RAiISE Your Voice is a series of blog posts in which we provide a platform for young people to share their stories and speak up about issues they face whilst living with invisible illnesses and conditions. In this post, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, we hear from Finlay on ‘The Positive Affects of Coming Out About Mental Health’.
The Positive Affects of Coming Out About Mental Health
Mental health, like physical health, is something we all have. When our physical health is affected we seek help, others rally around us, and we take our time to do what we need to get well. Unfortunately, when our mental health suffers, we often blame ourselves. We hide our difficulties, and we speak harshly to ourselves about pulling ourselves together. This has undoubtedly been the case for me in my mental health journey. My learning to see things differently has played a massive part in my recovery.
I have had mental health challenges for most of my life. In my teenage years, this manifested as severe depression and anxiety. Later, in my early thirties, I received a diagnosis of Personality Disorder. Initially, I hid these issues, at least as best as I could. I felt deeply ashamed of what I perceived to be my weakness. I watched everyone else manage life in a way I could not seem to and concluded that I was to blame for my difficulties. In a desperate attempt to lessen the anxiety and numb me from the depression, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. Needless to say, this eventually made my mental health far worse.
Eventually, I could hide my issues no longer, and in 2008 everything fell apart. Falling apart turned out to be a blessing as from the ruins of my life, I started all over again, with a much firmer foundation. I have now been in recovery from addiction since 2010. In my recovery journey, I have learnt healthier ways to manage my mental health challenges. One of the most helpful things in my recovery has been my decision to be open about my struggles. Being open has had many incredibly powerful and positive effects on my mental health and wellbeing.
For example, being open has allowed me to let go of the shame that was not mine to carry in the first place. Shame adds an additional thick coat of darkness to a person with mental illness. Shedding this coat was a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. In being open, I also began to realise that I was not alone, that many people struggled with similar things. I also began to understand that I was not to blame for my mental illness, any more than I would be to blame for my physical ill health.
The more I spoke about my mental health, the less ashamed I felt. As the shame decreased, I began to stop being so hard on myself for something that was out of my control. At this point, I found myself gradually being more able to accept my situation. I became aware of how much energy I had wasted on wishing away my mental health challenges. In realising my illness wasn’t my fault, I was far more able to stop fighting myself and instead accept that it was just the way it is. With the saved energy, I could then use that for things I did have control over. For example, in learning tools to look after myself and to live alongside my mental health challenges.
With a new way of thinking and feeling about my mental health challenges, I began to find it far easier to ask for help. I started to enjoy the process of self-discovery and self-improvement and feel proud of myself for the progress I was making. I still had the same mental health challenges, but now I was finding ways, with help, to live my life regardless of them. One of the worst things about my mental illness was the number of life opportunities it has caused me to miss. Now, with a new outlook, I was determined, that I would find ways to live a full life despite my challenges.
One of the things I regretted the most, was my grades from school and my failed attempt at University. During my time at school, my mental health was utterly unmanaged which meant I left with grades far lower than I should have. Then, at University, I could not manage the strict deadlines, and my anxiety often made lectures impossible to attend. After missing too many deadlines, I had no option but to leave University. I decided, therefore, to return to study, but this time to do it as a distance learner, through The Open University. Studying as a distance learner has allowed me the flexibility I need around my mental health. The flexibility has been a crucial part of my recovery, especially as part of my recovery has been undergoing gender transition. I have needed time off for appointments and surgery, at times I have also had to pause my study, to give my mental health a break.
My time studying as a distance learner has dramatically improved my confidence. Due to my past study experiences, I had little belief in my learning capabilities. I realise now that l wasn’t unintelligent at all. The issue was that l was trying to learn in an environment that did not support my mental health needs. I know now that if I make sure first to find a way to support my mental health, there is nothing I can’t do. With the support I have received from The Open University, I am soon to start my final module; then in 2020, I will graduate with a degree.
The seemingly simple act of bringing my mental health out into the open and talking about it started an incredible snowball effect which changed my life. My story shows that when shame and stigma are removed, people, with mental health challenges can thrive. If learning and employment environments give mental health the same importance as physical health, people can be far better supported. When people with mental health challenges are adequately supported, we can be just as successful as anyone else.
Finlay Games is an LGBTQ+ content creator and an undergraduate student of The Open University. He shares candid first-hand experiences of gender transition and recovery from mental illness and addiction, to inspire others to recover their life and rewrite their story. When he isn’t writing, Finlay can be found trekking along the coastline, geocaching for hidden treasure, or dancing in muddy fields. You can find him on the following social media platforms: