July 22nd, 2011

Is Mental Illness ever a gift? It’s certainly not something on my Christmas list!

Rethink, the national mental health campaign aimed at changing attitudes to mental illness have been asking a rather peculiar question about mental health, it’s a clever question and one that has got many people talking…….

Is mental illness ever a gift?

The word gift to me describes something I want, something nice, maybe even pretty.

Mental illness is none of those, in fact I find it quite damaging that it could ever be described as a ‘gift’. When has any other illness been labelled a gift, in fact I bet you wouldn’t dare call cancer or any other physical illness a ‘gift’.

The purpose of Rethink and many other campaigns is to break down the stigma around mental illness and to use the word ‘gift’ is simply trivialising the problem. You can almost make it sound like a positive thing, and that doesn’t help anything does it?

On the flip side……

People who experience mental illness often report coming out of it with a wider breadth of experience, greater empathy and heightened emotional awareness, which is certainly a positive thing.

For me it has defined what I do with my time, of which I spend a great deal helping others with mental health problems, raising awareness and even running a national charity for eating disorders.

But that is not a gift to me, it is however, a positive outcome from what was the worst period of my life that anything else will find very difficult to top.

Getting Personal…..

This is not something I often write about, but something I feel the need to explain to show what I have been saying.

Most people who read my blog will guess that I have suffered from an eating disorder, but it is really the surface of what was a very difficult time, which I was lucky enough to resolve and become a better person because of. As I said, it was the worst period of my life, which if I ever had the choice I would never have experienced. I probably wouldn’t do what I do now, I probably would have been someone totally different, but I would rather that than experience the hell of mental illness.

I mean, how could you call starving yourself, harming yourself and trying to take your own life a gift?

Scared to touch a morsel of food and constantly punishing yourself.

The periods in hospital, being constantly watched because they are scared you might try and do it again all the while feeling like you are nothing, like you just want to die.

Every night crying yourself to sleep, wishing you would never wake up, and when you do wake, looking at yourself in disgust, hating every inch of your body and soul.

Or maybe that time when you wake in hospital and the first thing they are doing is pouring charcoal down your throat, because of all those tablets you took.

Hurting everyone around you, when you try to take your own life for the 7th time and they find you in a heap on your bedroom floor.

And still, four years after recovering, having the constant reminder of who you once were when you look at the scars on your arms or maybe seeing a photo from when you look like what I can only describe as a ghost.

The reality……

These are the highlights or my teenage years, not something I would have chosen.

Yes I recovered, yes it has made me successful in mental health campaigning and yes maybe it did make me a more empathetic and understanding person.

But if I had to give up one of them, I would rather never have had the illness in the first place. 

So how in the hell I ask myself, can you call what I have shared with you all above, a gift?