I am Charlotte, I am also a daughter, a twin sister, a half sister, an auntie, a pet owner, a gymnast, a student and the list goes on. There is a list of things that I am, but for each thing in the list, there are hundreds of things that I am not. But today I want to focus on one thing; I am not my mental illnesses. I am not my anxiety, or my depression, these are just things that make up who I am today. But just because they make up who I am today, it doesn’t mean that they will make up who I am tomorrow, or a year from now.
Just like the sky has clouds - sometimes they are there, sometimes they are not, sometimes they scatter the sky, sometimes they blanket the sky, sometimes they are white and fluffy, sometimes they are dark and heavy… mental illnesses do the same. These mental disorders were caused by a culmination of things that I will not go into detail with but a large part of it was due to low self esteem and the fact that I’ve never been able to accept myself for who I am.
I’ve always seemed to have had anxiety, ever since I was little and it never went away, but it was at the end of year 8 that I noticed that it was becoming a problem. I was always able to find ways to hide it and participate in even the most daunting of tasks, such as performing on stage and raising my hand in class and even walking to different lessons in large crowds of people. But I noticed it was becoming a problem when I wasn’t able to hide it anymore. My list of fears was growing, the intensity of the anxiety became stronger, and I still had to hide it all because I knew that people wouldn’t accept me.
I opened up about my feelings during May 2015 and whilst it was one of the best things that I ever did, I also met something called stigma.
Imagine if our society criticised people for being diagnosed with cancer, claiming it was the sufferer's life choices that had led to such an abhorrent disease. Sounds appalling, right? Imagine putting that added burden, that shame, on someone who is fighting for their life. What if I said this happens every day though, not to victims of cancer, but to victims of mental illness...
Despite the fact that one in four people - just like you and me - deal with some form of mental illness, people suffering from mental illness are continually stigmatized and ostracised by society. This stigma that I met in May that year causes severe harm by dehumanising those who have mental disorders, making it harder for people to admit their symptoms to others and seek treatment.
There are numerous ways in which people who suffer from a mental illness are degraded and shamed. One method that I find the most derogatory is one that most people don’t even consider is the fact that people are often referred to as “depressed” instead of “someone who has depression”.
Linking back to my cloud and sky theory; the sky is not the clouds and the clouds are not the sky. The effect of labelling somebody as their mental illness may not be intentional but it is to make it seem as if the fact that a person suffers from a mental disorder negates their humanity. It makes it seem as if the disorder is all enveloping and makes them less than human, when this is not the case.
What would it mean to me if stigma around mental illness was eliminated?
If I am honest… having zero stigma surrounding mental illness shouldn’t surprise me at all. Because why is mental illness so unacceptable in the first place? Surely it’s the same as breaking your arm, except it is your mind that is broken this time. Instead of wearing a cast to fix it, you can take medication, to put it simply, it is just a pair of glasses for your mind - but why is it so apparently offensive?
I imagine that I will never know the full answer, I will never know why mental illness was ever so stigmatised in the first place. But it would mean a lot to me if people could live freely in a judge-free world. I know that stigma has beaten me in the past and it still affects me now, right this second. It’s not that readers are judging me (well, I hope not!), but it’s the fact that I’ve been judged in the past. Making me feel like I shouldn’t go near this subject.
But even this, this is beating stigma. We will do this, one day at a time.