Yesterday I saw some friends, which I was really nervous about because of my social anxiety. It all went well in the end in a lot of ways (I managed to talk to people, I didn’t cry, I was relatively calm, I seemed relatively ‘normal’). However, I also spent quite a lot of time after they left crying because I thought it hadn’t gone well enough and people hadn’t enjoyed my company. This is fairly typical. Oh well, I digress.
Anyway, what was most notable about the evening was that one of my friends asked me after my mental health. They didn’t try and pretend that nothing was wrong with me and just talk about other things. They didn’t just ask me ‘how are you?’ which is too easy to fob off with a ‘I’m fine thanks’. They asked me directly ‘how are things going with your mental health?’.
It was a bit of a shock actually. No one outside of close family has ever really asked me directly about my illness in this way. They have tended to be too embarrassed or unsure of what to say without offending me. I actually found it really refreshing for someone to be frank with me like this. I felt cared for and like my illness was being thought of as a real thing; something akin to a physical illness. If you break a leg, get diagnosed with cancer or have a heart condition, people wouldn’t hesitate asking you about it. With a mental health condition things are unfortunately different.
The problem I have is that my mental illness affects my life all day every day. It affects my mood, my energy, my sleep, my appetite and my sense of self. Not being able to talk about it is like not being able to talk about a chronic physical illness which has been highly disruptive to your life. In fact in some ways it can be worse with a mental illness because of how your whole identity becomes tied up to your illness. You feel like it has become part of who you are.
Not being able to talk about your mental illness when it is on your mind constantly is very alienating. You feel like a fraud sitting there and catching up with someone without acknowledging this huge part of your life. Even if they know about it, it is awkward to bring it up. You don’t want to bring someone’s mood down when you are supposed to be having fun.
I am really grateful to this person asking me how things were going with my mental health. I just hope that by talking about these things, the stigma around the illness will be eroded and it will no longer seem abnormal to ask someone: how is your mental health?