Do your friends/family not 'get' your mental health?
Mental health. We are all told to talk about it and everyone seemingly is.
Sufferers include everyone from the Royal Family to Demi Lovato, and Zoella who regularly documents her experiences with anxiety and panic attacks online. Even Dr Alex of Love Island is now using Instagram to raise awareness of the need to talk, even partnering with The Samaritans on their recent Brew Monday campaign.
However, what do you do when opening up about mental health does not feel quite as easy as writing the perfect Instagram caption?
I was sixteen when I was diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, which often left me housebound. Receiving my diagnosis was a breakthrough moment for me as I finally was given the words to try and explain what was going on in my mind to other people.
Unfortunately, people are not always as accepting, or as supportive as you wish they could be. I have had friends tell me I am being dramatic or difficult to deal with mid-panic attack, and yet somehow I blamed myself for this. It must be my fault. I have had family members tell me I will never be able to do certain things because of my anxiety, and I have believed them.
Here is some of my advice for helping you explain your mental health problems to your loved ones - I cannot, however, guarantee you will not be met with some ignorance along the way however much I wish I could...
Accept yourself first.
Before you try and explain to others, try and explain it to yourself first. How are you feeling? How does it make you feel on a day to day basis? What triggers you? Once you understand it yourself, you can begin to process how you are going to tell others and start the all-important conversations.
What do you need?
One of the best ways I explained my mental health to others was by saying it probably will not affect their lives, but here is how you can help me. When I am having a panic attack I like people to count with me so I can get my breathing back on track. I ask people to count to eight with me, breathing in and out. Once they do this I feel like they have a better understanding and no longer think that was “all in my head” or something I was making up for “attention”. Whether you need someone to count with you, to order your food in a restaurant or simply just send a text every day to check in, let them know. Giving them an active role in your recovery may help them to understand what you are going through.
Use other people’s experiences to help you.
If you cannot quite find the words to explain, use someone else’s. There are so many great articles out there on what it feels like to have anxiety or depression. Fearne Cotton’s ‘Happy Place’ and Bryony Gordon’s ‘Mad World’ podcasts have a variety of stories of lived experience which you can utilise to help you tell yours. Suggest to your loved one that they give something a read, or listen and how it is similar to your experience so they can see how common it is, and just how many people also share your experiences.
Have a version of the story you are happy to tell.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever been given in terms of talking about my mental health is to have a story you are happy to tell. You do not have to tell everyone everything. This way you do not have to tire yourself out constantly repeating yourself. Create a story that is succinct and sums up in a comfortable way what your mental health means to you. For me this means I am open about my panic attacks and how when I was younger I could barely leave the house but through therapy and medication, I got better. There is obviously a lot more to it than that, but that sums it up nicely and gets the main points across as to where I was, and where I am now.
It is not a reflection of you.
If people do not ‘get’ it, it is not a reflection of who you are. It is not your job to educate people and although we can encourage people to learn, if it is affecting your wellbeing then sometimes it is better to move on and return to the more important issue.
A problem shared is a problem halved.
Ultimately, you are going to encounter stigma, ignorance and negative opinions but you should talk about what you are going through despite this. You are also going to be met with people who understand, who also have a story, and who want to help.
Take the highs with the lows, talk about it often and in whatever ways you feel comfortable and always remember to focus on yourself and your needs.
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