If I had a pound for every time I have seen somebody suffering but also claiming there is no point going to the doctors because somebody else has it worse than they do, then I’d be very rich suitably well off. As nice as it is to live in a humble society where nobody thinks that they have the hardest life in the world, it doesn’t really help the individual in question with their problem. Suggesting that somebody else has a worse problem is almost definitely a statement of fact, however it is also no reason to blatantly dismiss your own problem, as life is not a competition. I repeat – life is not a competition.
Mental health problems come in all shapes and sizes, as they say, or a better way to put it would be that everybody has a different experience with them. Some people are claustrophobic and can’t bear to be locked in their own homes, others are agoraphobic and can’t bear to leave their own home alone. Both are forms of anxiety and both will have profound effects on the lives of the individuals – but different effects! When we start to compare one person’s mental health problem to another, we are only fuelling the problems themselves. Most mental health conditions have the horrendous side effect of wiping out most of your self-confidence. Which isn’t particularly surprising when you realise that everyday you are fighting a battle against your own mind.
Looking back at my own experiences, I realise now that I had a problem long before the panic attack in an exam. I’d had panic attacks before and passed them off as asthma, I’d had anxiety for so long that it was just normal for me and I’d felt terrible during some of my school years but just assumed that was how people felt. If I had sat back and thought for a second about what was happening during any of that time and got help at a much earlier stage of the problems, my life might have been very different. This may seem like a rather dramatic statement to make but my mental health problems changed my life forever. I will never be able to tell you whether it was a bad or a good thing, although I’m leaning towards the latter nowadays. In many ways I consider myself lucky, I had a support network around me that made sure I got through the tough times and I was at a point in my life where a decision like dropping out of university was big but not the end of the world (although I thought it was at the time). Things could have been so much worse.
There’s that comparison again, I’m even guilty of it myself.
Coping with a mental health problem is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know I wouldn’t be able to have got it under control without help, even if it did take me a while to ask for it. There is a stigma around mental health where people think they’re ‘weak’ for admitting they have this problem or that they need help – yet by the time they eventually ask for help the problem has escalated to a level where without help, the effects are unthinkable.
To anybody that sits there suffering, blocking the problem out, comparing, hurting, ‘coping’, refusing to admit defeat – there is help out there for you in some form or another. I wish I hadn’t spent years just assuming how I felt was normal when I could have been enjoying life a hell of a lot more and if one person reads this and realises that’s what they’re doing then – my work here is done.