Monday, 11 September 2017

Why are we still okay with ‘haunted’ asylums at Halloween?

It’s that time of the year again. I love autumn leaves, autumn colours, pumpkin spice lattes. I love Halloween. What I don’t love, is the constant use of Halloween to reaffirm the stigma around mental illness.

I’ve written about it before. But at this time every year, another event, another TV show, another movie, uses former lunatic asylums and mentally ill patients as a trope.

The Nightmare Realm, who run ‘haunted house’-type experiences in Ireland, are adding some new elements to their popular scarefest this year in Dublin. One such addition is a haunted asylum. 

It’s all a bit of fun. I’m overreacting right? I mean, there are scary doctors involved with inhumane treatments, not just scary patients!

The problem is that there still remains a stigma around mental health. People with mental illness are still seen as and treated as second class citizens. Mental illness changes how our friends, family, and workplace see us. We lose friends, we lose our jobs, we lose custody of our children.
Many people struggling with their mental health are still to afraid to seek help. They hide it because they don't want to lose any of these things. They don't to be seen as weak, helpless, pathetic. They don't want to be seen as scary, dangerous or unstable. But the asylum continues to reaffirm the image that we're dangerous, threatening and savage.

Despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very idea of confining people with a mental illness, horror loves to reuse and rehash it for cheap thrills.

It's a widely popular theme and it's directed into our homes on an almost weekly basis. From Supernatural to American Horror Story - it's all over TV. The local ‘asylum’ is commonly used in Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf to add an element horror. Even Modern Family have gone there, receiving backlash for their homemade asylum episode, full of insensitive jokes about mental health:
“Sexy people go crazy too. Read a People magazine.”
“She spent six months in a cuckoo farm in Nevada… She gets mad when I say that. It was in Utah.”
As a teenager, lacking any sort of mental health education in school, I thought asylums still existed. I thought that sad, mad and bad people were all locked up. I was scared of those people. They weren't like 'us'. When I started to struggle with my own mental health, I worried that I too would be locked up if I told anyone. I didn't want to end up in an asylum.

Don’t get me wrong. Asylums were horrific, horrible and terrifying places. Patients were not treated with dignity, in fact many were not ‘treated’ at all. Bedlam or Bethlem Royal Hospital, the most infamous such institution, is best known for how it publicly displayed the interned ‘lunatics’. Like animals at a zoo, people would visit and walk by the cages either pointing and laughing, or jumping in fright at what they saw.

But haven’t we moved past that? Haven’t we all accepted how wrong and immoral it was for mentally unwell people to be publicly displayed for entertainment and horror? So why do we keep returning to asylums at Halloween?

The Nightmare Realm, like many other similar events around not only the country, but the world, would like to reaffirm that stigma. They want to show you how the patients ‘live’. And considering some of the images they use in their promotion, I can guarantee you it’s not going to be an accurate, fair depiction.
Source: The Nightmare Realm
The straitjacket is a nice touch.

Is it too much to ask for a Halloween where people with a mental illness are treated as PEOPLE, not jokes?

We are already stigmatised on a daily basis. People are scared of us. Your straitjackets, gurneys and shackles reaffirm people's incorrect beliefs of us. Your inhumane treatment tells people that we are less than human. That we are so less than human we can be experimented on, laughed at, poked and prodded for your own pleasure.

Running an asylum for Halloween is not and should never be acceptable. It perpetuates the stigma around mental health. Asylums scare people into not seeking help, because no one wants to end up like that. It creates an us vs them. And like anyone else, even I want to be on the 'us' side.

I am not less than human. I deserve better than to be represented by the image of a straitjacket in an asylum.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Five things I do every day for my mental health

There are many things that those of us living with a mental illness have to do just to get through the day. Some days are harder than others, some weeks don't even have ONE good day. But through it all there are five things that I do every single day to help manage, protect and promote the best possible mental health.

Here are the five things I do every day for my mental health.

1) Get up early
I love mornings. I get up in plenty of time before work to allow me to shower, do my hair and make-up and generally get ready without feeling rushed and stressed. I make the time to have a sitdown breakfast, catch up on any messages I received over night, and look over my planner journal before I have to head off and face the day!

2) Make a to-do list
I usually make this list the night before, but having my to-do list to hand keeps me right. I need a routine. I need to write down tasks and goals so that I actually do them. I need the sense of accomplishment you get from ticking off an item on your to-do list. I need to feel like I’m not back on my worst days where I'm unable to function, and I have nothing to show for staying in bed. So, every day I write down dates and tasks and anything that comes to mind, then combine them in my journal in the evening. Before I leave the house in the morning I always take a look at my tasks for the day and leave with a focus in mind. Here's to productivity!

3) Eat well
I'm not good at sticking to this, and I don't stick to it religiously but I do try to make a conscious effort to eat more healthy than I used to. I keep my bottle of water refilled in work, I always have berries and yoghurt in the fridge, and just love the evenings where I can prepare a nice salad or make a some healthy eggs. Don't get me wrong, I love to snack on cereal and some chocolate at night, but I rest assured that at least my lunch is healthy and that makes me feel better about life.

4) Take my meds
I need to take medication to manage my mental illness. This one time I stopped and my entire world collapsed and I thought I was going to die. So now I take them every single evening, around 9:30pm, before I go to bed. Within an hour and a half (at the very longest!) I am sound asleep. I'm okay with the fact that I've been on medication for five years, and they're a very important part of my daily self care.

5) Go to bed early
One thing I've learned over the years of battling my depression and anxiety is how much I need my rest. Not only does my medication make me tired, but after a long day of acting like a mentally-stable and fully-functioning human being, I need SLEEP! Trust me, pretending you're okay is mentally draining and exhausting, and my 9:30pm I'm in bed watching a TV show and colouring in to recover from the daily stress. This means 1) I'm asleep by around 11pm every night, and 2) I wake up at 6:45am with eight hours of sleep and feeling refreshed, and ready to face another day.

It's not always easy living with a mental illness. What do you have to do daily to stay sane?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I’m not happy with my body

I'm getting very personal today. It's something I've been struggling with for a while now, but have been too self-conscious and embarrassed to share. But it's about time I was brave and admitted I'm struggling and I'm not okay. Trigger warning: weight issues.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. 

I don’t like the way I look.

When I’m out, in particular out in a dress, I feel self-conscious. And without meaning to, I compare my body size and shape with everyone else’s.

I wish I was thinner.

For the past year I’ve been struggling with my body confidence. It comes and goes. Some days I’m happy with how I look, how my curves fit into my clothes, the slight definition of muscle starting to form.

Other days I’m not. I hate how my tummy hangs out over my jeans, how my love handles are prominent under a tight t-shirt, how thick my thighs are. I feel fat and frumpy and big.
The word big sticks out in my mind.

I was out at the weekend in a pretty dress, bare legs and heels. And midday way through the night I realised I looked so much bigger than the other girls here. My legs looked so much bigger than my friends in photos. I couldn't stand how big I looked. And with that my night was ruined. I cried and called it a night.

