting, but I try not to dwell on it. These are people who are ignorant and need to be educated. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful husband, family and friends that support me, and will ask me how I’m doing and who really want a genuine answer. Not everyone has that and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be not to have that support net.

Mental Health Representation in Popular Culture

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Does geek culture and media challenge the stigma of mental illness? Or does it perpetuate the myths prevalent throughout society? Many characters in the media are their mental illness. In many ways it defines them and moulds their personality and motivations. Many real sufferers struggle against this. I for one, never say ‘I am Bipolar.’ but instead, ‘I have Bipolar.’ People don’t go around saying, ‘I am flu’ or ‘I am a broken leg.’ (saying ‘I am the danger’ or ‘I am the light in the darkness, I am truth’ is however, awesome). I personally don’t believe your identity should be completely entwined with a mental illness.

Poor mental health is often used as a plot device; as a motivation for good or bad. Illness creates ‘evil’ ‘murderous’ villains and words often used include ‘crazy’ ‘insane’ ‘disturbed.’ Although shaping an important part of a storyline, the specifics of the mental illness are rarely, if ever discussed. We as the audience make our own diagnoses. That, along with mainstream facets of the media, perpetuate various myths that have created stigma, fear and ludicrous notions of the mentally ill.

Myths often perpetuated:

Mentally ill people are violent. Schizophrenia is most commonly linked with violence, but Multiple Personality Disorder and Bipolar are other common examples. These people are constantly teetering between sanity and insanity, the latter urging them and inevitably leading to torture, rape and committing murderous acts. The reality is people with mental health problems are a vulnerable group in society and are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than commit them. The glaringly obvious example here is Batman and its’ multitude of lunatic, asylum dwelling villains.

Mental illness makes people mysterious and sexy. It creates an edge to a character that makes them appear exotic. The character is an ‘outsider who is not constrained by the norms of society.’ Rather then fully developing a well-rounded, believable personality. It is a lazy, cliched and poorly thought out rush job to make a two-dimensional character more interesting. Case in point; the hysterical, traumatised woman. Who is a badass and oh, is also incredibly sexy. The film Sucker Punch is a fine example of how to insult women and the mentally ill. Go and watch it…actually no, don’t bother.

The mentally ill are at all times sombre and brooding and that means the comics, video games and films have to continue this theme, from the music, to the cinematography and the colour palette. Shockingly, people suffering from a mental illness can be easy-going and wait for it…own an actual sense of humour! Hyperbole and a Half is an excellent example of how a comic strip can use humour to openly and honestly explain the realities of mental illness. ‘Adventures in Depression’ and ‘Depression Part Two’ are wonderfully entertaining reads but at the same time expose how daily, monotonous routines can become unbearable.

Obviously I understand the mundane realities of daily life can’t always create entertaining fiction. A screenwriters job is to create larger than life stories that drive ticket sales. A comic series wants to maintain and increase its readership. They are not going to change the hot girl with superpowers to the girl with superpowers who can’t be bothered to shower, comb her hair and wears pyjamas for weeks on end. The relentless hero who triumphs against all adversity, to the hero who has trouble getting out of bed every morning and feels sedated and nauseous due to their medication. A villain who creates fear and mayhem to a a villain who lives in constant fear their entire family will be killed if they don’t complete a daily ritual. When playing a video game you sometimes have to accept that although the playable character can survive an apocalyptic amount of shit in the first game go the series, that the second isn’t going to be about them overcoming PTSD. Sometimes you have ‘flashbacks’ or ‘hallucinations’ in cut scenes, but I don’t think many gamers would particularly enjoy playable hours of counselling and psychiatric sessions.

It’s interesting when you notice how many people are accepting or apathetic of the portrayal of the mentally ill when most of us will experience a phase of mental-ill health at least once in our lives. I’m not asking for much; only that producers and creators sit back from time to time and think about what they want to say with their work. Do they really need to demonise a vulnerable group in society? A little sensitivity to the plight of so many is really not asking for much .

Charged for being ill; Long term mental illness and paying for prescriptions

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I have Bipolar, a life long mental illness. I take medication to help me have some form of stability. Without it, I can become manic and a danger to myself, or severely depressed and suicidal. I need medication to function, to get up in the morning, to survive. Yet, I have to pay for my prescriptions. If I had diabetes, thyroid problems, or epilepsy, all life long conditions, I would not have to pay for my prescriptions. This is surely an example of mental health stigma.

