Mental Illness has Made Me a Stronger Person

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It’s a bold statement and not everyone will agree with it but for me, it’s true. I wouldn’t have dealt with as much adversity if I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have had to fight my way through difficult times. Still being here after so many years of struggling, is my biggest achievement. One statement I don’t agree with is being labelled as ‘brave’ because I live with mental illness. The idea that I’m stronger despite it I see as a positive and an affirmation that I’m not weak.

I’ve lived with mental illness since I was 14. I’ve had mental illness for longer than I’ve lived without it. It was my Dad that first told me how strong I was. I’d passed all my GCSE’s even though I’d missed six months of school. I had been severely depressed for months. I couldn’t concentrate, I hated myself and had no motivation. I hadn’t understood why I was living and didn’t want to exist any longer. I’d worked so hard to catch up and was determined to pass my GCSE’S. I’d never felt so proud when I got my results. I remember my Dad telling me,

“Katie, you don’t realise how strong you are. To have achieved what you have despite how ill you’ve been is incredible.” He was right, and that statement has stayed with me.

Dealing with stigma and discrimination has made me more thick skinned. I’m not easily ruffled by snide comments or abusive rants directed at me. I can laugh off a comment and I’m always armed with a number of comebacks, ready to go! I’ve been called ‘a nightmare’ and I’ll never find a boyfriend because I have bipolar. You can find my reaction to this and other experiences in the post, Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

I’m not as scared of being open about my feelings because of mental illness. It hurts when someone judges me, isn’t sympathetic, or simply doesn’t care. I’ve learnt this is going to happen. It’s unfortunate, but stigma exists and I will encounter it, especially as open as I am online. I’m able to brush it off now. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but you know what? I don’t really care. There will always be people that disagree and I’ll listen to their comments, as long as they’re constructive.

I know I’m not a weak minded person. I’m actually more resilient because of mental illness. I’ve battled my own mind countless times and won. Life happens, shit happens and I feel more than capable to deal with it all. Bipolar may scupper my efforts sometimes, but I’m strong enough to acknowledge when I need help.

To others struggling, I truly believe that you’re stronger than you know. You wake up everyday and keep going despite the traps and obstacles your mind sets for you. Every time you talk about mental illness, you’re educating others and fighting back against stigma. Each time you seek help and support, you’re making a huge leap that can often leave you feeling vulnerable and out of control. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Everything you’ve done in life so far you’ve made happen in defiance of your illness. Be proud and keep going.

 

What It’s Like To Have A Mixed Episode Of Bipolar

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A couple of weeks ago I had what’s called a mixed episode of bipolar disorder. What this means is that I was experiencing mania (the highs) and depression in very short succession, to the point that I felt both at the same time. In this post I wanted to write an account of what it felt like at the time, to hopefully shed some light on this difficult to understand symptom of bipolar.

I’m sitting at a table outside a restaurant, waiting to be served. I’m with my husband who is attempting to start a conversation. The air is warm and the sun is out and canal boats are drifting along the canal next to where we’re sitting. It should be an idyllic setting, leaving me feeling happy and contented, but I’m not. My head is abuzz with uncontrollable thoughts. The world around me feels very surreal right now, like I’m seeing it through a kaleidoscope. The images keep flicking backwards and forwards, never staying still. I’m restless and on edge, my whole body feels on high alert. Everything and everyone is irritating me. The chair I’m sitting on is way too uncomfortable. My husband is talking and right now I can’t stand his voice. The laughter from the table behind us is grating on me and I feel like screaming until my throat is hoarse,

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

My head is full of pressure, it literally hurts from all the thoughts racing in my mind. It feels like my head is going to explode. I can feel my hands and body trembling. It feels like I’m on the edge of a cliff  with a safety net below. I know I need to jump and if I do they’ll be a release from the ceaseless, building pressure. I can’t make myself jump. It’s like my legs are stuck and I can’t move forward.

