When I first started this blog, I decided that only the posts about fitness and food would make their way onto Facebook. Posts about my recovery from anxiety would not.
I mean, I know people on Facebook, it’s a network of schoolmates, work colleagues and friends – some of whom have known me for nearly my whole life.
On other social media sites I can reach out to a wider network of people, people who immediately understand what I’m going through, because they may be experiencing similar difficulties – and I always feel encouraged by the support and advice that comes back.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do not think that my Facebook friends would be unsympathetic or unsupportive of my recovery from anxiety, I just know that I couldn’t handle the stress I’d feel if posts about my anxiety on Facebook went completely unnoticed – imagine if one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had to overcome didn’t even get a ‘like’! But maybe that’s why I need to take the risk in the first place?
I know I won’t be the only person who’s suffered mental illness to experience some degree of mental health stigma. I’ve suffered both depression and anxiety in my life and I’m sorry to say there were times I confided in people about my state of mind and it was dismissed, glossed over, forgotten about and sometimes even refuted!
But, the more I think about it, the less I’m beginning to blame people for reacting that way. Everyone gets down, everyone gets sad, but not everyone reacts to difficult situations by locking themselves in a dark room and crying (just FYI, that totally doesn’t solve the problem you were struggling with in the first place!)
Then there’s the age-old, “But what have you got to be unhappy/worry about?” reaction. Perhaps not the most sensitive thing to say to someone with a mental illness, but I still think this comment may often be largely understandable. People said that to me when I was suffering with anxiety in particular and sure, it upset me, but I can kind of see why they’d come to that initial conclusion. I had a good relationship, a fulltime job, a loving family and circle of friends – on the surface, what did I have to worry about? Try explaining about the time you couldn’t stop worrying that a lamp you may (or may not) have left switched on before you left your flat for a holiday would overheat and burn the place down, and you can kind of understand why most people didn’t ‘get’ it! More often than not, they had absolutely no frame of reference other than what they could see in front of them, and what they’d experienced about sadness or worry within their own lives.
That’s why talking about mental illness is so important. It provides people with that frame of reference.
Mental illness has been in the spotlight recently and there’s no doubt a dialogue has been started. A conversation is going on and, finally, people are talking about it. It’s up to us (the sufferers), the supporters (our family and friends), and the advocates (the mental health professionals and support organisations) to keep that conversation going. We need to give people a frame of reference to help them understand what experiencing mental illness really feels like.
So perhaps, if I’m brave enough, this will be my first anxiety post that makes its way onto Facebook. Either way, just documenting my recovery in public is another step in my journey towards learning to live life ‘worry free’.