Currently, individual prescriptions are £8.60. I have monthly prescriptions, of three individual medications, which would cost me £25.80. Recently I have had fortnightly prescriptions, which would cost £51.60 per month, which is £619.20 per year. If I had to have that prescription for forty years, fortnightly at today’s prices, it would cost me £24,768. Fortnightly prescriptions are not unusual for people with mental illness, so this isn’t a huge exaggeration of the cost. That’s the deposit for a three bedroom house, and more money than I have ever earned in a single year.

With the Prepayment Prescription Certificate (PPC), it is £104 per year, so over forty years that is £4,160. I have never been told about this saving by any medical professional. I simply happened to glance at a leaflet at the pharmacy one day. The fact is they don’t want to promote this. As someone who is currently unable to work full time, because of my illness, you can imagine not having PPC medication would be unaffordable. If I did not have my husband, whom I rely on for financial support, I would not be able to afford to pay for my medication without PPC.  Before I realised I was entitled to PPC, I had been taking medication for Bipolar for over three years.

There are still people in our society that would say to me “just get over it!” or “you can recover” or “you don’t need to take medication, learn to meditate!” What these people don’t seem to realise, or are unable to grasp, is that I have tried. I’ve tried to get over it. I’ve tried to recover. I’ve tried to not take medication. These are not solutions. They do not work. In fact, that warped way of thinking only exacerbates my condition. Without medication, to put it bluntly, I would be dead. The same way a diabetic would die without their insulin. Medication helps me to survive, but the right mix of meds helps me to thrive, and live life the way I have only dreamt of.

How the label of Bipolar changed my life – for the better 

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At 10am, 13th December 2012 was a life changing moment; I was diagnosed with Bipolar. My initial response was of anger, an anger that it had taken until I was twenty seven and fifteen years of pain and suffering to finally have a diagnosis. So many years of my life felt wasted, as I had dragged myself through horrific bouts of depression. I had self destructed countless times as my manic episodes had caused my behaviour to spiral out of control. I was broke, in debt and unemployed. I wanted to scream and yell at all the doctors that had misdiagnosed me over the years. I felt someone had to be held accountable for everything I had missed out on in my teens and for most of my twenties. There was no one though that I could single out and blame, it was the way it went for many people with Bipolar. I had to let it go. For my own piece of mind, my health, I had to let it go.

When the anger had subsided, I realised how this label I had been given explained my erratic behaviour. It gave meaning to my partner, family and friends of my sometimes bizarre actions. Instead of recoiling from this label, they were willing to listen and wanted to understand more about the disorder. I feared that such a diagnosis would scare my family and friends. It didn’t. This reaction filled me with the confidence to be able to tell more and more people about my diagnosis. When asked why I was not working, or why I was ill, I was always truthful.

Being labelled was a release. No longer did I feel weighed down with the burden of knowing that something was wrong with me, but not understanding what it was. I could prove that I wasn’t attention seeking when I was suicidal, or that I would magically just get over what I was feeling. I was armed with knowledge and I could now educate myself and learn how to combat and find some relief from this illness.

I’m not denying there is stigma attached to having a mental illness, of course there is. I’ve  encountered it many times. What I’m saying is that I felt I was able to wrestle some control back into my life. With the help of a psychiatrist, I was able to assess my capabilities. I could set realistic targets to have a sense of normalcy and stability I hadn’t felt in years. I felt empowered and that I could choose how to manage my illness with medication.

I’ve heard many different opinions about being diagnosed and how it has changed people’s lives. Many people don’t like the idea of having a label that comes with a mental health diagnosis. That it singles you out and makes you different, and for some, can make it harder to find support and care. This new label attached to me had given me clarity. I could look back at the years before and how not knowing what was wrong had decimated my life. Laid bare were the countless acts of self destructive behaviour, the violent outbursts, the almost insurmountable debt I found myself in. How my drastic moods had clouded my experiences and often left me feeling like a shell of a human being. For me, the day I was diagnosed and ‘labelled’ as Bipolar drastically altered my life but in a way I hadn’t expected. To anyone who is concerned they may have Bipolar, or any kind of severe mental illness, please don’t be scared of finding help. Don’t be scared of a label; it saved my life.