But yet big feels unreasonable.

The average dress size in the UK is supposedly a size 16. I’m a size 10 and yet I still feel ‘too big’. My mind likes to defy reason, logic and argument.

When I was diagnosed with depression, I was 18 years old and I weighed 7.5 stone, which is 47kg. I was severely underweight. At first, the doctors thought I had an eating disorder, rather than just a lack of appetite because of my depression.

I was encouraged to eat and get to a ‘healthy’ 60kg. One of the side effects of the medication I was put on is weight gain. My mirtazapine stimulated my appetite. And over the years I started to put on and retain weight for the first time in my life.

Now I'm 25, and I've surpassed my 60kg prescribed goal.

And I've had comments about my weight gain for over a year.
'Zoe's put on a good bit of weight, hasn't she?'
'You are a little bit fat though, aren't you?' 
'You've a lot of meat on your bones.'
'A healthy 60kg' repeats in my head.

Too big. Too big. Too big.

I'm sick of feeling dissociated with my body. I'm sick of feeling like I don't belong in my own body. I'm sick of feeling awkward, ugly, BIG. And right now it's so hard to convince myself I'm healthy; that my body is worth cherishing - every roll, scar and stretch mark of it.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. I don't know how to overcome it yet, but I'm trying. And I promise I'll keep trying.

Until next time,

Monday, 14 August 2017

All the good things this week

I have had a jam-packed, fun-filled week!

Keeping active is such a huge part of keeping me mental illness in check. I need a plan, structured activities, and many, many to-do lists to manage my mental health.

And this week was especially busy, but also mentally rewarding. I love how much I got ticked off the bucket list as my Summer in Ireland comes to an end.
Unfortunately, keeping busy often comes with a cost. And it's often difficult for me to achieve my much-needed sense of achievement and self-fulfillment without breaking the bank. This week offered a mix of free, cheap and also costly activities that may give you ideas for looking after your mental health.

1) Monday: Going to the zoo
Even though I was more than happy to pay my way in, we managed to get into Dublin Zoo for free (saving €20 each!). Sadly, a lot of life is all about who you know, and we were lucky enough to know someone who offered to get us in for free. I love Dublin Zoo and the efforts they take to invest in bigger and better enclosures for their animals, so it was fabulous to finally see the new Orangutan enclosure for the first time. (*hint* the climb on ropes above you!) This visit also offered my first chance to see the Zoorassic exhibition featuring the second largest complete T-rex skeleton ever found. I've told you how much I love dinosaurs, right? It was the most wonderful Bank Holiday Monday!

2) Tuesday: Tea and catch-ups
On Tuesday I went over to my friend's house where we drank many cups of tea, had a good catch-up, ate berries, watched some Supernatural, and updated our to-do list for the rest of the year! A nice twist on having a night in.

3) Wednesday: Abbey Theatre - Jimmy's Hall
I LOVE the theatre, and I really love the Abbey. Maybe it's the history of the place, but I just find it magical to attend. The boyfriend was very excited about seeing Jimmy's Hall, a new stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film. Cheapest tickets are from about €15 and it was a fabulous way to mark the midweek.

4) Thursday: Exercise and journaling
After a very busy few days, I needed a night in! I got all the good endorphins from a quick work out, made my favourite scrambled eggs with turkey rashers, and then spent the evening organising my journal! My journal is my planner, diary, habit tracker, and goal recorder all in one. I would be lost without it!

5) Friday: Homemade enchiladas
Does anything taste better than a homemade meal? My boyfriend and I had so much fun preparing, cooking and then (the best part) eating our enchiladas and our own Guac. It was the perfect lazy Friday night in.

6) Saturday: Newmarket Sqaure
Saturday morning called for a bit of exploring around Dublin 8. We headed to Green Door Market and the Dublin Food Co-op for locally sourced and produced foods and crafts. I tried an onion bhaji for the first time, and I got the nicest coffee I have ever tasted from The Thursday Cafe.

7) Saturday night: Partying like it's 1920
Our group bought our tickets for this back in May, and then spent the whole Summer not only looking forward to it, but shopping for it! I love The Great Gatsby, but also just the whole fashion, style and auro of Prohibition-era America. We got glam and headed to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (my first visit!) where there was prohibition punch, burlesque performances, Charleston dancing, croquet and live bands late into the night.

Until next time,

Friday, 11 August 2017

Struggling but surviving

Mental health is a weird topic in the media. It hits the headlines when important people realise that services are underfunded and under-resourced. The mental health of celebrities is examined when they die by or threaten suicide. People's stories are told when they show signs of cures or recovery.

But what about the rest of us?

What about those of us who still struggle with mental illness? Those of us who are struggling but surviving?

It's hard to find an accurate depiction of what it's like to live with a mental illness in mainstream media. These are rare, but a notable example is Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers recurring features on Newstalk. But other than this, I don't know of any other.

Instead, the media cares about sensational headlines and details. They call murderers and terrorists mentally ill. They run documentaries about the dangers of anti-depressants. They make light of celebrity breakdowns for webpage hits. They love stats on suicide attempts, self-harm, the number of people waiting for an appointment, people contacting helplines.
If you read a newspaper, you'd presume that anyone with mental illness is 'off the rails'. They're a danger to themselves and others. They're all either in therapy and or on meds. 
You'd think it's okay to call people with mental health problems a 'nutjob', 'bonkers', 'psycho' and an endless list of other insults. 

Where's the day-to-day reality of mental illness? The accurate portrayal of more 'complex' illnesses like schizophrenia or anorexia?

Where's the personal struggles of not being able to afford to pay for private counselling?

Where's the people who pop out on their lunch break to see their psychiatrist?

Where's the fact that not everyone recovers, but also not everyone who doesn't recover spends their life on a psych ward?

Where's the evidence that tabloids, and people in general, are actually learning from the occasional personal stories they do share and putting that learning into practice?

The lack of realistic coverage in the media fuels the stigma around mental illness.

I want to hear about those who are living with mental illness. How are they surviving?

Perhaps this is why so many people struggling with their mental health have turned to blogging about it. There is an incredible amount of mental health bloggers out there. I've lost track! There are too many for me to even follow them all! It's a movement, it's moving, and it's brave. We want there to be an accurate depiction, a real voice out there. So many of us are dare to bare all online.

I'm angry at the media for what they continue to do to people like Sinead O'Connor. She should not be ridiculed. I'm angry that they don't care, on our worst days when care is what we need most.

I'm struggling but surviving. And when there's no fair representation in the media, it often feels like I'm doing it alone.

Until next time,

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

I can’t take criticism

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can take criticism in their stride. You know the type, it seems to roll right off of them. They can take it on board, move on and get over it.

I am not one of those people. Critiques, comments and criticisms can play on my mind for not only days or weeks, but sometimes months after.

