Wednesday, 3 February 2016

#timetotalk

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Today, February 4th, is #timetotalk - a national day focusing on mental health by Time To Change.

I want to do a story that most people can relate to - so whilst this might not be the most important issue in the campaign or go in depth about how serious mental health problems can be, maybe it could gain a tiny amount of recognition for how it is to cope with them.

How many of us judge people by what they look like? Whilst I know a lot of people would like to think they don’t, we go by everyday of our lives passing judgement by appearance. This could be anything from labelling someone as a ‘chav’ because of the way they dress to something more complimentary such as ‘you’re looking well today’. But really, does an exterior appearance really resemble what’s happening on the inside and are we right to jump to conclusions over what a person is feeling from this appearance?

I’ve had two comments made to me in the past year which really stuck with me. ‘You smile too much to be depressed’ and ‘you’re too beautiful to be in a wheelchair’. Both of these comments link in with my point on physical appearance and both anger me at just how stereotypical they are. To make matters worse, the first comment was made by a medical professional when I was in a psychiatric unit - so these comments aren’t just coming from the average person on the street. 

So what does depression look like? Is it a sad guy, dressed all in black, with a tear stained face and a blank expression. Does that mean that people anxiety always are puffing in their paper bags and shaking, or, eating disorder sufferers are skin and bones. No. Fair enough, a small minority might fit this description, but most of us don’t. The fact that 1 in 4 people suffer with mental health problems means that of course people are going to present differently, many of which you would have no idea are affected.

Okay, if I was to ‘look ill’ externally from my mental health, here is what would happen. I’d have a tube from my nose from the days I couldn’t even drink because I was so anxious. I’d have black bags under my eyes from the many rows of sleepless nights where I have constant panic attacks. My hair would be gone from the stress. My head would be physically battered, bruised and scarred. And that’s just my face. I think you get the picture. 

Some days I wish I looked like that. The days I really struggle, I think it’d be easier than having to sit and explain to people what’s going on. I probably wouldn’t feel like I had to convince medical professionals I’m ill, people might be kinder, people may understand. Why don’t I look like that? As well as the amazing power of make-up (thank you MAC gods!) it’s not as simple as being able to express externally what you feel internally. And, I guess it’s probably for the better. You could say the same thing about all invisible illnesses really, which is why awareness needs to be spread.

I smile a lot. Sometimes to stop people asking questions, sometimes to try cheer other people up and sometimes, because I want to. The reason why I don’t look depressed today is because I’m fighting. I’ll wear make-up. I’ll push myself to socialise. I’ll get all dressed up for a hospital appointment because that might make me feel a bit better about myself today. And yes, some days I will look on the verge of a meltdown because I am, but very rarely do people see this. 

All I ask is that people do less judging, and more talking. And in return, on behalf of the people battling with mental health problems, we’ll try be more honest. I won’t always say I’m ‘just tired’ or ‘okay’. 

Everyone has a brave face. Some people put it on when times are tough. Some people have to put it on every day.


Kate x