Now, suddenly, I have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It feels like all the energy has been drained from my body and I feel utterly useless and completely broken. The pressure in my head is still there, and my mind is still racing away. The thoughts are negative and intrusive, telling me I’m worthless,  pathetic and don’t deserve to live. Ten minutes later our food has arrived and I can’t stop talking. My head is full of thoughts, mostly gibberish that I can’t decipher. I’m laughing but I feel like crying at the same time. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I’m losing grip on who I am and the world around me. i can’t concentrate because I’m trying so hard to grip hold of some type of stability.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads and which ever way I go something terrible is going to happen, but I don’t know what. I maybe at the crossroads but some other force beyond my power is going to choose the direction I turn. Will it be mania? Or depression? Its a terrifying feeling to have seemingly no control over your own mind.

This had been going on all weekend and now it was Monday and I was mentally exhausted. We went home and I cried on the sofa, not knowing what to do with myself, as my body and mind continued to hum along with a relentless energy.

The mixed episode broke, eventually, but not to my relief. I found myself severely depressed, a depression I’m still trying to ride out. I hope my story helps others going through these experiences and shows people what it’s really like when someone says they’re in a mixed episode. if you want to help someone, listen and above all be patient with them.

 

Don’t let the Worry of Being Ill Ruin A Holiday

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Living with mental illness is tricky. It’s a sneaky bastard that creeps up on you when you least expect it. Often when we relax, mental illness barges its way into our lives and tries to take over. A prime example of this is when we go on holiday. We can’t always be 100% sure we will be well when we plan and book a holiday, it’s a risk anyone with mental illness takes. We can plan meticulously but still have a mental health crises. Or like me, forget something vital to staying mentally well.

Last year my husband and I went on holiday to Devon. It started off well, with us going to the beach and going for long walks in the woods around where we were staying. We’d relaxed and spent long evenings drinking, chatting and enjoying each others company. Three days in, I started feeling strange. I felt rundown, almost like I was coming down with the flu. I realised I’d run out of medication. Not only that, but it dawned on me I hadn’t taken medication at all since we’d been in Devon.

Shit, shit, shit was my initial reaction. The damage had already been done, and I knew by the time I’d organised emergency meds the holiday would be pretty much over. I had the shakes, a temperature, I felt nauseous constantly and felt dizzy and exhausted. I spent the rest of our trip in bed or under a blanket on the sofa, far too ill to do anything else. I felt incredibly guilty, like I’d let down my partner and ruined our time away together. It was our only holiday away, our only week just us together and supposed to be a week where we could totally relax.

This was when it all went wrong, and I let my anxieties about not enjoying my holiday ruin it for me. I have coped better, I’ve planned better and I was annoyed at myself. Being mentally unwell on holiday doesn’t mean it’s totally ruined. If you plan well and go in with a realistic outlook, you can still have a great time.

A few years ago we went to Croatia for a week away. We were staying near Dubrovnik, on a tiny island called Kolocep. I had been struggling with a persistent depressive mood leading up to the holiday. I was nervous, on edge. What if i was too ill to do anything I’d planned? Before leaving, I told myself so what if I’m ill? I’m there ultimately to relax. If I have a difficult day there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from our plans. I hadn’t scheduled to go somewhere or activities every single day. There were days when I wanted to just lay on the beach or sit by the pool and read. Trips could be moved. Personally I like to plan a trip myself, rather than be led by a tour guide. This gives me the freedom to see how I feel each morning and decide what we’re going to do there and then.

It ended up being one of the most memorable holidays I’ve ever been on. I didn’t allow the expectation that I must be on top form and enjoying myself every single minute of every day ruin my time away. I was depressed, but I still managed to explore the old city of Dubrovnik, go kayaking and discover hidden coves around the islands. I accepted the fact that I would have bad days, and there were a couple of afternoons when I went back to my room and went to bed or simply just sat and had much needed time alone. I didn’t feel guilty for doing. Most importantly, it didn’t ruin my holiday.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading off to Cape Verde, for some much needed relaxation. This time I’m going with a much more positive frame of mind.

 

 

Talking About Mental Health Is Vital, But It’s Not Enough

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I often find myself saying,

“Talking about mental health is so important.” and “Just be open and honest and you’ll feel so much better!” I have done so many times on this blog.

But in my heart, I know it’s not enough. So many of us are being let down again and again. Services are spread thin and desperately underfunded. Recent reports that young people are being denied care until they’re at crisis point, and receiving little to no help unless they have attempted suicide, is disgraceful.

