What does someone with a mental illness look like? Sound like? Act like?
Can someone be severely struggling with mental health but still able to portray themselves as a functioning person? Still look well groomed, hold a conversation to the point that you’d have no idea? Does someone have to have not have washed or got out of bed to be suicidal?
I believe that these are some of the most important questions that need to be asked and addressed in regards to mental health awareness.
These are factors that are so ingrained in to society about how someone with severe mental illness should present and portray themselves. Not just by the general public but also government bodies such as the DWP and also unfortunately by some mental health professionals themselves.
You would really think that in this day and age looking at all the celebrity deaths who are very successful and portray themselves as anything but that stereotypical view that everyone would have got to grips with that fact that every one is different. One person with depression is not the same as the next. The underlying feelings may bear similarities but how each individual deals with those feelings is different.
You may have one person that takes to their bed, cannot wash or look after themselves. That completely shuts down, loses their job and everything falls apart.
You then may have another person who has the same inner feelings but looks successful, they are well groomed, they present themselves in a certain way and completely put on an act to the point where no one may have a clue what is going on with them.
Both of those people could be that suicidal that they go on to take their own lives.
The issue is that the first person would be more likely to receive help quicker, to be taken more seriously.
This scares me. It scares and and it angers me all at the same time.
That successful person that puts on their front and acts their way through their days could very well go home and retreat to their bed at the end of the day with feelings of utter despair the same as the first person. It’s just no one sees that. It is assumed they are coping and functioning because of their front.
I believe that walls and guards are created for a reason. I believe that people that don’t let people in do it because they have an auto response to do so due to something that has happened to them before and so their go to response to defence. To defend themselves from judgement, from cruel words or from the fear of being turned away. It can become easier to put on a front. Those walls become a natural defence mechanism.
I have HUGE walls, HUGE guards. I have battled the NHS for 15 years and while I have found a handful of amazing doctors, I have had more than a handful of terrible treatments, awful comments and judgement and so now If I am even put in front of anyone where I have to explain myself or tell someone what is wrong with me my guard goes sky high before I have even started as In my my mind the likelihood of judgement is greater than the possibility of being understood. This includes if I so much as go to the GP. My guards are like iron and I can’t even get past them myself half the time, let alone anyone else attempting it.
I wear make up, I dress in a certain way. I get told I look well even if that day I’ve had suicidal feelings and thoughts. I can switch in to “auto mode” quickly and easily without even realising that I am doing it.
I even managed to do this once without even knowing about it. I had started to take an overdose. I had basically lost my mind. I didn’t know what I was doing and I don’t remember three months of my life. However I apparently had an assessment in the hospital where I told them I was fine, that I was really sorry and i just took the pills because I hadn’t been sleeping (true on a surface level as I had been manic) and I just wanted to sleep. I answered questions and I was let go. I do not remember that meeting, I don’t remember even being there! THAT is how ingrained guards, walls and front pretenses can be!
So why was it recently that I had my PIP taken away for reasons such as ” I passed my GCSE’s and attended a mainstream school” ( I am now 32!) and ” I was well groomed” (One hour from 365 days of the year)
I have been five and a half stone on an eating disorders unit, not long after being hooked up to machines and told I could have had a heart attack and I was still getting dressed and putting make up on my face. Why? because that’s me. I don’t like to be vulnerable. I like to make a good impression to EVERYONE, I hate to think that people are judging me, I couldn’t bear for people to think that I was a lost cause and I hate to give in. THAT’S WHY. Does it mean that I am less depressed? have “less bipolar?” That i don’t struggle, that my partner doesn’t have to completely take over on a regular basis and behind closed doors I break? NOPE. It just means that my life and experiences have made me a certain way and my brain has an auto gear where this is concerned and It just happens because that’s what I do.
I was supposed to go to tribunal for my PIP. I saw a lawyer. Until I broke down at the end in to that much of a state that I couldn’t speak he was going to leave and say he couldn’t represent me because of how I answered the questions. My guards were too much for him to see through and there was no way it would have worked in court. He said he would have to train me how to answer the questions because I was going to be hard work but it was good i’d shown how it really was.
After he left and my guard lowered, I went in to a depression. I felt suicidal and I was in a really bad place because the meeting had pressed all my buttons in all the wrong way and it was clear that I couldn’t put myself through that stress and anxiety so basically because I don’t “perform” a certain way to meet a stereotypical view and the stress of that would have broken me and actively bought on a bipolar episode I cancelled the tribunal and have lost my PIP. How is that right? That’s not just me, that’s so so so many people in similar positions.
Is my guard not part of my mental health issues? Do I not have huge guards for a reason? No one sees past that though, not really. It only takes the most recent tragic suicide of Kate Spade to see that this is not a rare occurence but seemingly these misconceptions just continue.
If for example someone has been made to feel they are never good enough they are always going to want to please people. People judging will create a wall to come up for that person to defend themselves, to prove that they are worthy. Sometimes even if that is at cost to themselves because they are pushing themselves to present as “Good enough” and “On top of things”
If someone is successful and is seen in a certain light, this is a very hard front to drop and show vulnerability for fear of what might happen.
If someone has had a life where they have had to fight, if like me someone has had a lengthy experience of certain responses from people in “authority” which makes them feel like how they feel isn’t significant then it becomes second nature to avoid showing that side to anyone in authority and automatically having guards where put in a situation where this might happen again.
It’s all human response. Every human is different in their experiences and therefore different in their responses. Therefore there is no “standard” way for anyone to be, look, sound or act with a mental health condition.
This is something I feel so very passionately about. That really needs addressing as it’s a huge stigma. Not only in the day to day but but by those goverment organisations themselves that are supposed to help but actually in many cases hinder. It needs to change. It’s vital that it changes. As without these things being spoken about, and bought to the forefront so many people get missed and ultimately many of these people go on to take their own lives.
You cannot judge someone by their looks, how they speak, how they dress. It’s so much deeper than that and so much more complex. You cannot judge someone who is guarded – let’s face it – it’s obvious when someone is guarded, I may as well have a sign on my head that says “Fuck Off” at times but it’s important to question why. If it’s known there is an issue but they are dressed well and guarded then there is more to that story. It’s important that that is acknowledged not just accepted and assumed that all is okay.