Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Mental health awareness week #mhaw17.

I have long given up on not wearing shorts and skirts when my knees are bruised because then I would have to wear long trousers all day every day – I’m an extreme case of clumsy, gravity and I have a love/hate frenemy relationship. When I fall and there is blood or a bruise people acknowledge that as an injury, something causing pain. Some struggles can’t be seen by the naked eye, some struggles never really go beyond being in our heads. Today, I want to talk about those struggles.

I believe the world’s population is divided into two groups (yes, I know I am generalizing here) the blissfully unaware and the miserable gray soldiers. Why soldiers? Because for these people, every day is a battle.

Emily, a 24-years-old woman from Belgium, who was the main character of the Economist’s documentary ’24 and ready to die’ was granted permission of legal euthanasia due to her severe mental suffering. If you follow up the documentary you’ll find out that an hour before her deathly injection was scheduled, the young woman changed her mind. This isn’t a blog post on legal euthanasia, my views or thoughts on this, but something really resonated with me, when in the documentary Emily speaks of the feelings she lives with every day and self-harming. She describes her mental state as a monster that cannot be tamed.

“It feels like there is a monster behind my ribcage constantly trying to get out. Cutting makes you feel you can calm it down. And banging your head against the wall makes you think, ‘I can beat it,’ but even slamming and hitting can’t stop it. And then you get up from a puddle of tears and carry on. That takes a lot of fu*king courage to do. That’s the hardest, picking yourself up every time when you know 5 minutes later it’ll be back and you’ll have to go trough it all over again. That’s what makes it so unbearable. Every time you try and get up it keeps coming back quicker and your feelings are still trapped inside.” – Emily in ’24 and ready to die’

Let’s address the blissfully unaware crowd. When one breaks a leg, you can clearly see the pain source, right? Right. Emily’s psychiatrist, Lieve Thienpont, addresses the world’s failure to consider mental illness as a serious, pain inflicting, life altering issue. She rightfully compares this to cancer X-rays that clearly can be seen and the enemy ‘identified’.

“Cancer can be seen on an X-ray or a scan, you can see the enemy. With mental suffering, nothing can be seen or recorded. The fact we cannot see it it makes it so hard to understand.” – Dr Thienpont in ’24 and ready to die’

Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds. – Source

Blissfully unaware ones, take note of the next couple sentences. Some struggles you may not see or understand, but don’t write those off as none existent because of that. I will let you in on a little secret, one doesn’t have to be unappealingly skinny to be battling an eating disorder, one doesn’t have to be sad all the time to be depressed, on doesn’t have to be alone to feel lonely, one doesn’t have to be scared constantly to have anxiety attacks. These things are happening all the time, they are around you, they are there so learn about them, try to become an alliance. No one is saying you will ever understand, but this ignorance needs to stop, it’s not helping anyone. Go on google and read an article or two. Get your head out of your rear-end. Please stop thinking of mental illness as a magical rainbow shit*ing being and accept the fact that for some people it is their reality – cold, hard reality.

Now, my dear gray soldiers. Seek help! Find peace in your friends, help people understand. While I acknowledge the numerous significant issues with the way mental health care is viewed or treated, but I also would like to believe that there is hope for anyone. Find ways to appreciate life, remember to look around you, because I’m certainly not blaming you, but sometimes we simply forget.

“This (film) opened my eyes to the grief I’ve put friends and family through. The pain in Emily’s mother’s voice, in her quiet acceptance of the situation, is what got to me most. Hearing her daughter talk about her feelings of emptiness, seeing the look of hopelessness in her friends’ eyes. As someone who has been depressed for the majority of my privileged life, this video demonstrates how a depressed person can take so much love and support for granted even if they don’t mean to.” – YouTube comment by Gin Pitter

In Emily’s case it’s clear that her doctors failed her, they failed to give her hope, they failed to give her a possible solution. It’s kind of tragically beautiful that only after knowing the pressure to end her life had been lifted, did she find hope to try and keep going and found some resemblance of having a bit of piece of mind. The doctors throughout the film highlight that for one to obtain a legal permission of euthanasia they would have to be ‘a lost cause’, their condition would have to be so severe that it no longer could be improved or treated in any shape or form. What this leads me to think is that Emily was not only failed by her doctors but also those around her. Were people there to listen to her before she decided to take such drastic measures?  Did people realize the gravity of the situation? Emily herself had all the tools in her mind to find the will to live but somehow her environment failed to trigger this earlier on. Maybe her survival instincts kicked in? Maybe she finally saw the love people around her had? Maybe people finally started listening?

Today’s society chooses to treat a mental illness just like a broken leg – with pills and anti-depressants. Emily had a drawer-full of antidepressants and other medication and clearly, this wasn’t an appropriate solution. Isolating her in a mental health faculty didn’t help her either. Emily’s example should be taken into account for both those affected by mental illness and those unaware of it. Why do we only hear cries for help when they become dramatic as Emily’s had? What I am trying to say is that in an ideal world these two parts of society would come together and lift each other up, hear each other and work together.

To put this in simpler, easier to understand terms, think of Titanic. If Jack and Rose had been smart enough they both could have both survived the ship crash and could have made cute babies, instead Rose was being ignorant to the freezing temperature of the water and Jack refused to ask Rose to move to her right and make space for him. Don’t be like Rose or Jack, learn from their idiotic mistakes!

All I am saying is be kind to one and other!

P.s. Today, May 8th 2017, kick’s off the mental awareness week. For getting help, visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help.

Note: Originally published February 15th, 2016. Heavily edited December 25th, 2016.

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