One personal failing of mine has haunted me for about 20 years. Me and my sister were at a fun fair, but our parents would only allow us to go on one ride. My sister wanted the bumper cars, but I wanted the ghost train. As the youngest sibling, my choice won out. But alas, the ghost train was the LEAST scary horror show ever put on and we ended the ride very disappointed. I’m guessing my sister voiced her dissatisfaction with my choice. Or maybe I just blamed myself. Either way, I’ve been replaying this incident for the past two decades as proof that I make bad choices every time I’m faced with a decision.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sensitive. And your critical opinion plays on my own insecurities.
Spotted a typo in my blog post and pointed it out publicly? That’s a paddlin.

Asked me to repeat myself for a third time? That’s a paddlin.

It’s like I have to think of myself as perfect. And if you point out anything less than perfect, it’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.

I write by profession. Having a typo called out feels like a real personal failure. The fear hits me. Is my whole job jeopardized because I make typographical errors? What if I'm fired? If I'm not good at this, then  (because not perfect = total failure to me.)

As a kid (and still sometimes now as an adult-in-denial) I would get my r's and w's mixed up. I can specifically remember doing spellings in like my third year of primary school and two of the words to learn for that week were Jar and Jaw. And I could not say them for the life of me.

Anytime someone asks me to repeat myself, I get flashbacks of my angry school teacher asking me to repeat Jaw again and again. (I still can't say it today, and refer to it as 'the chin area').

I guess it's just a part of my sensitive personality. Yano? The reason I cry at films, TV shows, books, personal stories etc. The reason I was probably predisposed to depression to begin with. The way I feel about things.

I'm not over my past. I'm not over my insecurities. And I'm still wrapped up in feeling like a failure and being self-conscious.

But I do want to work on it. I want to not presume everything you say to me is actually an insult. I want to believe that when you point out an error, a mistake, or some make-up I forgot to blend in it's not a commentary on how I'm failing in my every day life. But it's not that simple.

I'm trying to remind myself that no one's perfect. That perfect is a myth. That I've been buying into this myth my whole life. That skinny celebs are also not perfect, because being skinny isn't all that great.
And I'm trying to learn to handle criticism more constructively. Like, I will carefully check I have blended my make-up correctly in better lighting.
And just to take criticism. Take it and not over think or over analyse it. Just take it and carry on with my life without having it weigh me down.

(Seriously, throw your criticism at me – I want to learn to take it.)

Until next time,

Thursday, 3 August 2017

I’m over ‘get over it’

There are many terms that reinforce the stigma around mental health. And I’m sick of them. Every time you use an out-dated, offensive and utterly unhelpful remark it tells me that my mental illness isn't legitimate. 

Here are some of the worst offenders that I'm totally over.

Get over it.
If only it were that simple to abandon all worries, fears and insecurities... 

Look on the bright side.
Oh thanks hun, I’ll be sure to keep my anxiety-ridden negativity to myself in future.

It’ll get better.
Now that YOU say it, I suddenly believe it! Yes, it will get better, but when? How much longer do I have to feel like this? When will the pain finally end?

It’s so depressing.
No hun, depression isn’t an adjective. It’s an illness. And what you’re feeling right now, what you think is comparable to my illness, is not depression. Also said as "Everyone gets depressed/depression at some point."

“It’s all in your head.”
I know it’s in my head, which is why its so all-consuming and I can’t escape it.

“Maybe you should go back to therapy if it's that bad.”
Do you think it's that easy to walk into an appointment? Ever hear of waiting lists? Understaffing? Lack of resources? In an ideal world we'd all be in therapy, not just those of us who are struggling. 

“You’re getting worked up over nothing.”
This. Does. Not. Feel. Like. Nothing.

You should try meditation.
I've tried most things to help with mental health at this stage, including meditation. It doesn't work for me but sure, keep making helpful suggestions. Also filed under "You should try exercise/God/journaling and other countless tips."

“You shouldn't take medication for your depression.
Seriously? What makes you think that you have a right to tell me how to manage my mental illness? Why are you trying to shame me for managing my mental illness?

“But you don't have that anymore, do you?”
Is there a time limit on mental illness I didn't know about? Am I meant to be recovered by now? Am I less of a person if I do still have it? Why do I now suddenly feel like a failure?

What unhelpful and insensitive phrases are you over when it comes to mental health? Have you got any to add to my list?

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Recovery Letters

Last year I was privileged to be asked to contribute to The Recovery Letters book. The Recovery Letters started as an online website - with a series of letters written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by or experiencing a mental health condition.

Now a book edited by James Withey, the letters can be bought, cherished and read wherever you are.

Addressed to 'Dear You', the letters provide hope and support as a testament that recovery is possible.

'This book will save lives, which can't be said of many. Writing or reading a letter strikes at the sense of isolation which is at the root of despair. Read this book, buy it for others, it's rare and powerful medication.' - Gwyneth Lewis, author of Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression

Writing my letter, I struggled with the notion of recovery. I've never defined myself as having 'recovered' from depression. It's something I've always struggled with, and written about these struggles on this blog. But writing my letter helped me find peace with the notion of 'recovery'.  I realised that I wasn't the person I used to be. I wasn't lost, alone or hopeless. I have made progress. I was in recovery. And here I was, sharing my story for others so that they too know there is hope.
My recovery letter

You can buy the book online here.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point

*Trigger Warning: Suicide*

I get how suicide can be perceived as cowardly and selfish from the outside, or if you’re affected by the death of someone you know by suicide. But I’ve had suicidal thoughts inside my own head. And my mental illness rationalised them, and made them feel like the least selfish and bravest thing I could do.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the lead singer of an obscure nu-metal band died by suicide last week. Chester Bennington, who has always been public about his battles with trauma from his past and drug addiction, took his own life.

It’s a hard one for me to process. In the same way Chester had turned to writing and music to deal with his trauma, I had turned to Linkin Park when I was 13. I took comfort from the voice of someone who had felt like I was feeling. Chester screamed so that I wouldn’t have to.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about a comment from another musician. A guy named Brian Welch from an equally famous band called Korn.
Brian wrote a Facebook post where he said Chester was sending the wrong message to his fans.
I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!
I get that Brian was grieving; having a tough time processing and clearly thinking about those most affected who would be left behind. One of the first stages of grief is anger.

I’m sure people have criticised Brian and written eloquently about while what he said may be his honest take at a time of mourning and loss, it is not acceptable.

But I’ve found myself consumed by his words lately, and I needed to express my frustration at this misunderstanding of suicide. Not every depression or mental illness manifests into suicidal ideation, so maybe Brian just couldn’t place himself in Chester’s shoes.

I wasn’t so lucky. From the age of 14 I fantasised about dying. Usually at the hand of an accident, rarely by my own hand, but I wanted to die. I had barely lived in the world and yet I wanted out. I didn’t like what I had seen, or how it had made me feel. At 14 I wanted to die for me. So yes, perhaps this wish was selfish. But it never felt cowardly. I thought of it as brave to choose death.