Body Confidence and Self – Esteem

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The confidence I have in my body and my self esteem are intrinsically linked. It’s always been this way, since I was a child. I can remember before I hit puberty that I was terrified of becoming a woman. The very idea of having breasts and curves filled me with dread. In a way, I wanted to be strong and capable, like my brothers and male friends. I’m not saying that I felt I was in the wrong body, but that it felt daunting to grow up and become a woman. I’ve since learnt that I didn’t have to lose my tomboy characteristics as I grew up; it’s ok to be a woman and enjoy sports and getting muddy, and more importantly to be fiercely competitive and ambitious.

Growing up I was never skinny, but never overweight, until I became severely depressed during my mid teens. I turned to food as a comfort, as so many do with depression and I gained weight. I was mercilessly teased and bullied by a group of boys and the experience shattered my self image. As a result of my fear of having curves and the bullying, I began to despise my body and felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I lost weight slowly and steadily, but never felt it was enough. I still saw that overweight depressed girl in the mirror. The two became one and the same, and in my mind being overweight could only be seen as a negative. I created a warped sense of self value that has evolved and taken over my life, infecting my relationships and self esteem.

As an adult my weight has fluctuated in tune with my moods. Manic me doesn’t eat and exercises furiously, depressed me is lethargic and eats excessively. There has been one constant though throughout my adult life; that I hate my body, whatever size I am. I can’t stand to look at full body photos of myself. I will walk passed windows or mirrors and catch sight of my image and feel horrendous for the rest of the day. My self image is distorted to the point I think I am too fat and ugly to be loved, to be appreciated or cared for. My paranoia is always in full force. I feel constantly judged and ridiculed by strangers as I walk down the street. Some days I can’t leave the house on my own in fear that people are staring at me. If I do go out on these days I will feel so panicked my chest will begin to tighten.

One of my greatest fears is exercising in public. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been going to the gym, which is a huge achievement for me. Even the idea of walking there in my gym clothes was filling with me dread and I have had to talk myself into walking out the door a number of times. What I’ve realised that for the most part, people at the gym are focused on themselves and rarely show me a passing glance. To them, I’m just another gym member. I’m not this freakishly huge monster my mind is always telling me I am.

I have been speaking to my psychiatrist about all of this, and we have discussed therapy a few times. I never thought I was ready, but now I think it’s time to stand up to the invasive and negative thoughts in my mind. I need to relearn how to think about my body and how I value myself. It will be tremendously difficult and I’m sure many ideas I have about myself will be challenged, but it will be worth it in the end.

How I’ve been stressed out and the effects on my body

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The last month has been incredibly stressful. The main reason for this has been that I found out that I’m not eligible for ESA (Employment Support Allowance) payments. Although I have been working for the past three years, I haven’t accumulated enough National Insurance contributions. This is because I was on a zero hour contract, meaning everyday off ill, every holiday I took, every time I scaled back my hours, I was not paying into National Insurance. I can’t receive ESA based on income either, because my husband works more then 24 hours a week. Which means I am living off the minuscule amount of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) I receive, and what feels like pocket money from my partner. I felt absolutely fucked and a complete abject failure. I stopped working to look after my health but have been debating with myself whether to go back to work. The moral of the story here is never to agree to zero hours. Always ask for a contract with a fixed amount of hours each week. I took on zero hour work, because I was recovering from an extremely difficult period of poor mental health and believed the flexibility of not having to fulfil a certain amount of hours each week was a good fit for me.

Stress for me is a trigger for a manic episode. In the most stressful times of my life I have been overcome with delusions of grandeur, insomnia, hyperactivity, over spending, irritability and full blown anger. I’m beginning to struggle with sleep and can feel that niggling irritableness creeping in. Now I’m more aware of the warning signs and can ask family and friends to be mindful and keep an eye on my behaviour.

The beginning of a stressful period has always affected me physically. I will feel physically weak and constantly exhausted, until the mania kicks in. This time though, I have acquired another symptom, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Symptoms began last week and I knew what it was straight away. I’m aware of the symptoms as I know a couple of people that suffer from IBS. I felt bloated and a sudden and urgent need to go to the toilet. Once I’d been, I felt I still needed to go, but couldn’t. Even though I was having diarrhoea, it didn’t feel like a virus or food poisoning. It was the worst possible timing as we were about to go away for a long weekend. The weekend was paid for generously by the company my husband works for. I had been looking forward to it as we will most likely not be able to have a holiday whilst I’m not working, which is the foreseeable future. There were activities planned for the three days away and I felt incredibly embarrassed that I kept having to run to the bathroom. I spent the Saturday morning alone in the bedroom, crying. Life felt unfair. Unfair that I already had a debilitating misunderstood mental health condition and was now suffering from symptoms of IBS.

