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You Are Not Your Illness

7 May 17 words: Ben

Ben is an Artist, Musician and Small Business Owner. He also lives with Clinical Depression. We caught up with him in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week to talk about his own experience with mental health, in the hopes that it will encourage others to open up themselves.  

My clinical psychologists and I traced my illness back to when I was around ten. I suffered relentless night terrors and was self-harming. This wasn’t diagnosed professionally until I had my first breakdown aged eighteen. I was nearly hospitalized/sectioned, and the process of treatment began as I was suicidal. This was the first time I talked about it or even began to understand what was happening to me. This was also the first time I was made aware of the word ‘depression’ as an illness, not just a low mood. I remember thinking if this is just depression, what is madness? I thought they had got my diagnoses wrong, as depression didn’t sound right when considering the symptoms I was going through. I was shocked I had depression. I still believe the word and its symptoms are not fully understood by society.

I was lucky enough to find forward-thinking doctors through my local GP, parents and NHS, who were at the cutting edge of the relatively new use of SSRI's in combination with CBT. This, combined with other drugs, tranquillisers and lithium, helped deal with the major episodes. It was suggested I would need to be on a combination of medication all my life. After fifteen years, I made the huge decision to try and come off all medication as the side effects and repeated breakdowns proved to me I should try something else.
  
Six years ago, I very slowly came off a cocktail of drugs that I had become reliant on. It wasn’t an easy decision as I knew exactly how ill I could get but I wanted to see who I was after so long. I felt I was missing a huge part of me. Doing this was greatly helped by a mixture of yoga, meditation and CBT techniques. I am very grateful to anybody that helped guide me over the years.
 
CBT and medication seemed like magic to me. I was lucky to find professionals at the cutting edge of this combination treatment. Every day is a challenge, and I work very hard at it, it’s my main job in life and everything else is a bonus. Most of my life’s plans have been disrupted by my illness, but I am so grateful for the things I managed to do. To this day, I seem to see elements of CBT in many aspects of Eastern philosophy, mysticism and knowledge. I believe understanding your own mind, challenging thought patterns both high and low, and making friends with it is the most effective for me.
 
I do talk about my mental health with those around me, and ever since I was first diagnosed and asked if my case could be published and studied, I have been a strong advocate of talking and getting the message out there to advance understanding and break stigma. Reactions are normally positive and lead to amazing conversations about people’s mental health, and their friends and family. I don’t think I’ve met someone yet who has not been directly or indirectly effected by a mental health issue.
 
A few times I have kept it from employers, which has always seemed the wrong thing for somebody like me to do. I am proud of who I am and how my mind works.
 
I think there are probably still a lot of men who are, unfortunately, told by society that feeling “strange” mentally, even emotionally, should be hidden and sorted out on your own with no advice. And I do think this stigma stops men from seeking help.

More should be done to encourage both men and women to talk about their mental health. It is so personal and effects everybody differently, it is all relative and as such, all issues – large or small – should be taken very seriously. I also think that as mental health has become more open and more freely talked about in society over the years, we should be very careful about how we care for everyone’s needs, diagnosed or not. I think it’s important not to deny our human instincts and personality – i.e. being tidy, or getting worried – and too readily label being human as a condition. Being tidy might not be a diagnoses of crippling OCD. Being worried is natural and maybe not depression. Over-diagnoses and media saturation seems to be lending itself to the over prescription of drugs and the misleading thought that to have a brain is to be ill.

 
Ben’s Advice:
Time will get you back to your more balanced self. Whatever your personal symptoms might be – the tinnitus in the ears, the lethargy, fear of people, the terror, the void. All these terrible symptoms will pass. Find doctors you like and trust – you are in control. Find support from friends, family and professionals. Talk. Take your time to get better; you will. Try to balance your thoughts. Remember that you are not your thoughts or your illness, but be proud to live with it and get through it. We are all unique and mental illness is just a small part of everything that makes up a personality. There are some great wisdoms to be found through such a soul destroying illness. Time and love are very helpful in my opinion and I am in awe of anybody that gets out of bed in the morning, diagnosed with an illness or not. You are strong and magnificent. Get help, and get well soon.

Keep up with Ben's artwork on his Facebook page.

If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with your mental health, there are people that can help. You can freephone the Samaritans, any time, on 116 123.

The Samaritans website

Nottingham Insight Healthcare website

Mind website

CALM website

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