Mental health is often viewed as a completely different kettle of fish to physical health. As though the two are totally unrelated. People are scared, uncomfortable or nervous about mental ill health, I feel.
Around Christmas has always been a really difficult time for me. It is, inescapably, a period where food and drink take centre stage. Although I rub along well with food for the rest of the year, at Christmas it becomes a major source of anxiety. It’s hard enough when I’m with my own family, and my Mum, Dad and sister are understanding. But when you’re with other people, as I have been this year, it’s harder.
Imagine I’d broken my leg and everyone was going out for a walk on Christmas Day. I’d have no problem at all saying “sorry guys, not me” without a shred of shame. Yet as someone who has struggled with an eating-related mental health problem, I cannot say “not for me, thank you” without feeling rude, guilty, even vain.
It’s partly my own fault, I must confess. I had overlooked the fact that my prescription of antidepressants was running out and wasn’t able to see the GP to get hold of anymore before coming away for Christmas. Christmas, the time I find most difficult to deal with, even with my pills.
Some people think that antidepressants are a pure placebo, and that I should just “buck up and get on with it”. Well, I can’t speak for everyone who uses them, and there are a vast number who do, but for me they are vital. I don’t consider it “weak” to say so, in the same way that before I had laser eye surgery I didn’t consider it “weak” to wear glasses or contact lenses.
Of course the placebo effect may have something to do with it, but so what? Without my medication, today, I feel numb. I find it hard to join in with conversation, to put on a friendly front, to laugh along with jokes. I have no concentration: watching a TV programme seems almost impossible, a film impossible. My eyes are blank and glassy, staring into space. I hate not being able to act. Ordinarily I pride myself on my ability to be polite and charming. But without my pills I just can’t. I can’t concentrate on people’s faces for sixty seconds without losing myself to the distance. I can’t smile genuinely, because I just feel like crying.
So is this really me? The real me? Some would say so. But I don’t. I don’t feel like me at all. Only on the pills do I feel right, do I feel me. They’re not happy pills, they’re normality pills. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic or someone with a broken leg not to use the help of modern medicine. So don’t tell me that it’s all in my head.
I’m not ashamed to say I struggle with my mental health sometimes, just as I’m not ashamed to say I occasionally come down with a cold. Nor am I ashamed to say that I benefit from the wonders of modern medicine. That’s just me.