It is no secret that I am public with my story of living with mental illness. I have appeared on television shows, in newspapers, I maintain this blog, and I'm currently in talks to assist writers of a popular T.V. sitcom to potentially insert some of my personal struggles into a storyline.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto (which I am not a client of and have no affiliation to) launched an awareness campaign today in the hopes of bringing attention to the stigma those with mental illness face to help defeat it.
As part of the campaign CAMH has placed advertisements on the transit system in Toronto as well newspapers and magazines. The ads quote some of the most common things those of us with mental illness hear when we talk about how we're feeling to others who may not understand what we're going through. I'd like to take this opportunity to point out the misconceptions I encounter most frequently.
"It's All In Your Head"
No, it is not all in my head and I am not imagining things. Mental illness is just that; it is an illness. My mental illness was observed over a period of time by a psychiatrist before a medical diagnosis was made. I feel what millions of other people do too and like many other illnesses, mine is treatable. Just because you can't see my illness doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
"Don't Worry. It's Just A Phase"
Absolutely, some people may only experience mental illness for a period of time in their life. Some symptoms or feelings may only appear during certain situations we encounter in life. For other people like myself, mental illness is lifelong. While the severity of my depression can vary -- I can go weeks without a severe depression episode or I can go years without one -- it is certainly not a phase.
"Y' Know It Could Be A Lot Worse"
When I feel like I have hit rock bottom and can't stop crying or get out of bed my world feels like it has crumbled apart. Sometimes my anxiety is so severe I can't even leave my apartment without thinking something really bad could happen to me. When the symptoms of my mental illness are at their peak I feel like I have hit rock bottom and the worst has hit me. I feel trapped in my emotions and always think I will never overcome those feelings though as I've learned I eventually will.
"You're Making A Big Deal Out Of Nothing"
Similar to what I said above, when the symptoms of your mental illness are at their peak you feel as though it's the end of the world. The intensity of the emotions and feelings are something I will truly never be able to describe. During this difficult time all I can think about is how I'm feeling. Some people like myself also experience physical symptoms which can add to the intensity such as sweating, nausea/vomiting, headaches, chest pains, and the urge to use the bathroom. While experiencing these intense emotions it really does feel like a big deal!
"Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself"
I don't feel sorry for myself, in fact I can't imagine my life without mental illness. I think my life would be too dull if I didn't have mental illness. At the same time there are certain aspects of my mental illness I wish I could change or tweak such as the intensity of the emotions that overcome me. But you will never hear me say "I feel sorry for myself" or "Poor me."
"I Know Exactly How You Feel"
While I appreciate the sympathy or empathy it isn't going to make me feel better. It may be comforting but some people truly don't have a clue what I'm feeling and pretending like they do just aggravates me. Instead of paying me lip service it would be more helpful to ask me if anything can be done to help lessen some of the symptoms and emotions I'm experiencing.
These are a sample of the things I frequently hear. I believe people say some of these things due to a lack of understanding of what those with mental illness experience. I applaud CAMH for launching such an 'in your face' campaign and I am optimistic it will help to educate the public and eliminate stigma.