A Deafening Silence

By Nicola Anne

I am currently sitting on my hospital bed, listening to the sounds of my neighbour have a dangerously heated argument. I could not tell you who she is arguing with. I have not seen them. To me, they are not real.

I can only begin to imagine how completely frightening it would be, for this monster inside my head, to make a full blown debut onto a three dimensional screen that only I can see. For Him to be, for all intents and purposes, real.

This got me thinking… this ‘invisible’ illness… how invisible is it?

I think there is often a huge pressure placed on people with so called, ‘silent illnesses’ to prove how sick they are. But the more I look around, the more I realise that, whilst these illnesses are ‘mental health’ related; they, too, just like any other illness have obvious and often debilitating physical symptoms. It could be argued that the most ‘silent’ factor is, in fact, society.

“It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.” – Glenn Close

I have certainly noticed a divide in the treatment team during my admission. Whilst some health care professionals are supportive, empathetic, inclusive, and respectful, there are those who are quite openly dismissive, punitive, and patronising. As if, somehow having a chemical imbalance in your brain, automatically equates to you being some sort of simpleton.

I saw a wonderful quote by Lonely Lotus the other day, that read, “if mental illness could be seen on a sufferer, maybe society wouldn’t just say ‘get over it’”. However, I would challenge this quote after what I have seen, and after what I have been through on my own journey. This illness can be seen on the sufferer. I have scars; scars that have nearly killed me. I have rashes, nausea, weight loss, insomnia, cold sweats, blood noses, and bruises. I lose consciousness regularly.

If you can look at me, and draw the conclusion that I am well; then I fear that it is either you, who are a smidge ‘simple’, or a quick trip to Specsavers may be in order.

Yet, on so many levels, this illness is not taken seriously. Don’t get me wrong; since my admission I have had the absolute privilege of being looked after by some absolutely stellar nurses, lovely support staff, and an amazing psychiatric/therapy team. But there are also definitely those who clearly either do not fully understand mental health, fail to have/show the appropriate empathy, or are just outright condescending to patients.

The maintenance, or lack of, in the unit also sends an undercurrent message that our illness isn’t a priority on any level. You can walk into most of the bedrooms and literally see the pain that has lived in there. From the scratches across mirrors, where people have attempted to erase their own reflections, to the scraping at walls, where people have tried to claw their way out of their own skin. It is, in all honesty, enough to make someone depressed in some senses of the word.

We are not ‘crazy’. We are sick. And we are not our illness. I have played cards with the most beautiful girl, with the most awful rope burns around her neck. I eat dinner, and make jokes, and laugh with ladies that have bandages covering both wrists. I have watched a patient with hallucinations, create the most incredible artwork. And anyone who knows me, knows I love a good debate; and that guy with the uncontrollable anxiety? He knows how to hold his own in an argument.

We are fighting illnesses. Just like every other patient, on every other ward. Our illnesses are visible. You just have to take a second to look. And on that note, I have to say I agree with this twitter user;

“I don’t think suicidal people get enough credit for not acting on their suicidal thoughts. This is for all of you who have survived the urge to end your life, either coming out the other side, or still fighting to stay alive. I have noticed that when someone has a physical illness, such as cancer, and they come out the other side or into remission, they are able to celebrate surviving. I think the survivors of being suicidal should celebrate too.”

It is not, in my opinion, about making a choice. It is not about the sufferer being ‘selfish’ if they don’t win that fight. It is about battling an illness… and losing. Just like any other death, from any other illness. Sad; yes. Absolutely. Gut wrenching. And I would not wish the pain of losing a family member to any illness, on anyone.

I think what I have learnt over the past two months in particular, after meeting so many incredible people, is best articulated by John F. Greden M. D;

“We need so much more openness, transparency and understanding that it’s OK to talk about depression as an illness. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a moral shortcoming. It’s not something people brought on themselves.”

So, to all of you fighting – you’re illness is not you. And to those of you surviving – I will crack open a celebratory Ensure Plus in your honour.

Reproduced with permission, originally posted here

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