I’ve been thinking about mental health lately. It is so something that I take for granted. I suppose that anyone that isn’t confronted with it does. I have never suffered from any lapse in mental health and neither has anyone in my immediate family. It wasn’t something that I really learned about growing up.
When I started working at Youthline I was fairly rapidly educated. A large number of the calls we receive are from people looking for support between sessions with their doctors. I am suddenly exposed to the way people’s minds work when they’re really not working. It is fascinating, but can be damn frustrating. I had to learn to empathise with someone going through something that just makes no sense at all to me.
Late last year, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with a serious pysciatric illness. It twisted her world. It twisted my world. Every time I said something I wondered if she took it how I meant it or if it was distorted into part of a conspiricy in her head. It was hard watching her change. I felt selfish – I was sorry for myself because I felt like I was losing a friend.
A couple of weeks ago, someone close to me was diagnosed with depression. Listening to him describe how it feels is like listening to someone trying to tell me how to work the stock market. It breaks my heart to know that he has stuff going on that he can’t control. I know to a degree how that feels, but at least with seizures I am in control of my thoughts. The idea of losing that scares me to death.
And then last night I had a girlfriend over for dinner. She was talking about her experiences over the past year and how she has become aware of the opportunities she misses as a result of having no confidence. She is an outwardly confident person – one of the most bubbly I know, but she suffers terribly from internalised insecurity – the result of mental illness. She believes that she unconsciously sabotages opportunities as a result. I listened to her talking about it and can see so clearly how competant she is, but felt so helpless to communicate that to her. There is no point in telling her – she knows on a logical level – but her brain overrules that when it comes to the crunch.
I was talking to mum about it and she reminded me that it’s important to remember that I simply don’t understand. Trying to explain to someone where they are going wrong, or trying to ‘fix’ them is not only pointless, but it is frustrating for both parties. It’s like telling a smoker that smoking is bad for them.
I suppose that aside from a rambling philosophical post, I’m trying to express my gratitude for the fact that I have been so protected from mental illness in my family.
Some people might think that having seizures qualifies as pretty awful, but I can just take a pill each and forget about it.
Well, 6 pills.