By 18 my thoughts of death turned to suicidal ideation. I was scoring high for severe depression on every depressive scale out there, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Mental illness blocks your peripheral vision. It filters how you see the world, those around you and yourself. It feeds you a version of reality. A tunnel vision perception of who you are.

My version of reality was that I was a burden. I was a waste of space. Useless. Unloved. Unlikeable. A failure. It warped everything I knew about myself, everything I could see. It told me that death would fix everything. My death.

Sure, it would be hard for my family if I died. But I rationalised my decision. Or should I say, my mental illness rationalised my decision? Honestly, wasn’t now the best time? My sister was at an age where she might not remember me. If I waited any longer and she grew older, it would affect her worse than if I did it now.

You see, I know that suicide doesn’t feel selfish. Sometimes it feels like the most selfless thing you could do. That by no longer ‘being’ you wouldn’t be a burden anymore. The pain would end, not just for you, but for everyone around you too.

Like Brian, I’m angry at Chester’s suicide. I’m angry that he couldn’t get the help to convince him his mind was lying to him. I’m angry that he wasn’t convinced life was worth living, even when it’s hard.

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point. Mental illness can twist and distort. It can rationalise that which can never be rationalised; the loss of a human life.

It’s a truly horrific battle to be in with your own mind. It’s hard to convince yourself that your mind is lying.

But believe me, it lies. Suicide can feel like the answer, but it never is.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Everyone hates me.

I’m crying. I’m crying really hard and really loud because I think everyone hates me.

In fact, I know they must hate me. My family, my housemates, my work colleagues. Everyone.
And why do they hate me? Because there’s something wrong with. I’m wrong. I don’t fit in. I don’t have many friends because people don’t like me. I’m too argumentative, too passionate about my world views. And when I show that side, people want to leave. When I’m not arguing, I’m too quiet. I’m shy and reserved. People don’t like that. I force awkward silences on them. I don’t have anything to say so I keep my mouth shut. I don’t like sharing.

Want to know how my holiday was?

‘Good. Fine. Only a few showers. Mostly dry. Went swimming’.
You’re not getting anything else out of me.

That’s not normal. I’m not normal. What’s wrong with me?

On Saturday night I sat up for hours crying. A never-ending stream of thoughts filled my head. Examples of social rejection, fights with siblings, throwaway comments made years ago all came back to me as evidence that I am hated. After everything I've done, I hate to be. I jumped from conclusion to conclusion. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out of my mind, I couldn’t make it stop. Everything that I was ever self-conscious of, any past event that ever could make me feel self-conscious flooded my brain.

But then it occurred to me.

Hurt yourself to make the thoughts stop. You know it works. You’ve done it before.

Pathetic, I thought. Seriously mental illness? You think you can trick me that easily? I am not going to do that.

I cried until I was numb. I cried until half of me felt already dead, and the other half wanted to die.

"You're getting yourself worked up over nothing".
 But it doesn't feel like nothing. It feels real.

I don’t know what Saturday night was. A breakdown? An episode of depression? A relapse?

All I know is that it will take a while to shake off and fully get over. I still feel emotionally and physically drained. I still feel like a lesser, emptier me. And I still feel like people don’t like me. However, I’m being more realistic about it. Everyone doesn’t hate me, because not everyone in the world has met me. But, everyone may possible hate me if they ever do meet me. I’m challenging these destructive thoughts one step at a time. 

I still feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I still feel too preoccupied with the stream of negative thoughts only I can hear to really pay heed to anything going on around me. 
I stepped out in front of a car this morning. Not intentionally. I was just so withdrawn and so consumed by my mind that I didn't think to look. I was lucky I didn't get hurt. 

This was the worst low I can remember in the past two years. But it differs from how I used to feel in a time before medication and support. It differs because despite what my mind told me, I didn't want to die. I didn't want to hurt myself to make the feelings stop. Hell, it was hard ignoring those thoughts, convincing myself not to act on them. But I did it. 

Despite Saturday night, I'm still winning the battle against my mental illness. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Is talking about mental health really ending the stigma?

We've been talking about mental health for years now.

It's in the media every day. Another personal story, another awareness campaign. It rarely ceases.
It's mainstream now. We’re all familiar with the term.
So what if many people still think it synonymous with mental illness? At least they know about mental health.

It's a cause that has ambassadors.

A-listers are revealing their eating disorders, medication, anxiety and depression in ever increasing numbers.
Amanda Seyfried. Katy Perry. Prince Harry.
They bring a sense of glamour to the usual discussions of mental health.

Even in Ireland it’s been on everyone’s tongues for the past number of years.
We have male sports stars and musicians speaking out specifically to encourage men to get talking about their mental health.
Conor Cusack. Philly McMahon. Bressie.

I've been blogging about mental health for just over three years. And I’ve lost count of the number of Irish mental health bloggers out there.

But is it enough? What has all this talk about mental health got us?
News reports continue to show that we aren't lowering suicide rates. People continue to feel alone, to not ask for help, to self-harm, to die by suicide.

People may be talking about mental health, but that doesn’t mean they care enough to provide it with adequate funding. Mental health services are under resourced. There are not enough of them, not enough staff, and certainly not enough beds. Waiting lists are growing because, while we are encouraging people to seek help for their mental health, we’re not ensuring that ‘the help’ is available to listen.

recent headlines

So are our conversations ending stigma? Are we saying the right things?
When a white man commits an act of terror, we’re told it’s motivated by mental health.  

When Ant McPartlin, one half of the UK’s most famous and award winning TV presenting duo, entered rehab for ‘depression and substance abuse’ he’s told to go get ‘real problems’. 

Britney Spears infamous breakdown in 2007 is still used a slur today. ‘I haven’t shaved my head yet’, said Katy Perry earlier this year. Because she may be mad, but at least she’s not that mad. 

Sinead O’Connor. Amanda Bynes. Kanye West. Their mental health battles are not taken seriously by the media because they don’t fit with our image of a celeb. They should be happy, rich and have it all. 

Sympathy isn’t our first response when we see mental illness. We question motives. Wonder if it’s attention seeking. Tell them their problems aren’t real issues like a physical illness is. There’s no arguing with the severity of a physical illness that you can see after all. 

Shops continue to use mental illness as a joke to sell products. From slogans on Urban Outfitters t-shirts to straitjacket Halloween costumes in Tesco, it takes public outrage rather than common sense to pull these products from stores.

Have we succeeded in anything? 

Sure, I feel less alone seeing mental health in the media and social media. I think, “Great! Now people will understand that it’s real, I didn’t choose this.” 

But that’s not always the reality. I still hear comments reinforcing stigma, mainly regurgitating what the media spews out. I overhear lunchtime conversations saying 'people with mental illness are dangerous' and 'I wanted to hang myself'

If I ask myself that same question as a service user? Well, I still feel alone. I still don’t have access to the care that I need. I still don’t have professional support. If I have a relapse in the morning and find myself in a major depressive episode, I wouldn't know where to turn for help, or even if I ever would get help.

