READER REPORT:

Depression is just another illness

RACHAEL HOPKINS
Last updated 12:15 30/09/2016
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"Keeping quiet about mental health helps no one. Let’s all be open, compare notes and laugh about this. It’s totally normal and common."

Do we discriminate against mental illness?

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Do we discriminate against mental illness?

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One side of my family suffers from allergies – hayfever, asthma, eczema. My nana inherited it from my great grandmother, my mum and her siblings inherited it from my nana, my siblings and I inherited it from our mum, and my own child has inherited it from me.

Inheriting various illnesses and disorders is pretty common.

You know what else Great Grandma Muriel gave us all? Anxiety and depression.

I take antihistamines, nasal spray and anti-anxiety medication. They're all prescribed by the same doctor and I pick them up from the same pharmacy. I even take them at the same time of day.

So, why the stigma? Why is it "shameful" to take medication for mental health, but not for physical health?

READ MORE:
* The black dog no-one wants to own
* 'I was unprepared for the armchair haters'
* 'Work and Income needs to treat us as humans'

I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned: It’s not.

I have had anxiety and depression issues since I was a teenager. I remember sitting on the floor of my flat at age 23 sobbing because I couldn’t get the lid off a jar of salsa. That inspired me to finally take my bestie’s advice (she’d been nagging me since I was 19) and go see a counsellor. It helped talking to someone impartial.

A few years later, after moving in with my boyfriend, my anxiety was through the roof. On Thursday I would start worrying about Saturday. What if he got home from rugby and wanted to go out but I wasn’t ready? What if I got ready to go out and he didn’t come home first? What if I met him at the party and he was annoyed I was there?

It was all in my head and by the time Saturday evening rolled around, I’d be wound up like a spring and if the slightest thing went wrong, I had a massive meltdown, which led to a few days of black depression.

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Finally I talked to my doctor. She put me on medication for depression and referred me to a psychologist. Seeing the psychologist was the best thing I have ever done. He was so practical; he helped me see my warning signs and gave me good mental tools to help. I still follow his advice a decade later and I only saw him twice!

After I saw him I realised anxiety and depression were just more things I have to deal with, just like my allergies. Why should I be ashamed about something genetic? It’s not anyone’s "fault", let alone mine.

If my family or friends are struggling, I like to know so I can help, and I decided to stop being selfish and to start being honest. I have anxiety – big deal. Does it make me do some odd things? Yes, it does. And if I do odd things, do I want the people around me to understand why? Yes, I do.

When I’m anxious, I cry. A lot. I cry at the news, at music, at happy things and at sad things. I become an emotional madwoman.

So, these days when I’m feeling anxious, I tell people so that they understand where my behaviour comes from. I go to my boss and say “Hey, FYI I’m super anxious at the moment, so if I’m a bit fragile that’s why”. She says “OK, cool. Do you need to see the doctor? Do you need to take a holiday? Can I do anything to help?".

I know she’s got my back if I start to melt down, which makes me stronger, and she appreciates my honesty because it helps her keep her finger on the button. Telling my workmates how I’m feeling helps me feel less anxious because there’s not that added pressure of trying to "act normal", and they tend to then take the mickey out of me so I laugh and take myself less seriously.

When you feel anxious or depressed you spend most of your time trying to "act normal" because inside you feel totally abnormal. When I was at university I had no idea what that weird feeling was. It was an otherness.

What I've realised now I’m in my mid-thirties is that loads of people feel this way. Many of us feel like frauds, pretending to be happy and successful - depression or no depression.

But it’s OK to be open about having a mental illness, just like it is about having hayfever. It’s super common, your doctor prescribes medication to help take the edge off, and being open about it helps explain the symptoms that people see. 

For the past 10 years I have been open and honest about my mental health and I have never had anyone be negative toward me.

READ MORE:
* It's all in my head, they say
* Fighting an invisible inner war
* Mental health discrimination leads to social isolation and fewer opportunities

My husband doesn’t suffer from anxiety at all and he was the king of "What do you have to be anxious about?", but he now understands it’s not "about" anything. If I’m feeling anxious I make sure I tell him so that if I have a massive overreaction to something, or simply don’t feel like talking to anyone, he doesn't take it personally.

I’ve also felt that being open and honest helps others. A few years ago I wrote a letter to a colleague's daughter who was at the same uni I attended and was going through the same thing I had. I let her know my experiences and what I'd learned about how to handle it. She didn’t know me and I didn’t know her, but just the fact that someone else knew how she felt when her own family and friends did not, made a difference to her and she was able to open up.

By keeping quiet about our mental health, or any other health issues, all we do is isolate ourselves and alienate others. By opening up we realise we’re not alone and that we can all get through this together. We need to give those who are not "in the know" some clues on how to understand us and, in turn, how to understand others like us.

By talking openly with others who feel the same way we can compare notes and laugh together, and we can keep one eye on each other and offer support in times of need.

Keeping quiet about mental health helps no one. Let’s all be open about this. It’s totally normal.


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