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"You don't look sick"

by Pix-E-Dust Digital 10 months ago in stigma

Mental health and visibility - Why it matters

One of my favourite things I've heard from someone I look up to

If people can't see evidence of something they often deny it. Case in point, those of us who aren't sure there are omnipotent gods watching over us. But what happens when that same concept of "seeing is believing" is applied to people you know?

When I was growing up, to my dad in particular, if he couldn't see how I was unwell I was making it up or overreacting. Throughout the first 20 or so years of my life, I was being told I was "lazy" or "faking it" or better yet; to "just get over it" whenever I was feeling off.

Likewise, when my mental health was bad, even my former workplace - that I had been completely transparent with about my condition, refused to treat me as if I was unwell at all and on a multitude of occasions pushed me beyond even legal capabilities denying me of any lunch breaks because I would often "carry the team" so if I didn't do it, no one would.

My point being; "but you don't look sick" is such a toxic trait of our society. If we can't see it, it doesn't exist - an attitude that not only invalidates our struggles against our own mind, but also puts us into a state of further devaluing ourselves. It kicks us while we're already down.

I only really began addressing my own mental health seriously about 2 years ago, after a series of difficult experiences and resulting depression and alcoholism to escape it hit me.

The real reason I didn't address it sooner? Because how people have responded to my illness in the past, as well as how my mother was treated stopped me from expressing my emotions to the people "closest" to me.

I'm fortunate to have an incredible support system of friends and sourced a great therapist and doctor who understand the way my thought processes work. There are still times I struggle - it can be hard to differentiate between what is "normal" and what is considered abnormal. For instance, I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD - and more recently, some form of bipolar which has yet to be determined where on the scale I sit. The difficult thing is understanding with the 'hypomania' is whether it really does boil down to lifestyle, personality or whether it is indeed, more. Unfortunately despite all my therapy and doctors appointments I still haven't exactly pinpointed how I can improve on my lottery of moods, sleep schedule changes and various physical ailments that accompany my day to day life.

But alas, regarding mental health I've found since being open about my mental health instead of masking it as other "visible illnesses" when I need some time off from work or social engagements hasn't changed. I pretty much had to say I was going to be sick or had a migraine to even be taken seriously, super discouraging when you already feel off on any particular day. We still live in a world where invisible illnesses aren't treated as seriously, because it isn't immediately apparent it isn't considered debilitating and that's terrifying to me.

I recently resigned from my position of 10 years as since opening up about my condition, despite being a reliable team member, I was treated as if the things that exacerbated my struggles were just inconveniences to their bottom line.

It would be glorious to one day say that children are taught in school about mental health awareness, how to cope with life and how to have difficult conversations. Likewise proper training in workplaces that focuses on helping rather than alienating those of us who work well but sometimes need adjustments.

The best weapon in the fight for mental health is to understand it, whether you suffer it yourself, or a loved one has. As a human being, being able to empathise, to try to comprehend and treat those who suffer as not a "label" or a series of adjectives, but rather as a person just trying to navigate their own journey, and asking that it's respected - boundaries, needs and all. Let's hope one day, it doesn't seem like that is a big thing to ask for.

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Pix-E-Dust Digital

Mental health advocate, game designer in training, cosplayer, pink-haired pixie and iced coffee enthusiast.

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