I also ask myself this question as another service user. Perhaps one with schizophrenia. Because unlike me with my diagnoses of anxiety and depression, people with schizophrenia don't see their mental illness openly addressed in the media. While there is greater understanding now of what depression actually is, the same level of coverage isn't given to other mental health problems. There is still a major misunderstanding that schizophrenia involves multiple personalities. The media aren't so quick to clear up these misunderstandings. 

So then, what next for mental health?

Sometimes it's hard not to feel like you're speaking into a vacuum. Especially when the media still play on stigma when it comes to celebrities and crime. Especially when politicians have yet to answer our cries for help.

But that should never mean we stop trying. Conversations around mental health have changed substantially in the past 10 years alone. Who's to say we won't break down more stigma in the next 10 months, yet alone years?
So never stop.
Even when you look around and see how far we have yet to go. Let that be your strength to carry on the war. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

No one expects depression

No one expects depression.

No one expects it in the teen striving for attention.

No one expects it to be high-achieving.

No one expects it to be sitting in a lecture theatre with 200 other people, diligently taking down notes.

No one expects it to be status after status on social media.

No one expects it to be the fast-talking, enthusiastic volunteer.

No one expects it to be at a concert, singing their heart out.

No one expects it to be the one with their whole life ahead of them to look forward to.

No one expects it to be the girl dancing with her friends, taking pictures with drinks in hand.

Or the one with the confidence to hook up with a guy she met on a night out.

No one expects depression to be all consuming but yet still invisible.

No one expects depression to be high-functioning; to be able to leave the bed yet alone the house.

No one expects depression to go unnoticed.

No one expects to be oblivious to their own depression.

No one expects asking for help with depression to get them nowhere.

I didn’t know what I expected depression to be. But it wasn’t this.
It wasn’t the carrying on as normal. The hiding it from friends and family.
I thought depression was noticeable. That there'd be a big warning sign at least internally, if not externally. That I would know what was going on inside my head, and what was wrong with me.
But when I was diagnosed, I was expected to carry on as normal. To stay in the city away from my family. To go to class. To sit my exams.

Where were the straitjackets I was promised on TV? Why wasn’t I lying down, looking serene while at therapy? Why was my madness not visible?

No one expects depression to look normal. But the reality is that it does. There are people with depression waiting in line with you at the coffee shop, getting the same bus to work with you everyday, living in the apartment next door.
You can't tell.
And when it hits you, you weren't expecting the sheer force of the hit. But you're expected to cope, to carry on, to recover.

Mental illness doesn't live up to expectations.
So don't be so quick to leap to conclusions. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Old habits

It’s easy to fall back into old habits.

For me, it’s patterns of thinking. Thinking negative thoughts to be precise.

Somehow, 24-year-old me has found herself stuck back inside the mind of 15-year-old me.

“Everyone hates me”. “She’s been giving me dirty looks all night”. “Why can’t I be more social like everyone else?” "I don't want to do that in front of everyone."

And these thoughts have gripped me with anxiety. Over the past few weeks I’ve lost any small trace of a care-free, easy going attitude I ever had.

I’m paranoid. I’m scared of meeting new people. I’m too shy and awkward to get involved in group conversations. I’m worrying over little thing I’ve said. I’m comparing myself to others. I’ve been going to bed in tears, unable to explain my sudden loss of confidence.

I’ve thought about quitting my blog entirely, deleting it, in fear that someone will use it against me.
And it’s made me feel ill.

What’s happened to me?

I can’t remember when I last felt this hopeless and helpless. It used to everyday, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been trapped by these old habits. And now they’re back with a vengeance.

It’s debilitating not being able to escape your own mind. You can’t switch it off. You can’t even get a good night’s sleep, with your fears and anxieties often plaguing your dreams as well.

I’m sick of feeling insecure, paranoid and like I’m 15 again. I’m sick of caring so much what everyone thinks of me. I’m sick of thinking they all hate me.

But I don’t know how to make it stop. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Out

I’ve been taking some time out from the Blogosphere lately. I’ve needed it.

Life offline has taken some pretty difficult turns over the past two months and brought with it a lot of changes. I’ve needed to focus my attention in the real world, with my family and friends by my side.

I felt guilty about it. Leaving my space on the Internet to gather dust was never my intention. What did I work so hard building it up for if I was to abandon it so suddenly, without excuse?

But it’s what I’ve needed to do to clear my head, get my thoughts in order, and find a way of coping with the obstacles thrown at me.

And why should I feel guilty about that?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Do you have issues?

Ever been asked something so direct that you’re not sure whether to ignore it, answer it honestly, or just downright lie?

Sometimes direct questions need a sure-fire automatic response.

How are you?

Not too bad I say, often feeling the opposite and wishing I didn’t always automatically respond with the same standard answer. Where's my honesty? Why am I saying the same thing over and over without stopping to think about it first and then answering?

Direct questions are often hard to answer. Especially when you have a mental illness.
They are asked every day, multiple times a day, all the time.

How are you?

And often we develop a standard response as a defense mechanism. We don't want to reveal too much, give ourselves away. So we lie.

But this weekend took on a whole new dimension. I was asked a question I haven’t been asked in years. Not since I was at my worst, and clearly I wasn’t doing very well at hiding my worst.

Do you have issues?

Let’s also note that huge emphasis was placed on the ‘you’ here. Just in case I hadn’t realised the personal, insulting meaning of ‘issues’, it was elongated and thrown at me with rage.
But how do we answer a question so direct, so personalised, and so angry?

Do we answer honestly? Yes actually. Many issues. Donald Trump. Theresa May. Oh, and a mental illness or two.

Do we lie? No, I (unlike every other human being in existence) have no issues, thank you very much.

Or do we ignore it? Pretend we didn’t hear. Continue on your conversation in a room full of people, knowing full well that all eyes are currently on you wondering if you will respond.

I did the latter. And I’m angry that I ignored it. I’m annoyed at myself for not sticking up for myself, for not wearing my heart (or in this case, my depression and anxiety) on my sleeve and admitting that yes, I damn well do have issues.

It's hard to answer a personal question you haven't prepared for. It's why I like my stock answer to 'How are you?' so much. I don't need to think, take it in and formulate an answer. I just spit it out and overthink my overuse of those three words afterwards.

Maybe I need to start thinking of standard responses to all kinds of questions now.
Best to be prepared so I don't give too much of myself away. Don't want to be caught shouting Depressed and Anxious from any rooftops by accident.

Do you have issues?

Yes, but it's none of your business and I'm not sure how you expect me to answer such a stupid, rude question.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Guest Post: How to Survive a Mental Illness

Today I have a guest post for you from James R Robinson. James is a writer and blogger and wanted to share the below with all my lovely readers. I hope you enjoy.

