By James L.
Honestly guys, when I was first told I was mentally ill back in 2016, I did not take it very well at all. I was completely in denial and felt devastated, angry, embarrassed, annoyed, sad and generally pi**ed off. It does feel really unfair and like life has dealt you a bad hand, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Even though it feels like what’s happening to you is unique (and it is in a lot of ways), the truth is that billions of people around the world are either experiencing it as well, or they might do at some point in their lifetime.
My initial attitude was to bury it deep and avoid talking about it, but that didn’t help me or anyone else. It has taken me a while, but now it is something I accept is part of me and probably will be for a long time, possibly the rest of my life. Thankfully, I have now made peace with that and decided to befriend my mental illness, which it turns out is like a weight off my shoulders.
The first thing that helped me was reading books that were about the author’s experience of mental illness (try reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig, then thank me later). After this, I realised the power of sharing and started blogging about my own struggles. This led to more open and honest conversations with friends and family that were full of positivity.
I also figured out that the more I can learn from and understand my condition, then ultimately this is what will lead to me being in the driving seat instead of the passenger, rather than the other way around.
The internet is certainly a useful tool when it comes to gathering useful info and practical advice around mental health, but real life and in-person experiences are some of the most valuable as well in my experience. For example, I am part of a football group that includes other guys who have the same diagnosis as me (schizoaffective disorder).
This helps me in many ways, as I am able to not only tell them things that I find help me manage my condition, but I am also able to get help and emotional support from them if I am ever struggling. I would recommend seeking out this type of peer support in whatever way works for you, it could be a running group or it could be a book club, help is out there in many forms.
If you’re someone who has a job or is studying, my opinion is that it is more beneficial to tell them about any mental ill health you’re experiencing, rather than keeping to yourself. It is their obligation to help you work to the best of your ability, so by telling them what’s going on, you give them the opportunity to suggest any adjustments or further support they can offer. I heard a really good example of this from a police officer recently, who told me that at the start of his regular 121 meeting with his manager, rather than asking “how’s things”, they share how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. This means that after saying the number, there is more chance to explain the reason behind the number. For example “I am a 4 today because my pet dog is unwell and I am worried about her”.
Writing is another thing that I believe allows you to feel in control and provides a lovely bit of therapy too. This can come in many forms such as a diary/journal, which is a healthy outlet that lets you articulate your feelings and make more sense of what’s going on in your head. You can keep your writing private, or if you felt comfortable publicising it then maybe dabble in posting it online. I personally find this helpful because it has resulted in me connecting with helpful and nice new people, as well as getting great feedback which can justify your content, or you might learn new things or discover other perspectives!
Lastly, it is worth me mentioning that since I have had my mental illness experience, I have discovered that I am better off when I ask for help, rather than keeping things to myself. I know it can be hard to reach out, but personally I realised that not sharing what is going on inside your head will not lead to any improvements, things might stay the same or they could even become worse. In my opinion, the more people you share with, the more allies you are likely to gain. Your friends and family will show you love, empathy, understanding, compassion, and will generally do their best to make your situation better (like all good family and friends do). Just imagine if someone you are close to opened up to you about their mental health, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to help them out?
So I am not saying that everyone with mental illness should embrace it and befriend it if they would rather not, or don’t feel comfortable doing so. But in my experience, this attitude has made me the most happy and satisfied with myself. I think we all have the potential to use it as a strength rather than a weakness.
James is 31 years old and lives with his girlfriend in Watford, Hertfordshire. He works as Fundraising & Marketing Officer for Hertfordshire Mind Network, a local mental health charity.
James has written many blogs about his experience with mental illness and has also appeared on several podcasts to talk about the subject. He wants to use his lived experience to help others and is very passionate about raising awareness and ending stigma.