We do need to talk about mental health. Talking can save lives, but our friends and family are not experts. There is only so much that they can do to help and often unfortunately, it’s not enough. It puts a strain on our relationships which can further the isolation and hopelessness of our situation. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and group of friends. I do what I’ve been told helps; to talk. I’ve been talking and reaching out for years, but it’s not always enough.

I’ve sought professional help when I’ve contemplated suicide. I was given a number for the crisis team if ever I needed them. I was told they were available 24 hours a day and would help. I’ve had very different experiences to what I was told I would have. After the phone call I wished I’d never picked up the phone. Firstly, I was given the wrong extension number, and then when I finally got through to speak to someone they simply said,

“Carry on taking your medication and you’ll start to feel better soon.” I talk more about this in the post My Experiences of Mental Health Crises Care

GP’s need more training to identify severe mental illnesses and provide the correct referrals. I like many others with bipolar were misdiagnosed countless times, and it took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. Therapy needs to be far more accessible and not just a one size fits all solution on the NHS. Talking therapies is not always provided by a trained psychologist. In my experience it was a counsellor, who had been trained in basic techniques in order to provide talking therapies. It wasn’t enough and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the symptoms I was displaying. Specialist, long term therapy is still out of reach for many. The price tag attached is as if it’s marketed as a luxury rather than a necessity for those with severe mental illness.

Mental health has had budget increases, but they’re far smaller than budgets for physical health. It’s been five years since the government pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. People are suffering and we demand better. We need to recognise the role of poverty and discrimination in determining access to formal mental health services. We need to address the reasons why so many people from ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ community and those with disabilities suffer from mental ill health. There are still disgustingly long waiting lists. Having an assessment due in eighteen months when you’re suicidal is not only callous, but negligent. Still we’re seeing mental health services strained to their limits. Still people are told,

“You’re not ill enough” and “Come back when you’ve attempted suicide” Change is desperately needed right now.

In the end investment, not rhetoric, is needed to save lives.

 

Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

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For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.

 

I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

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My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

The Mania Hangover

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The Best Feeling Ever!

When I’m in the grips of mania, I love Bipolar. The euphoria I feel is like no other drug. The feeling is addictive and I never want it to end. The mania is unbelievably epic, like I’m living in a blockbuster movie and I’m the star. The whole universe revolves around me. Continually going through my head are thoughts that instil an enormous, gratifying confidence: ‘I’m the best at everything!’ ‘I can do anything, be anyone!’ ‘Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible!’ It’s a feeling like no other and yes, when it ends I do miss it. Because of course, like any good thing, it has to end. I talk more about mania in this post Mania is…

Here Comes The Hangover

What I hate about Bipolar, above anything else, is what I call my mania hangover. First of all, I realise I’ve spent far too much. Imagine having a big weekend when you’re suddenly buying everyone shots, but that weekend stretches on for months. Or that clothes and shoes binge you’re on when you spend an evening sat in your pyjamas on the internet, but imagine it lasting weeks. I’ve found myself in crippling debt more than once, the first time meaning I had to move back home with my parents. I felt terribly embarrassed and an absolute failure for having to go back to live with mum and dad. Luckily I had that option.

Next, the realisation of my actions set in. I start to see with clarity and I realise I’ve done things that I’ll regret for years to come. I cheated on my ex, whilst I was away traveling in Japan. When I was feeling stable again the memory rushed toward me and I felt dizzy and sick over what I had done. It was completely out of character, and I was remembering it through a haze, as if I had been drunk. I see how much stress I put family and friends through with my unpredictable, sometimes rageful emotions. I’ve made family and friends cry with vicious words that cut them to pieces. I’ve done so many embarrassing, ugly things I regret over the years I can’t fit them into one blog post.

From constantly being full of energy and unable to sleep, now I’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted. I’ve been running on empty for weeks and not even noticed. All I want to do is to become a hermit, hide from the world in bed and eat junk food.