I’m hoping that the IBS is only linked to stress and that I can learn to manage it. I have cut out greasy, fatty foods, cut down on caffeine and alcohol and plan to go to the gym regularly. I went to the gym today which is a massive achievement for me, but that’s for another post! Although it’s embarrassing I’m still going to talk about it, the same as I’m open about Bipolar.

I can still enjoy myself and have a mental illness

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Some people believe having a mental illness means you can never enjoy yourself. That it’s impossible to laugh and have a joke. Living in a constant state of dread and self loathing you’re unable to function, ever. You must sit in darkness in a corner of a room swaying back and forth and of course, exhibit the stereotypical clutching of the head. Some in their ignorance, believe this to be true, others that know better expect you to live like this.

I am not a ‘swayer’ or a ‘headclutcher.’ I’m the sitting on the sofa unable to move staring into space or in tears type. I do have dark moments when I sit with the curtains closed and feel like I could never properly function in society again. Like everything in life, this feeling is transitory, an impermanent state. I start to feel more like myself. Then I feel like going outside, then seeing a friend, then levelling up to going out to social occasions. Although I appear to be stable and well, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have a severe mental health condition, Bipolar. It catches me out when everything is going well, and I know this stability could only be fleeting.

What I want to spell out is that you can have a mental illness and have a social life. Although I’m too ill to work a full time job, it doesn’t mean I can’t go to a party every once in a while. A night out doesn’t constitute to working 30+ hours a week. Having a couple of drinks in a pub on a sunny Sunday afternoon is not the same as working an 11 hour shift and doing the same all over again 8 hours later. When I have that inkling of stability, I embrace it. That party I was invited to a couple of weeks ago that I was going to turn down, I’ll go to. I won’t think twice about not going. Socialising is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind, so I see it as part of managing Bipolar.

There is a movement right now that seems to be cultivating the idea that if you’re mentally ill you must live a miserable life. If you’re unwell you must act like it, at all times, with no exceptions. Don’t even think about spending a penny on something that might be seen as a treat, or give you a glimmer of happiness. If you’re mentally ill and you’re seen enjoying yourself, you’re a fraud, and faking it. We are being made to be seen as lesser than the general ‘normal’ public. I don’t believe any of this stigmatising bullshit. Only I know my limits and how I’m managing.

I have good days when I can laugh and dance and socialise. What people don’t see are the bad days when I can’t get out of bed. The bad days when I’m suicidal or hearing voices. Never judge a person for enjoying themselves. We should be congratulating them for embracing their good days.

How to deal with the “So what do you do?” question when you’re not working

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You don’t realise until you stop working how much small talk revolves around what you do. You’re at a party (yes you can have a mental illness and still go to parties, but that’s for another post) and you strike up a conversation with someone and the inevitable questions begin. They want to get to know you, and for some reason it begins with;

“So what do you do?”

“Where are you working at the moment?”

It’s a loaded question. That feeling of dread begins to creep over you. You find yourself making excuses for not working;

“I’m in between jobs right now.”

If you can’t work because of a mental illness, why should you feel ashamed? It means you are taking your health seriously and not working yourself into a crisis. There is more to life than your job. Work doesn’t need to define you. If you find yourself unable to work completely it means you’ve been struggling for too long. I had to give up work and I’m not ashamed any longer. Why I gave up my full time job There are so many more things that define a person; their hobbies, their passions, their personality to name a few.

I go for full honesty, every time. I say fuck their sensibilities and how talking about mental illness might make them uncomfortable. If someone wants to get to know me, the real me, then they are going to have to understand I suffer from a mental illness. An illness that is severe enough to stop me from working. If I lie it’s only going to negatively impact on my self esteem. I’m only hurting myself by not being truthful.

This isn’t an easy approach and I know many people find it stressful to talk about their illness for fear of being judged. If someone judges you for your illness and not working they are not worth getting to know. They’re not worth you investing your time into that friendship. The more you talk about mental illness, the easier it gets. The more people hear about these experiences, the more open and receptive they will be.

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