There are many things that are difficult about having mental health issues. But there is one thing that I really struggle with, and it has nothing to do with the lack of treatment available, or the stigma that is associated with these sorts of illnesses. In fact, it doesn’t even have anything to do with people who don’t understand mental health issues at all. No, the issue I struggle with most is something that is strictly limited to people who have a mental health illness; The idea that mental health is a competition. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘migraine-headache’ scenario.
Now, this is not something that is widely spoken about, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one who’s ever felt like this, so I wanted to open up a discussion about it and see if anyone else has ever felt the same. Currently, I am classified as having ‘Moderate’ depression and Anxiety, and to many people it often seems as though I am functioning well and I don’t appear to be suffering from mental health issues at all. Even those who know me well sometimes think that I am just being ‘lazy’, ‘moody’ or ‘upset’ rather than realising I am depressed. And, to be fair, as much as this can be difficult, I don’t blame these people for this; It can be hard to have empathy for something you have very little understanding of. Even I struggle to understand my condition, so I can’t blame people who have no first hand experience!
But I do find it really difficult, when people who know a great deal about what you are going through, undermine how you are feeling. Sometimes it feels as if you are not ill enough for them, because your symptoms do not present themselves in the same way as theirs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in in no way saying that my condition is as bad as it gets, because that is certainly not the case at all. I am very fortunate that I have days when my condition does not inhibit me at all. How ever, mental health is all relative, and if someone is struggling, then that makes them just as worthy of help as anyone.
I have had friends in the past who, when I try to talk to them about how I am feeling, will quickly shut me down and insist that ‘I have it easy’, or will even start to list off the ways in which their lives are more difficult than mine, rather than just listening to me and validating my feelings. It began to feel almost like a game, and if you didn’t score enough illness points then you got kicked out of the group. In the end, I was left feeling like I wasn’t worthy of comfort, wasn’t allowed to feel my emotions and had the suppress them. The few people who should have understood how I felt were the ones who turned on me the most. I don’t think they were even really aware of what they were doing.
Perhaps the fact that we have to fight so hard for the right to treatment has caused this infighting within a community that should have each other’s backs. It is possible that these people don’t even realise what they are doing. It could even be that I’m reading too much into these situations, or that my low mental health has made me overly sensitive to passive comments made without any ulterior motive. Whatever the case, if you’re reading this and have never come across this sort of ‘competitive’ behaviour, I will be so happy that you have never been made to feel like you are not worthy of the same compassion as everyone else. But to anyone reading this who has been in similar situations to me, and made to think that your feelings weren’t worthy of consideration, then I am here to tell you otherwise. You ARE worthy to feel your emotions in full force, to express how you feel to people, and most importantly, you are worthy of the same respect as everyone else.
Mental Illness can be lonely and isolating. It works to separate us all until we feel we have nowhere to turn, and no one to talk to. So let us stand together, not turn on each other.