Support Systems

As someone who has – and continues to – suffer from a mental illness, I recognise the importance of forming personal support systems. However, until recently I’d not found a proper place to go when I needed the understanding comfort of someone who knows how I feel. I’d always thought of ‘support systems’ as being a group of unwell people sat around discussing their illness and dwelling on their sadness but I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t have to be as dismal as I first thought.

I’m so fortunate to have such kind and caring family and friends, all of whom take the time to understand and listen when I’m unwell. But in the same way that I don’t understand an awful lot of things, my friends and family don’t fully understand what it’s like to be depressed or painfully anxious. Over the last few months, I’ve been taking the time to read other people’s blogs to hear their stories and to see if any of what they’re saying resonates with me.

A couple of days ago I came across a piece that Scarlett Curtis had written for the Daily Mail about how baking had became her constant while she suffered thought the madness that is anxiety and depression. She talks about the obscene number of US comedies that she’d watch when she was lying awake in the middle of the night, the cakes she’d bake because recipes made sense and how she’s no longer afraid to speak about her illness. Following the link through to her blog, I discovered that we’re the same age and both suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of illness – something which I think unless you’ve been through, you simply cannot understand.

It’s very strange to stumble upon someone who gets it. Someone who puts into words my own feelings as if I’d written them myself (although she does a much better job of it than I ever have). It’s incredibly comforting to read someone’s own account of something that I know so well and it’s encouraging to hear the improvements that other people are making. I read lots of blog posts and articles and think, ‘I can’t do that. My anxiety won’t allow me to do that’ and it’s inspiring to read about someone who too was trapped inside their bedroom but has said ‘actually, I can do this’.

I’m definitely getting better and with every week that goes by I notice improvements in myself. That’s not to say that I’m ‘back to normal’, as is evident by the file full of tragic late-night blog posts that thankfully haven’t made it from Word to the internet.

It’s in times like those – when I’m sat in bed propped up by cushions that my friend made me (reminding of just how much I miss her), hugging my 18th birthday llama (present from my best friend, currently residing in Moscow- oh how I miss her too) with a bowl of Cheerios and a seemingly unfixable sadness – that I’m so incredibly grateful to have found someone who is, I consider at least, like me. Someone who despite living in New York, someone who despite me having never met, someone who until recently I’d never read their blog, makes me feel a little less alone.

You don’t have to know someone – nor do they have to know you – for you to find comfort in what they’re saying. I firmly believe that, with any illness but mental illness in particular, the more you express, the more you share and the more you talk, the easier it becomes. With writing for Young Minds and writing on my blog, things are getting easier and the late night list writing and teary blogging is becoming increasingly less common.

Sometimes all it takes is an understanding ear, even if that ear doesn’t know it’s listening.

On a similar note, there’s a lot of campaigning being done by fantastic charities to make 2015 the year that stigma towards mental health problems ends. These charities are encouraging everyone to share their stories, whether they have suffered from a mental illness or supported someone who has, showing that is it ok to speak about our feelings and ok to ask for help. There is no shame in having a mental health problem and the It Gets Brighter Campaign aims to show support and solidarity so that stigmatisation stops this year. All of my pieces about my experiences with anxiety, agoraphobia and depression are linked on the Mental Health tab at the top. Thank you for reading and I’ll leave you with these fabulous pictures that Stephen Fry tweeted.

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