A Mental Illness.. what?!

“You need to be admitted to a mental facility as soon as possible, your anxiety levels are through the roof…”  “I know, but everyone gets anxious from time to time. It’s not a big deal” “It is, it’s a mental illness in your case, and you need treatment to bring you back down to normal levels of anxiety”

A mental illness…What?! It suddenly became very real. Very, very real. All the stress, all the times I felt inexplicably ill, all the ‘bad moods’. It suddenly had a very ugly name. The first thing I thought was that if I had a mental illness, no-one should know… after all, I don’t want to be seen as crazy for the rest of my life, do I? But I went home and told my husband, whose amazing response was “oh, okay.. when do you need to be admitted, and what can I do to help you?”

I went to hospital that week for a fourteen-day stay, not knowing what to expect. But, instead of people in gowns dribbling down the hall with drips in their scrawny arms, I found normal people like me, just a bit stressed out and with a slightly darker sense of humor than most. We would joke about our diagnoses at the breakfast table, swop stories about our lives and families at lunch, and laugh about the craziness of life in general that got us admitted in the first place. It was a sense of family, a sense of belonging, and best of all, no sense of shame in admitting we could not cope. We still keep in touch with each other, still complain about rough days, and still help out with names and recommendations of medications to discuss with our doctors now – almost a month and a bit later.

I think to a degree we all feel depressed, anxious, or downright nuts sometimes. We even joke about it, and say all too often that someone is certifiable. But when it comes down to it, and we expect this to be the way in which our “news” will be met as well. Instead, we need to understand that this is a reality for very many people, and that it’s not a sentence to the mental-hospital forever. It’s no worse than going to the hospital for a broken leg really, but we all are hesitant to go seek help when we really feel like things are going off the rails, and many people struggle through life either offended by the diagnosis, or simply not getting diagnosed at all. The stigma attached to mental illness of any kind, not only depression or anxiety, is alive and well even in our enlightened age.

Today I heard that a dear friend (whom I met during my stay at St Joseph’s Hospital in Durban) took a very brave step, and went to be readmitted to hospital because she still was not coping with every day life. I applaud her bravery and would encourage more people to face it head on as she did, and still does. It saddens me that her recovery isn’t going as well as we had hoped, but I admire her for being open and honest about it, and for reaching out to her friends and family for support instead of accepting silently that she needs to be hospitalized again out of a misplaced sense of shame. Well done, Bronwyn, for putting yourself out there. We can all stand to take a page from your book!

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