The month of May is chosen by the Green Ribbon campaign as their month of promotion of their campaign to de-stigmatise mental health issues. Part of the month includes a National Time To Talk Day, where they encourage people to speak openly about their mental health and that of others. The campaign has run for a number of years now and from the statistics they report on their website, it seems to be an overwhelming success. This is the first year I’d heard of the Time To Talk Day, not that it’s stopped me speaking out before. I’ve spoken quite a bit about mental health and my experiences on this blog. You’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “Here she goes again”. But why do I write about it so much? Why do I share my story?
I am a failure.
I am a terrible mother.
I am a burden.
I am trying my best and it is never good enough.
My internal voice tells me all of these things on a fairly regular basis. It’s not a very loud voice most days, more of a whisper that I can tune out if I try. It’s not a deafening roar anymore, but it has been. I’ve been in the trenches, feeling the walls closing in on me and wishing the ground would swallow me up and take me away from my life. I’ve walked around this city, my home, sobbing openly, unable to stop, and finding my attempts futile. I have felt so alone. So scared of my own mind. So judged by others, even when I had no genuine reason to feel that way.
My mind can play tricks on me from time to time. It likes to repeat messages it picks up (always negative, never positive) and use them to dig away at my confidence.
I’m not enough for my partner or my child.
They’d be better off without me.
For a long time, I was silent. I hid the tears and I put on the brave face. I held on tightly to the people around me but refused to let them in close for fear they’d notice. For fear they would think I was broken and not worth their time. For fear that I was broken, that I wasn’t fixable. I just wanted to be fixed, to be normal. I had no idea what normal was, but I was sure as hell that I wasn’t it.
I was eighteen when I was diagnosed with depression. Bereaved, broken and thankfully in the right company who led me to getting help when I needed it. I learned coping skills. I learned how to put away the hurt and the damage and the sadness. At that stage I didn’t need drugs, talk therapy was enough to fix me. Talk therapy, sleep and people. I told those who needed to know, I didn’t tell family, and I got on with it.
I was twenty when I had what I call my anxiety break. My final exams didn’t go to plan, and I fulfilled my destiny of being a failure. I cried for three days solid, until having been sent to the college doctor, I was prescribed Xanax. This time my family knew – my mother had been starting phone calls with “Ok, if you’re going to cry, I need to say this first”. I was a shattered shell and so, so ashamed. Not just of the failure, but of my failure to keep it together. I was set to leave university and enter the adult world and I couldn’t even stop crying long enough to get through a phone call. It was dark. I failed two exams, but thanks to the level of my anxiety break, I got to resit them without penalty for health reasons. While the resits didn’t go very well, they at least went better.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve felt like a failure at some point every single day. Sometimes, it’s something as minute as forgetting to pick up the yoghurts from the table before leaving the house for creche. Other days, my son is telling me he doesn’t love me, the house looks like something exploded and I just want to lock myself away and never come out. I’ve sobbed openly to friends, to therapists, to medical professionals about how I can’t control my thoughts, how I feel, my life. I’ve contemplated walking, no, running away. Grabbing my passport, heading off on a one way flight to somewhere nobody knows me, and never looking back. In darker times, I’ve looked into the River Lee and wondered if my family really would be better off. I’m not in that place anymore. I got the help I needed at the time I needed it and for that I am truly grateful.
I am still being treated for postnatal depression. My son is three years old, and every day I take medication. I have had to train myself out of feeling like a failure due to this. The internal voice telling me I shouldn’t need to be medicated to be a good mother roars from time to time. On a normal basis though, I’ve made my peace with it. It’s part of who I am, it doesn’t make me a lesser person. My son is happy and healthy, and he has a mother who understands the need for self care. She may not be the best at it – it often falls down the priority list in the midst of parenting and life – but she knows it is needed.
I’ve undergone talk therapy, CBT, made a conscious effort to be my own advocate and look after myself. I am getting better and some day I will hopefully look back and see my early 20s as just a blip.
So why am I telling you this? Because it isn’t just me. But for the longest time, I thought it was. I was the freak, the outsider, the defective one. I was so ashamed. My want to not be the attention seeker led to so much self loathing building up inside me, and for what? I was bullied throughout school, you think I’d have had enough of the taunts and the comments, but no, I piled them on a million times more when it was just me and my mind in the ring.
It was from listening to other people’s stories, reading them and realising I was not the only one that got me on the road to being fixed. Realising that I am not the only person in my shoes, that help is out there and that I will not be looked down on for asking for it has been vital.
It is from seeing others, friends, family members, colleagues and their struggles to deal with mental health issues that I’ve realised the importance of it. We have a horrible history in this country of silencing the chatter that would make us seem lesser. For years, people suffered “with their nerves”. Suicide was a sinful act that wasn’t spoken about for fear of judgement. While we as a little country have come a long way, we still have a lot further down the road to travel.
Talking is what will power us down that road towards being more open about mental health issues in our society. It is through telling our stories and letting our lives be out in the open that we will change not only policy but also the surroundings we live in. The work of organisations like Pieta House, Green Ribbon, See Change and many others is incredible and has made a massive difference in how mental health issues are viewed in Ireland today. However, our mental health services are underfunded and oversubscribed which is still allowing people fall through the cracks. While we are now opening up to speak about mental illnesses, further stigmas like those of dual diagnoses (namely addiction and mental health issues) have yet to be tackled in any measurable manner.
Talking can be the difference between crushing loneliness and feeling less like the world is going to crash in on you. On a broader scale, it can be the difference between life and death. Talking about mental health issues has not only helped me through the darkest times of my life, but it has also increased my understanding, and that of the people around me, of what exactly is involved. We are all on different paths and everyone has their own story, we just need to be encouraged to tell it, and keep on telling it.
If you need to talk but don’t know where to turn, here are some resources to start you off.