How to Survive a Mental Illness
Having a mental illness is really tough. There are loads of people complaining about all the pile of work that they have to finish before the week is over. There are lots of people complaining about their tough schedule whereas there are other people who have bigger problems.

Even if you are battling a dragon right now, there is still no greater battle than battling with one’s head. Yes, I am talking about depression and other mental illness.

There are lots of people who take mental illness lightly, thinking that mental illness is just a matter of self-motivation. Some people think that mental illness is just a matter of having enough will power. But it is really not.

A mental illness is a real illness. As a matter of fact it is the worst illness of them all. It is really hard. At one point you’ll be happy and then the next thing you know you are feeling below yourself. All of a sudden, it is like you don’t know your worth anymore.

Just think about going through all that trouble every single day. There will be definitely be a time when you’ll feel like you want to give up. But you just can’t. So, here are some tips to help you survive if you have mental illness:

Go for a psychologist that give you value and respect
You already have mental illness. You already doubt your own self-existence. The last thing you need is someone giving you more reasons to doubt yourself. 
You need someone who can show and remind you every time you are feeling down that you are valuable. Your psychologist should be someone who can remind you that you are respected despite what you think. 

Commit to your treatment plan
Planning in healing mental illness is the same with all other plans. You have to stick to it. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen. 
It doesn’t matter even if you hire the greatest psychologist in the entire world, if you are not going to commit to it. 
Once your psychologist gives you medication, you should do your best to commit to it. 

Spend time with your family 
People are used to spending time with the wrong people. Oftentimes, we spend our time with the people who always see our flaws. 
We should not focus on our flaws. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better, but we should still focus on spending time with people who can remind us of our good sides. 

Author Bio
James R. Robinson is an essayist for Needless to say, he has a passion for words. Most of his relatives are quite obsessed with science. His family is a streak line of businessmen, architects, doctors, and lawyers. He, on the other hand, chose art. He chose to write. Even so, he doesn’t think he’s that far off. Being a writer isn’t all art. It’s a part science and half art. So, he’s sort of in between them.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mental health in the workplace

I'm a 24 year old professional who works 9-5 in an office-based job. Sounds pretty boring, right?

I actually love my job, and I know I'm one of the few lucky enough to say that. I enjoy the challenges, the mundane everyday tasks, and often not knowing a new day will bring.

As someone who usually has extreme anxiety when facing the unknown, I'm surprisingly okay with the fast pace and level of uncertainty that comes with my job. Yes, you see I am also mentally ill.

Mental illness can present challenges in any environment, but it's something that it commonly tricky in the workplace. I have both friends and acquaintances who have personally faced stigma and discrimination at work due to their mental health. Some have been bullied and harassed due to their illness.

A study published today found that almost half of all people in Ireland's capital city would not want to work with someone who has a mental illness.Half of people surveyed would not want to work with ME. And let me tell you, they're missing out because I am darn good at my job.

Today I want to talk about me experiences with mental health in the workplace, and why I'm now succumbing to stigma and keeping my mental illness under wraps.

Over the past four years, I've been in a number of unpaid or low-paid internships, and part-time jobs. Mental health was a topic that would come up naturally. My CV and past experience is littered with mental health awareness campaigns and events, and I am proud to have been Chairperson of a mental health committee in my university. As a result, I've had job interviews where I told prospective line managers about my mental health mid-interview.
"What inspired you to gt involved in mental health campaigns?" "Well, I ended up getting involved in mental health awareness after my own mental breakdown..."
The topic was on the table. And if I felt that I needed to, I knew the way for paved for me to talk to my line manager about my mental health.

That's not to say I haven't faced stigma. I've sat around the lunch table with colleagues where I've had to listen to:
"Terrorists are all mentally ill. There's no other excuse."
"I always thought depression wasn't real; it's just something in your head."
"Donald Trump has to have a mental illness. All the signs are there."

There have been times where I felt confident enough to rebuff a throwaway comment about mental illness with fact and logic. But there have been other times where I've kept my head down and my mouth shut. Or where my personal experience of mental illness has been dismissed with some pseudo-science someone has read online.

But now that I'm in a 9-5 full-time job? I've kept my mental health relatively under wraps.
As an online advocate and offline mental health ambassador, I know I'm being a hypocrite. I know that I should wear my badge with pride and start the conversations required to end stigma. But life's not that simple. And stigma is real, and sometimes fear of this barrier is too high for me to breakdown. Sometimes remembering what people I know have faced and been put through for revealing their mental health in work causes me to fear the same stigma that I may have to deal with.

Like when filling out forms on my medical history before I could start my job. I sat staring at that form for at least ten minutes trying to decide whether I would admit my own diagnoses or current medication.
Where would this files live? Would my colleagues have access to this data? Could someone in HR look up my medical history and discuss it over lunch with another colleague? Would it be passed on to my managers?

Or when faced with another form for declaring your disability. Was my illness currently debilitating enough to be classified as a disability? What if it's not today but is tomorrow?

Here I am staring at paper and inflicting stigma on myself.
I have no reason to presume my workplace would be unsupportive. But I choose to hide. I feel safer this way. This is how I protect myself any possible future hurt.

This way, I don't have to have a comeback when someone makes a stupid, inaccurate comment about mental illness.
This way, I don't have to be the one explaining why not all terrorists are mentally ill.
This way, I don't have to defend my very diagnosis.

But here's what I will do. I will put some Green Ribbon posters up in my office and stick some green ribbons in the canteen. Because maybe someday I will feel ready to tell a co-worker why I got into this line of work. And I want them to be ready.

This May is Green Ribbon month. Wear a green ribbon and show that you are willing to talk about mental health and end the stigma.
Visit to find out more.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

5 reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day

Like me, I'm sure you've heard the arguments about the overuse of medication in mental illness and why taking medication is bad.

Sure, big-Pharma sponsor my mental illness. Prescribing anti-depressants is an industry. Increases in diagnoses of mental illness over the past few decades also reflect the rise of the anti-depressant industry.

And if you're like me, you might also be absolutely sick of hearing these arguments. Yes, taking medication for a mental illness is incredibly common. Often, it's the 'go to' method for medical professionals treating a mental illness, which isn't right. And taking any medication comes with side effects. But that doesn't mean that I or others shouldn't be taking them.

I've been told by medical professionals that I should try to wean myself off antidepressants as soon as possible, that they're addictive, and I've even been advised to stone-cold quit taking them without any support. If even the medical profession have mixed opinions regarding medication and mental illness, how are we, the patients and service users, meant to know what to do?

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to medication and mental health. And often, the voices saying don't take them are loudest and increase the stigma for those of us who rely on them.

For six years I have been taking medication daily for my depression. It took time to find a combination and dosage that works. Medication is not a quick fix for your illness. There is no 'one cure for all'. You won't wake up happy. You won't be cured. But for many people, like me, it's a start.

So despite the stigma, I keep taking my pills. Here are five reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day:

  1. They help me to sleep
  2. They clear the fog
  3. They have allowed me to feel again
  4. They have given me back hope that things can and do get better, and hope for the future
  5. They make recovery possible

They say you're not recovered if you still take medication. To me, recovery is about being brave enough to help yourself. And medication helps me.