Hello Depression

Then, inevitably depression sets in. I hate the depression, and it’s usually part of the whole mania hangover. The juxtaposition between the mania and depression is ridiculous. I’ve heard the description of ‘it’s like living on a rollercoaster’ but it’s too simplistic a description. Rollercoasters for me are fun, and the lows of acute depression are far from fairground ride fun and games. Depression, just like mania, takes complete hold of you, and won’t let go. I can no longer function like the average person. I stop going outside, I have to force myself to shower and brush my teeth. Everything is an unbelievable effort.

My Hangover Cures

Ultimately, I would not want to be manic in the first place! To do this I check The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode that I have identified over the years. Even though at times it can be a tempting prospect to go back to that feeling of constant elation, it’s not worth the adverse effects. Taking my medication is the surest way to stop this from happening. If I do find myself with a mania hangover, I take the time to look after myself. I’ll take some time away from work and socialising. I’ll keep an eye on my mood and check for the warning signs of depression.

Breaking the Silence

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Too many people with mental illness are silent. Silent with friends and family, Silent at work. Silent from their doctors, silent with themselves. Breaking that silence can feel like the hardest thing in the world.

We worry about what others will think of us, and that they will judge us. Maybe they’ll think we’re attention seeking, exaggerating, or crazy. What if they recoil from us or decide they can’t deal with it. We worry breaking the silence will make work life difficult, or even cost us our job. Maybe our doctor won’t believe us, or won’t have any answers. We worry that being truly honest with ourselves will mean we will have to face the reality of our illness. All of this circles our minds and paralyses us from taking action to help ourselves and to reach out for help and support.

It all comes down to stigma and discrimination. It is such a huge issue for people with mental illness. We fear the repercussions of breaking our silence. If we start talking and sharing collectively, we can hold each other up and give ourselves the confidence to use our voices.

When you do break the silence it can be freeing and empowering. To finally share your story with someone, even if it’s just one person, can come as a huge relief. Sharing your struggles lifts a weight off your shoulders and has a positive affect that staying silent will never do. I do this here on this blog, and share my experiences of bipolar, psychosis and bulimia. I first started journalling my experiences in 2012, but only shared with family and friends. Last February, I made the decision to go further and set up this blog and to be more active about it on social media. Now I feel supported by a larger community, of people I have never even met. I have received messages from across the world of support, and others asking for advice.

In most situations, people are generally supportive. However, this isn’t always the case and we have to be prepared for this. It can be deeply hurtful when someone doesn’t understand, or refuses to make an effort to. If we feel capable, the best thing we can do is try and inform and educate. Stigma often comes from ignorance or a lack of information. We need to make sure we provide people with the right information so that they can make informed opinions. This can be from sharing your story, or from highlighting resources from charities such as MIND and Time To Change

Not everyone with mental illness feels capable of being open. We share our stories to varying degrees, and even if we tell only the one person closest to us, that we can confide in, that’s ok. We don’t all need to put ourselves ‘out there.’ We’re all different, despite our shared illnesses. Breaking the silence means talking as much or as little as you want to. It isn’t a competition and no-one should feel pressured to tell everyone they meet about their illness. Do what you can, and you’ll find it makes a difference to not only your life, but to the people you care about.

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The Warning signs of a Depressive Episode

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Depression can be sneaky and creep up on you when you least expect it. I find the warning signs can happen either all at once, quickly and anticipated, or more slowly, like the depression is stalking me. I’ve written in detail about depression in my post 101 Things No one Tells You About Severe Depression This list is not exhaustive, and the warning signs can differ from person to person.

Feeling tired all the time. I will feel exhausted and sleep will no longer feel refreshing. I can sleep during the day; something I hardly ever do when I’m stable. I will constantly feel tired and all I will want to do is to go to bed.

Irritability. The smallest annoyance will have me losing my temper. Someone eating too loudly, people walking slowly in the street, not being able to find my hairbrush are all examples that will leave me seething and ready to snap.

Lack of concentration. I love to write, read and play video games, but when depression is near, I can’t concentrate. My world feels fuzzy with blurred edges. I find my mind wandering, often to darker thoughts, or simply zoning out.

Increase/decrease in appetite. My appetite will change completely. I’ll either want to eat all the time and find food comforting, or I’ll feel nauseous at the idea of eating.

Low self esteem. I’ll start thinking less of myself. I’ll look at my body and think I’m disgusting. I’ll look at my work and think it’s awful and want to rip everything up and start over.

