Hmmmm, how many of you have heard this said to you? How many have you said it to? How many of us trying to struggle through a mental illness have been told “chin up, it will be ok in a couple of days….maybe it’s all in your head.”
When it comes to mental illness, people say the most insensitive things without realising the damage it does, even medically trained personnel who are meant to be there to help you can make incredibly insensitive comments. Thankfully though most people know that paying lip service to those of us with a mental illness is just not appropriate. There will always be times when even the most innocent of words may be misconstrued when we are in a dark place. I guess it must be difficult sometimes to find the right words to say to someone who is struggling with a ‘hidden’ illness.
I say hidden yet the symptoms project signs that can be so obvious. Signs such as withdrawing, emotional instability, anxiousness, anger etc. To be fair if you know, or can read someone you can tell when they are ‘putting on a smile’. If it’s a genuine smile then you will see it in their eyes. It is so easy for ‘us’ to put on a pretence to protect those around us but it doesn’t really help anyone. It’s self preservation I guess. I know that’s what it is for me. Although I’ve been having a few good days it doesn’t mean I’m ‘cured’, I still get down, I’ve still cried, I’ve still had nightmares but I have a distraction from it. I have something to focus on, a goal. It hasn’t gone away and it never will. It’s not something I can just ‘get over’ as someone recently said to me. It wasn’t said maliciously but it felt like the last 2 years, my hidden war injuries’ had been reduced to something not too serious. Another comment made to me some time ago was that “at least you didn’t lose a leg….”. I don’t mean this to sound bad in any way but sometimes I wish I had because then my actual injury would be better understood and accepted.
The problems appear when people make statements that mental illness is something that can be quickly overcome or believe it is a minor issue that you can get over. Just because I am setting up my own business and I have been working for a couple of weeks doesn’t mean that my PTSD has gone away, and ignoring that fact does not make it disappear. Just because I have had a change in perspective which has clearly helped me drag myself out of my bed, it doesn’t mean I’m well again. It hasn’t been easy to re-focus my attitude. I have had to really concentrate and drag every ounce of willpower I have every single day because this mental illness is debilitating and exhausting.
As I have written in a previous blog, I’m regularly sad about losing my RAF career. I know I’m embarking on a new career but this doesn’t stop the emotion of losing something I’ve worked hard at for half of my life. I also feel very sad at losing the person I once was. I am fully aware that everyone feels sad sometimes but sadness isn’t the same as feeling absolute despair at the pit of your stomach and wanting to switch off from the world forever.
A few ‘harmless’ comments and jokes made throughout the 2 years I have been off work have been made. Comments such as “get back to work ya lazy cow…….your just enjoying the chill……..eh it can’t be bad getting paid for doing nothing”…..These may have been made as a joke but they cut through my heart. Despite already grieving a career I’d dreamed of all my life, these comments made me feel like I’d somehow failed. I didn’t have what it takes. Why can’t I cope when others who carried out the same role ‘appeared’ to be ok. The fact is I have to accept what it is and try to live with it. Not only me but others around me have to deal with the here and now. I may completely crash again but I cannot keep worrying about it. I have to try to live with what is happening to me the best I can. Step by step it will happen. I may take a couple of steps back but as long as I re-adjust, brush myself off and carry on taking the steps, it will be the best it can be.
All I would say to anyone reading this, wether working through struggles yourself or supporting someone else is to talk to ‘us’ the same way you did before. This will let us know your feelings and respect for us hasn’t changed. Dont change who you are when your in our company, we are the same people who are just dealing with an illness that is less visibly obvious than a broken limb of heart disease.