For the past year I’ve been struggling with mental illness. In hindsight it probably started in my teenage years, but it’s only been recently that it has really impacted my day-to-day life. I started using Tumblr anonymously, sort of as a diary for myself, a couple of months ago and more recently began a blog about mental health which I shared with my friends on Facebook – my ‘coming out’ if you will. A lot of people have sent me really kind messages of support, often saying that I’m brave for having made it through what I’ve gone through. This is something that I also find myself saying to other people who have struggled with their mental health. But nothing I have done has been through bravery; it has been through necessity. Every decision I have made has been through fear of what will happen if I don’t do it, because I know that I need to do it.
The real brave people are those who do have a choice about whether they deal with it. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends”. My friends have stuck by me even when I’ve made it difficult for them and not given them the gratitude they deserve. The same friends who dropped what they were doing to spend all night in A&E with me, to visit me when I was admitted, or simply to ask how I was doing, even after I have lied to them in an attempt to cover my tracks. Especially brave are the two friends who had to physically restrain me in a cold, rainy car park while the police were called after I tried to abscond, even though I was struggling and crying and begging them to let me go.
All of the doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers and other professionals who have seen me at my worst have been brave enough to know when it is time to stop being nice and when I’ve needed to be firmly told what to do, even if it was against my wishes at the time. They helped me even when I didn’t want help, even when I have made their job far more difficult than it needed to be, even when I have been plain rude to them. The most amazing thing about the bravery of these people is that I don’t even know half of their names; I might walk past them in the street and not recognise them, even though they have literally saved my life.
The university staff who have helped me to stay on the course, continue with my studies in medicine and known when it is time to step in instead of watching me dig my own grave have also been brilliant. There have been times where I didn’t agree with their decisions, yet they were brave enough to know when they were right, and to stand their ground against me, even going as far as to contact my community psychiatric nurse (against my permission) when they were worried about my safety.
Even other patients who I have met in various wards, who often are going through a worse time than myself, have still found the time to help comfort me if I was crying or panicking. One of the things I will remember most about my time on a psychiatric ward is the sense of camaraderie between women of all ages, from all backgrounds. We all looked out for each other and tried to keep up each others’ spirits, especially on Christmas Day, and I made some friends for life in there. I hope that it is like this on all wards, although I fear that the truth is I struck lucky.
Perhaps the bravest people are my family, who have been patient and understanding even though I kept as much as I could from them in an attempt to protect them. What I didn’t realise at the time was that keeping them in the dark was exponentially more worrying than knowing the truth – mums have a unique intuition which can sense when something is wrong no matter how hard you try to hide it! My parents got a call late one night shortly before Christmas to say I had attempted to end my life and was being detained for my own safety. When my parents came to visit the next day, I could tell they hadn’t slept a wink, yet they made the six-hour drive and came in with a brave smile on their faces. They phoned their work places and dropped everything to stay in Edinburgh while I was in hospital to visit me each day. They showed even more bravery when I couldn’t face the guilt their visits brought me anymore so asked them to go home and get back to normal life, which in hindsight must have been such an unnatural thing to do – to leave your daughter when you know she is so unwell – yet they respected my wishes, no questions asked.
I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by brave people, but I have met many over the past year who have nobody looking out for them. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell people who have been through mental illness that they’re brave, because many of them are; it takes a lot to go against what your mind is telling you, especially when you don’t have a strong circle around you. But you should never forget the people who choose to put themselves through such a difficult time in order to help their friend, relative, or even a stranger, and often go without any recognition at all. They are brave people and their bravery deserves to be commended. Brave people – I salute you.
Jenny Pewsey is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and no she does not know what that weird rash is – ask a doctor?! Other than aspiring to be like Dr Cox from Scrubs, she loves watching Harry Potter marathons, eating other people’s baking and dreaming about cats. She also writes a blog. Click here to visit said blog.
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