When I was 14 my anxiety told me to break my big toe.
You see, I had a provincial track meet that weekend and my coach had signed me up to run the 200m. While I loved the 60/100m, I loathed the 200. I wasn’t good at it – I never placed or qualified and it was to be my first time running it at a provincial level. My team and family were supportive –
“It doesn’t matter if you qualify, it’s just to see where you stand.”
“We’re all cheering you on and it’ll be grand!”
“Just do your best and that’s all anyone can ask for.”
I had all the support and reassurance I could have ever asked for, yet my mind remained adamant that I should not under any circumstances compete in that race. So I did what any person in that situation would do and the day before my meet, with the intent to harm, dropped a weight on my foot.
In the blocks for a hated 200.
And see I have a point to this post besides telling you of one of the awful ways I’ve self-harmed in the past because how terrible is it that already at the age of 14 I recognized that mental distress was not a viable excuse to “get out” of something but physical pain was?
That fact rings true even today. We still, to my ever-lasting bafflement, live in a world where to take a mental health day is to potentially risk your employment yet to call in sick over a hangover is morally and professionally acceptable. We live in a world where I would happily admit to having foolishly spent a week-night out with friends getting wasted and making poor life choices (which I’m proud to say I’m now only occasionally prone to do) before admitting that my dodgy mind is feeling poorly and needs a day to rest. We live in a world where we stigmatise and isolate those with subpar mental health as opposed to providing them with the love and support they (we) need.
Why? Why and how is this still a thing? Have we not enough research telling us that we ALL have mental health? Have we all chosen to ignore the statistics that 1/5 of us struggle with mental illness of one sort or another (and that is a relatively MASSIVE portion of the worlds population). How is it even possible that society is still wary of us?
So to all of you who choose to stigmatise and fear “The Mentally Ill” (a term which makes me draw comparison to “The Walking Dead” and sheepishly giggle) I have something I think you need to know:
We are EVERYWHERE. In your workplace, serving you your morning latte, your late night martini, driving your bus, taking care of your children, because here’s a shocking fact of life – we are functional human beings just the same way you are. Having a mental illness (or any other type of illness or disability) diagnosis does not mean you cannot function in society. If you take proper care of yourself, seek help and follow a treatment plan, you can live each day like any ol’ plain Jane. My brain works differently than yours and each day is a conscious effort to not let it show but I function each day and I have a full time job and a social life and I go on adventures and interact with the public but it is because of people such as yourselves, people who refuse to even attempt to understand what having general anxiety disorder or high-functioning depression really even means that when my dodgy mind acts up I feel the need to stay inside and hide away. It is because of you I stigmatise myself.
Me, depressed and anxious.
This blog, this hike, this was my “stepping out of the mental health closet” moment. The stigmas will never fade unless we, the owners of the dodgy minds, stand up for ourselves and speak up about our struggles.
I’ll admit, as I near the finish line, I’m worried about finding employment. I’ve spent the last 6 weeks speaking very candidly about my struggles with mental health and I fear I may have trouble finding a job even though I’ve held full time positions for the past 5 years with no problem whatsoever. Even though I know that I have the references and professional experience to prove the stigmas wrong. I’m still scared. Which is quite honestly equal parts frustrating and ridiculous.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, let’s try to change that, yeah?
Me, anxious, depressed,