It is naive and dangerous to ignore the many people who have had successful results with anti-depressants. So please don’t judge those on medication, those on medication for a long time, or those who will always be on medication. It is nothing to be ashamed about. We don't do it to support the multinational corporations that manufacture medication, we do it to survive. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Why I'm Wearing a Green Ribbon this month

This month, you may spot people wearing a simple green ribbon.

The idea is simple, by wearing the green ribbon, thousands of people are showing their support for ending the silence around mental health.

This year is the fifth year of the Green Ribbon campaign organised by See Change, national programme to change minds about mental health problems in Ireland and end stigma. Half a million green ribbons are being given out for free throughout the country for the whole month of May.

See Change say: "You don’t need to be an expert to start talking about mental health or have all the answers. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to let someone know that you are there for them and simply listen."

Here's why I am choosing to wear my green ribbon again this May.

I am an ambassador for ending the silence around mental health.
It's a symbol of support for a worthy campaign.
It helps create awareness.

I want people to see the ribbon and ask me why I'm wearing it.
I want people to see the ribbon and know that they can talk to me about mental health.
I want people to see the ribbon and without having to say anything, they know that they are not alone.
I want to end the silence and stigma around mental health for me, for those closest to me, for my friends with mental health issues, and for the people I haven't had the privilege of meeting yet.
I want everyone and anyone who is struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone, and that talking about mental health is a sign of strength.
Whatever your reason for wearing it, you can pick up green ribbons at train stations, all Boots stores and at events in your local areas.

You can find out more about the Green Ribbon project and the events taking place in your community at

Monday, 24 April 2017

It's been six years since I was labelled 'depressed'

This month marks six years since my diagnosis with depression. And boy has it been a whirlwind of ups and downs, battles, wins and losses. Many of which have been documented on this here blog.

I've graduated from university. Twice.
I've had three internships, one part-time job, and one full-time permanent job.
I'm on my third cat and also gained two dogs.
I've gone from self-harm to self care.
I've been diagnosed with anxiety.
I've faced stigma in the workplace.
I've faced stigma from my peers.
I've stigmatised myself.
I've turned my mental illness into something positive.
I've been interviewed about my mental illness on national TV and in national newspapers.
I've found a positive and supportive relationship.

As I write this, I feel content.
I am happy with where I am in my life. My job. My home. My relationships.
I am happy with what I can see in my future.
I take two types of medication daily.
I have more good days than bad days.
I've found a balance between self care and my commitments. It's not always perfect, but I get there in the end.

I cringe at the word 'recovery'. It's been six years and I am not recovered. Am I in recovery? Maybe. Maybe not.
My mental illness has been a journey. I'm still on this journey.
But I'm still celebrating. The fact that I am still on this journey is a victory.

It's been six years since I was labelled 'depressed'. I've learned to love this label, and everything that it's brought with it into my life. Both the good and the bad. Here's to the next six.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Sorry you think I’m rude but

I'm sorry you think I’m rude but
  • I was planning out something to say in my head
  • I was feeling self-conscious
  • I was thinking about how I’m socially awkward
  • I was worrying whether you already didn’t like me
  • I didn’t know what to say
  • I find it really hard to talk to strangers
  • I was worrying about whether you’ve found out I’m mentally ill
  • I was wondering if what I just said was stupid
  • I was scared I'd say something stupid
  • I feel safer on my phone than talking to an actual person
  • I had another social interaction earlier today and it did not go well
  • I was remembering that mean thing a girl said to me when I was 10
  • I feel unworthy of anyone’s attention today
  • My chest feels tight and I’m not sure why
  • I feel left out
  • I know everyone’s talking about me
  • I was actually trying not to cry
  • I was afraid I would cry
People with mental illness often come across as rude or standoffish. But really, we’re just paranoid and worried about what you think of us. We can be self-conscious and shy. We can act reclusive because we presume no one likes us. Some of us have social anxiety. Talking to strangers, or even people we know well, can cause us anxiety. And sometimes we try to avoid all social interaction because of that.

Please be patient and don’t judge us just yet. It can take us a while to feel comfortable around new people, and to pluck up the courage to smile and talk to you.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Making friends with anxiety is hard

Making friends when you have anxiety is hard.

You hate meeting new people.
You don't see anyone you meet as 'potential friends'. They're 'potential people to dislike me'.

You worry about what everyone thinks of you all the time.
What will I wear? Will they judge me for this dress? Only like 70% of first impressions are based on your actual appearance, so no pressure.
I know I'm not important enough for people to think about, but they are definitely thinking something negative about me right now.

You hate meeting people who already know each other.
So am I the only one here who doesn't share the these childhood memories? 
How do you even join in with those conversations? 

You overthink everything.
Maybe they're only being nice because they feel sorry for me?
When can we officially call this a friendship? Like, are we friends yet? It's been 30 seconds without incident, so I call this a record.

You try not to give your mental health away.
Did they notice that I scratch myself and keep pulling on my hair?
Someone says 'The weather's been so depressing' and you freeze before questioning whether your opposition to this phrase will reveal your mentally ill state. 

Trying to keep friendships with anxiety is also a challenge.

You can't text them first, it'll only annoy them.
They're busy, you don't want to annoy them. Basically, this friendship is little more than a huge annoyance to the other person. Initiating contact actually terrifies me, so if you could text me first, that'd be great.

Lack of motivation
And other times, texting another person is a huge effort. You put it off, and off, and off until it's four months later and even renewing contact at this stage is embarrassing.

Having a friend is also scary.
You are setting yourself up for direct rejection. They won't show up to brunch and you'll be left there trying to decide if you should just leave or eat something while sitting there alone. Friendship is like handing another person a grenade to throw at you. And it really freaking hurts, trust me.

Am I over-friending this person?
Is there such a thing as being too keen? Are you coming on too strongly by suggesting three potential dates that suit to meet up? It all comes back to overthinking.

'See you soon' means they haven't come up with any alternative plans, so do they not want to see me again?
I mean, this might be an overreaction, but I'm pretty sure my friend's style of writing just changed overnight and now they hate me.

As a teenager, I hated social events. Heck, I hated any sort of interaction with another person. I used to make my sister take my clothes to the checkout so I wouldn't have to face the shopkeeper-induced anxiety.
Every time I left the house I would feel physically sick or have knots in my stomach. Going to school or meeting a friend was hell for me. I used to always have a fear that I would arrive at an event and no one else would be there. It was all a ploy to embarrass me. I'd be left on my own. I presumed most people I knew didn't like me. That I was the victim in some sort of life-long Carrie style prank.

But I'd try to put up a front, at least in school anyway. And I'd still attend every single event, and experience that severe anxiety in the process, just to try and get people to like me.