Socialising less I enjoy going out and socialising, so it’s blatantly obvious that something is wrong when I turn down an invitation, or don’t turn up. I’ll feel a knot in the pit of my stomach at the idea of seeing friends.

No motivation My drive and positivity will go out the window. All I want to do is curl up on the sofa and watch tv, constantly. This isn’t just an ‘off’ day, this is when my motivation will disappear completely for weeks.

No longer enjoy my favourite activities As with a lack of concentration, my hobbies that once gave me pleasure and filled me with happiness, no longer do. Every suggestion made I turn down, not able to see the fun in anything.

As I don’t always realise I’m becoming depressed, I rely on my partner and close family and friends to keep an eye out for these warning signs. I’m much better than I used to be at spotting a change in my mood toward the low side, but I still occasionally miss a change in behaviour that’s glaringly obvious. Knowing these signs has made me feel more in control of my mental illness. I can act or make a change before the depression becomes severe and I find myself in crisis. There isn’t always an answer, but knowing I’m going to be ill means I can prepare for it. I let people close to me know how I’m feeling and I talk to my GP or psychiatrist. I’ve also written about mania in my post The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode

If you’re worried that you may be depressed, please make an appointment to see your GP. Many doctors surgeries offer double appointments, of 20 minutes rather than 10, so you can have more time to explain how you’re feeling and discuss options with your doctor. I always make double appointments when I’m struggling with depression, as I find it more difficult than I normally do to express how I’m feeling, and to get my point of view across. It means you won’t feel rushed and pressured to explain everything.

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Stigma in the Workplace

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The nature of having bipolar has meant I’ve had quite a few, varied jobs. I’ve worked in retail, childcare and for the local council. One thing each of these jobs has in common is whilst there, I’ve experienced mental health stigma.

Whilst working in childcare, I was a supervisor of a team in charge of a room of toddlers.    I had been struggling with my mental health and at that point didn’t have a diagnosis of bipolar. I had been what I now know is manic and hadn’t been sleeping. My mood came crashing down and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I was late for work one day and was brought in for a meeting with the manager and owner. Earlier in the year I’d had my probationary period extended because of the amount of sick days I’d taken. I was convinced I was about to be sacked. I decided to be honest with them and explained that I was depressed. They told me I couldn’t work that day and sent me home because,

“You would be a danger to the children.”

I couldn’t return until I was “No longer depressed.”

When I worked for the local council as a family worker, I again faced discrimination. Again I was having difficulties with my mental health and had to take time off. I felt that I wasn’t able to properly cope with adult life, that I was a failure. 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.”

He would look at me directly as he made these comments, a smirk on his face.

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

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Naturally I was confused and asked 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 no diagnosis so felt I couldn’t pursue them for being discriminatory. To me, I was simply a broken person.

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.

These are just a few examples of the many times I’ve faced stigma at work. If I wrote down every time someone made a passing comment, or a manager shouted down the phone at me for being ill when I’d called in sick, this would be a mountain of a blog post.

So what can we do? 

It feels impossible at the time to do anything when you’re facing stigma at work, but there are options.

If it’s a colleague, speak to them first, if you can. They might not realise you have a mental health condition or have little understanding of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I know this is not always an option, I have been there myself, so I would speak to a manager, Many organisations have a mental health policy or a policy on bullying and harassment. If you are a member of a union, they can give advice and support. If it’s your employer discriminating against you, they can advise what your rights are and what to do next.

The Equality Act 2010 protects anyone being discriminated against because of their age, gender, race or disability. According to Time To Change, “To get protection under the Equality Act, you have to show that your mental health problem is a disability (that it has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on your normal day-to-day activities). The law covers you during recruitment, employment and if you are being dismissed for any reason, including redundancy. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to work practices, and provide other aids and adaptations, for disabled employees.”

If you are being treated unfairly at work because of your mental health condition, this could be discrimination and against the law. The Mind website has extensive information about your rights at work and what to do if you are being discriminated against. They also provide legal information and general advice on mental health related law.

This is all information I wish someone had given me ten years ago. I often felt alone and isolated at work because of my mental illness, not realising I could encourage change in the workplace or take action against those that hurt me

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