Mental illness plays a major part in my life. I talk about it often. I do this because I’m desperate to raise awareness and for funding to be increased for mental health services. Both of these issues drag behind those for physical health. It’s unfair and discriminatory, so I feel it’s my duty to speak out on behalf of those whom are unable to. This doesn’t mean I’m defined by the illness I suffer from. I admit, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it; I have to, in order to stay stable and healthy.
I am so much more than my mental illness; I’m a geek, with a passion for video games, science fiction and anime. Currently I’m writing a novel and I love to create, whether it’s sculpting, sketching or painting. I’m a vegan and every time I see a picture of a polar bear I cry. (I can’t help it!) I believe in a fairer society for all and voted Labour in the general election. I taught myself Mongolian throat singing.
When a friend or family member speaks out about a mental illness they are suffering from, they need to be treated as they were before they said anything. Their illness isn’t the only topic of conversation you can speak to them about from now on. They are a person with an identity, personality, hopes and dreams, hobbies and passions. They are not just ‘the poorly one’ or ‘the awkward one.’ or even ‘the weird one.’ or the one you stopped speaking to because you didn’t know what to say or how to deal.
I know it can be difficult for family and friends to acclimatise to the idea of a loved one with a mental illness. It takes time for everyone to adjust, not just the person with the illness. Here are a few ideas that have helped me and my loved ones:
Talk to one another: If you don’t understand the condition ask, don’t stay silent. It can feel like it’s never the right time to talk but it’s important to make time to do this. It doesn’t have to be serious or sombre. It’s more than likely the other person has been waiting to talk to you or ask you questions. Be the first to strike up a conversation. I have found my relationships have been able to move forward to a more positive place after talking.
Invite them to appointments: After talking to a family member, and you can see they’re still struggling to understand, invite them to your GP or Psychiatrist appointments. When I see my psychiatrist, I will have part of the session one on one. I invite my partner or family member in before the end of the appointment. It gives them a chance to hear about how I’m doing, and to ask any questions about my condition. My psychiatrist always asks me if there is anything I wish to keep private between us before bringing family into the room.
Find a support group: Most support groups welcome carers and supporters. These have been vital for me when I needed to connect with other people with Bipolar. The group I attend splits the session into two parts. The first, focuses on an aspect of Bipolar already picked by the group, or invites in a guest speaker. The second part is an open forum, to ask questions and share experiences with the group. For family that have attended, it has given them a real insight into the disorder.
Learning and educating yourself about a condition can be freeing. You realise it can be managed and that it doesn’t need to consume your life. You are more than your mental illness. When you invite others to share your knowledge it gives them an opportunity to see past the illness and see the real person behind it.