I'd like to say I've come a long way from those days, but the truth is, I haven't. If anything, I'm more anxious than ever when it comes to people. I'm more reclusive now than I was as a teenager.
 My ability to fake it until I make it has long since evaporated.

I had a major anxiety attack a few weeks ago. I was travelling solo on the train out to meet a friend, to a place I'd never been before. I started profusely sweating. I felt nauseous and faint, and panicky. I seriously contemplated turning back, going home and crawling into bed to cry. Instead, I cried at the train station before forcing myself to board the train and crying some more on a packed carriage. And in the end, I had an amazing time and felt so stupid for having gotten worked up about something that other people do every day.

And that's the thing about anxiety and friends. That what is so simple and comes naturally to other people, we tend to overthink, overreact to, panic and obsess over. Our brains are wired to make these situations difficult. I'd much rather stay shut in my bedroom by myself than bump into someone I know on the street. I hate answering phonecalls, and making phonecalls. And don't get me started about confrontation or I won't be able to sleep for a week.

Making friend with anxiety is hard. So give us some space, a break and take it easy, okay?

Saturday, 25 March 2017

What TV gets wrong about mental illness

Recently I watched an episode of Casualty. As is often the case when I randomly watch a TV show I don't normally watch, it happened to be an episode focusing on mental health. In this case, bipolar disorder. And I was a bit miffed by what I saw. Sure, the end criticised the lack of care available to people. Great, but nothing we didn't know there. And then there were questionable parts too. Like why was the manic character dressed like The Joker? And why did a mental break have to occur in a graveyard to enhance the spookiness? But what I was really bothered by was the fact that healthcare professionals, doctors and nurses, expressed fear when they discovered someone had a mental illness. That the distinction between being a nurse with bipolar disorder and a doctor in a manic state wasn't clearly made. That some of their negative words and the stigmatising connotations that come with them were not challenged.
"You couldn't deliver milk in your state.""You are ill. And I am not giving birth in a graveyard with a mentally unstable nurse.""Get away from me, or I mean it, I will scratch your eyes out.""I guess a crazy, manic nurse is better than no nurse."
And I was left with the image that the people we trust to treat us when we're ill are actually frightened by us. Why would anyone seek help?

I tweeted my frustration at this portrayal of mental illness, and also another storyline in the episode where a staff member couldn't even say the word 'bisexual'. And I was met by a barrage of criticism. Apparently Casualty is so popular that its fans, and actors, are passionate enough to follow the #Casualty hashtag on Twitter on a Saturday night and reply to tweets.

Casualty is not the first show to do a mental health storyline and get it wrong; far from it.
And I am so tired of TV characters being terrified of mental illness, of mental health only being portrayed when there's a 'break', of the godforsaken asylum being used as a huge, scary plot device to incite fear in young people. Watching how the negative comments on Casualty from healthcare professionals were not challenged, while I was in a depressive episode myself and already frustrated by people not understanding my illness, was breaking point.

So here's a list of what TV gets wrong about mental illness

People with mental illness are dangerous
This is probably the most common way mental illness is currently portrayed on TV and movies. Just look at Norman Bates in Bates Motel (the character from Alfred Hitchcock's movie Psycho as a young man). We keep being told Norman is mentally ill, he refuses to get help, and we watch him black out and murder character after character. The body count is high, and the show, now on its fifth season, links the term 'mental illness' with 'killer' in every episode. Mental illness is not something that should be feared or run away from. We are not all dangerous and trying to kill you. At least, no more so than the rest of the general public. In fact, we are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
Publicity photo for Bates Motel. Just look at Norman's mentally ill stare. 

Blink and you'll miss it diagnosis

We see this a lot. Mental illness is brought up in a show (yay for inclusion) but the storyline lasts maybe just an episode, six episodes, or a season. There is no further explanation or follow-up, and the reality of the ups and downs of recovery are overlooked. Pretty Little Liars' Hanna revealed she had an eating disorder in Season 1. But it apparently went away on its own, once Hanna became skinny and popular, and is only referred to again when people call a slim teenage girl 'fat' in flashbacks. These are missed opportunities to get it right, and show what living with a mental illness is really like.

The Asylum
Yep, despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very image of confining people with a mental illness, it continues to be used as a trope on TV. Missed it?Look no further than the entire Season 2 of American Horror Story set in an insane asylum (but it at least challenged stigma by portraying a whole cast of characters with mental illness and suggesting hallucinations of aliens and demonic possessions as actually real). Not to mention teen shows like Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars where the asylums are somewhere were the bad characters are locked up without any actual diagnoses. But sure, let's keep showing 12-25 years old that we contain bad people in a mental hospital.

Just having a story line about mental health doesn't end the stigma
Other shows, like Degrassi which received a lots of criticism for its portrayal, think its enough to just have a storyline about mental health. As if mentioning the word schizophrenia will somehow remove the stigma. And they expect, and often receive, praise for it. OMG a mental health storyline is o progressive, well done TV. Having a character with a mental illness, or one that attends therapy isn't a good thing if its not done right. You have to challenge perceptions. You have to use your opportunity and your stage to tackle the image of mental illness. You can call your show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in mockery of the 'ex who isn't good with rejection' trope, but when you then decide your main character does have mental illness issues thanks to childhood trauma, it's a bit of an insult. You might want to think of a rename for Season 3.

Healthcare professionals don't understand
I get that this is a true reflection of many people's experiences. You seek help for your mental health only to find healthcare professionals do not understand mental illness and are not be supportive.
(Photo: National Alliance on Mental Illness) 
BUT how does this help people who need help? It discourages them from telling people, people who should know better, about their illness or seeking treatment for it. Sorry Casualty, but saying "I guess a crazy, manic nurse is better than no nurse" does not instill confidence that you will look after me when I'm mentally ill.

Turning your Halloween episode into a mental illness stereotype
Thankfully, this is rare. But you will find some shows, and some events in your area, that think its okay to mock mental illness at Halloween. Look no further than Modern Family, the sitcom based around a regular American family, the Dunphys.  The Dunphy family's opinions on mental health, however, aren’t so modern. Their 2015 Halloween episode thought it was a good idea to turn their house into a mock insane asylum. Full of outdated terminology and decades old movie stereotypes, the show was insulting and enraging. But maybe I'm just too sensitive, yeah? Must be my mental illness....

Last weekend I was called easily offended and too politically correct for being angry at how mental illness was portrayed on TV.
Suicide remains one of the most common causes of death in young people. Stigma is alive and well. There is no need to perpetrate it further. It stops people asking for help, getting treatment, and tells them that there are no relapses in recovery.
Is it too much to ask that TV shows portray my illness and other people's illness in a realistic, sensitive, and forward thinking way? Stop saying we're dangerous. Stop pretending this is 1900 and we're all locked up in an asylum. Stop refusing to challenge stereotypes.

But let me also say, you CAN get it right. Thanks you This is Us, Jessica Jones, and you know what? These are actually the only two I can recall. How's that for TVs problem with mental health.