Acknowledging that you’re struggling with mental health is hard, and there’s something exceptionally difficult about being open about those struggles. Anybody who suffers from mental illness will know that it’s quite common to keep it hidden, and for all sorts of reasons. Often due to the shame or stigma that is still present when talking about these issues. When we’re going through a difficult time, it can be tough to be open about that; to turn to somebody and admit that you’re struggling and that you need help.
It can be extremely difficult to be open when you’re going through a tough time. You worry that people won’t understand, that they’ll treat you differently or judge you for having a mental illness. For me it’s like a part of your brain will tell you that you’re being a burden and not to bother other people, that it’s your problem to deal with so just suck it up.
It doesn’t work like that though. Nobody should ever have to suffer through anything alone. That was what somebody told me once, when I first started working at the AA, and yeah, I still struggle sometimes to stick to that advice. It’s all too easy sometimes to just isolate yourself away, to let it spiral out of control.
I was diagnosed with depression before I started high school, with a diagnosis of anxiety and then OCD further down the line for good measure. I’m 25 now and it’s only by getting counselling through EAP and Ben (services offered through the AA), spending a good chunk of time on anti-depressants and putting trust in those around me over the last two years working here, that I’ve been able to start learning this myself. Once I started to build relationships and trust people, I find it’s slowly getting easier to be more open about when I am struggling.
And it’s hard to be vulnerable, the first time I had to tell my manager I was having a panic attack – was absolutely terrifying! In the end, I typed out a vaguely panicked email, sent it and fled the office on my break to try and compose myself.
My manager was sat directly in front of me at the time, but I couldn’t speak to her. She was supportive though. As soon as I came back, she asked if I was okay, if there was anything that she could do to help me and once it passed, I felt ridiculous for thinking that she would have reacted any other way.
But it was a start, and with a lot of things, it’s gotten easier over time to be more open with everybody around me. When I’m in a bad place I know I can turn to my friends for help, and that can be anything from being there to listen while I vent, distract me with all manner of things or even just to offer a hug and words of reassurance. Working in an office like many of us do, the people around us get to know us well and sometimes now, it just takes a look for some of those closest to me to know that I’m not doing good. That can be scary sometimes – to feel that exposed and vulnerable- but doing so has let me become a better person. It’s let me start building a level of confidence I never thought I’d have and because of that, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made.
I’m thankful for the people I’ve met while working at the AA, both indoors and outdoors. People who have pushed me to be a better person, to believe in myself a little more, to put myself out there and do things I never would have thought possible. Because of their support, I feel more confident in myself to share my own experiences, to work with others to try and give that same level of support back however I can.
Over the years, mental health awareness has gotten better, there’s been huge leaps and bounds made to make information more accessible, to try and break the stigma that still lingers when the topic of mental health comes up. But there’s still a lot of progress to be made. People shouldn’t be afraid to be open about their struggles for fear of judgement and it’s only by continuing to do things like this awareness week that we can hope to change that.
So, when it came to write this article, I debated for a while whether or not to do so anonymously. It definitely felt like it would have been the safer option, but in a way to do that would have felt a bit hypocritical. The whole reason I wrote this was to talk about opening up to people, so it only feels right that I should stand by that.
I want people to know that it’s okay to struggle, that there are people around who are willing to support and help you. Ben have been nothing short of amazing in the time I’ve been using them.
Due to the recent climate, a lot more people are struggling at the moment. If you think that someone might be going through a tough time, reach out to them. They might not pour their heart and soul out to you, but I can guarantee that your kindness will mean more to them than you can imagine.
It’ll take time, but I believe that we can break those barriers around mental health down. Life is long and it can be hard sometimes, but you don’t have to go through it alone.
Charlotte Truman, Customer Service Advisor