November 24, 2014

First published: 23-11-2014 


I DON’T KNOW why I am writing this but I just have it in my head that I have to get it down on paper. Lately it has only truly dawned on me how little people know about mental illness.

This has really struck me by something one of my very good friends said. We were talking about their friend, and how they have changed of late, they are different.

I suggested maybe they’re down, there might something going on that they feel they can’t share, maybe its mental illness?

To which my friend brushed off, ”No that’s not it, sure what have they to be depressed about?’

I am 26 years old. I have a brilliant family.

Supportive friends. An amazing boyfriend. A permanent job in what I have always wanted to be since I was a little girl. I have, people would say, a fantastic life. But I’ve also had a sickness since I was 19 years old. I have been hospitalised and medicated; seen doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, councillors, gone to support groups, listened to CDs, reading books – you name it – but I have realised just lately that I will never be rid of this illness.

I have a work colleague who has a problem with her joints. We know her story and although she rarely shows her weakness she tells us about it. More importantly, we ask her about it. I know she needs to heat up the bed before she can get up in the morning, that she must take injections regularly and sometimes go to hospitals for infusions. She is tired sometimes. It’s an illness. We know she has it, and although we will never truly understand the suffering she has, we do try to understand, and we do ask her about it, she is not embarrassed and either are we.

My illness is different. It is physical, emotional and mental. It includes sleepless nights, crying for hours, feeling sick to my stomach, paranoia, panic attacks, irrational and suicidal thoughts.

Less than a handful of people ask me how I am, have I been sleeping or up all night again thinking completely irrational thoughts, have I been able to eat my breakfast or have I still got such pains across my stomach from anxiety that I feel sick at the thought of it. Was the drive to school OK or did I have to pull over again because I couldn’t see past the tears that just kept flowing, or, even worse, pull over because I feared my car swerving over bridges or into ditches.

And you know what? A lot of that is my fault. I know I am too scared to tell people what’s really going on, I’m scared of what they will think, ashamed that I’ve had no traumatic events in my life to lead to this. I just have chemicals, misplaced and mismatched chemicals. It is a horrific disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and although we see an outburst in mental illness ads, people still don’t talk. I’m not a famous GAA player or a singer or a famous actor. I am a 26-year-old woman with a great life, with ‘nothing to be depressed about’. And yet, I suffer.

Ellen is a See Change ambassador, the national movement to encourage conversation about mental health problems and end the associated stigma and discrimination.