Support for Mental Illness is Vital
Lack of understanding
I had my first taste of mental ill health at the age of 17. Sadly, my bipolar disorder was not diagnosed, and so I was treated for anxiety and depression. Since nobody truly understood what was happening, it was expected that I would just carry on with my life and go into work every day as normal, and so I did.
When I sought this treatment, I was finding it hard to function. I hadn’t slept in a week, and my behaviour had become understandably erratic; my insomnia meant that there was no way that my brain was going to operate as normal. My working day would usually involve me processing all the invoices for payment and making phone calls on any queries that arose. I was efficient, churning out lots of work. However, now I would sit at my desk and not have a clue what to do with the work that was presented to me. I was throwing important invoices into the bin instead of the duplicate copies at the back. If this had not been witnessed, it could have caused serious problems when payments were not received by our suppliers. Clearly, I was no longer in control of my actions.
Thankfully, my manager was a very caring, compassionate lady, and she instantly recognised that I was not behaving like my usual self. She could also see a change in my personality, as I was normally very chatty and cheerful rather than withdrawn. She knew something must be wrong, and visited my parents to explain what was happening in the office.
My mum then accompanied me on a visit to my GP. I can just recall myself shouting in the surgery because I didn’t have a clue what was going on with me. I suppose I just wanted to feel like my old self, but I took my frustration out on the doctor.
What saddens me more than anything is that, because nobody understood my illness, I felt as though I was being ridiculed. The only word I kept using was ‘confused’, which I would say repeatedly because I was confused. I could not make sense of why my brain was so worn out and making me do the strangest of things.
What was more hurtful was that members of my family would laugh every time I said that word. I remember socialising with them one evening in the local club, and being convinced that there was a party on in the other room. For some strange reason I thought that they were organising this for me (this kind of paranoid thinking seemed to be a regular theme with my illness). When they convinced me that it wasn’t happening, I would say ‘Oh, I’m confused’ and my family would laugh. `Oh, not again,` they would say. `Here she goes again, confused’.
I was on sick leave for around five or six weeks, during which time I just remained at home, eating a lot and feeling very depressed. I did very little except watch TV. I felt that I just wanted to be with my mum, who cared for me and who was very concerned about me. I do recall coming off my anti-depressants and things improving a little.
It was then time for me to return to work, but I couldn’t believe the reaction of my colleagues. It was as though they wanted nothing to do with me because they blamed me for my behaviour when I was so poorly. I can even recall overhearing one of the older ladies in the office saying that she could never forgive me for what had happened when I was ill.
I remember that I would say I was having my lunch break at a certain time, but then change my mind. This would obviously have caused problems, but nothing too major. What I do believe had caused all the upset was that, at that time, they had been commenting on a girl in the office every time she walked out – suggesting she was lazy in her work, etc. I mentioned it to my mam, who then discussed this with the senior manager as it was really upsetting me. I can only assume that it must obviously have worked its way back to the girls, because on my return, everyone was lovely with the girl, but they were annoyed with me.
I was horrified at lunchtime when I sat in the canteen with my colleagues. We usually enjoyed a little chat together, but now it was different. They both sat in the break room, picked up books, and just sat reading in front of me. Could they not see how painful that was for me to witness? I remember sitting there that day and just wanting to burst into tears because I felt so lonely. Why could they not understand that that was not the real me, and that I had in fact been very ill?
An act of kindness
The pressure was getting overwhelming. One day, I had walked into one of the offices for some paperwork to be signed when suddenly everything just all got too much for me and I started to cry. I recall an older gentleman who worked in the office very gently putting his arm around my shoulder and asking me what was wrong – he knew that I was normally so happy and cheerful. He guided me to a chair, brought me a cup of tea, and we chatted for a while until I had calmed down. He made me feel as though I was not alone and that someone cared about me. In trying to find out why I was upset, and wanting to make me feel better, he showed me a certain understanding that nobody really had. I have never forgotten that simple act of kindness.
Show you care
All I ever wanted was for someone to try to understand what was happening to me, like that gentleman at work. I wanted acceptance. I wanted people to think `that wasn’t like Karen! Poor girl, she must be poorly`. I wanted people to know that it is just the illness, that no-one chooses to behave in an erratic manner. You must make allowances for people who are struggling; you wouldn’t expect a person who couldn’t walk to run a mile, so be just as sympathetic to the needs of the mentally ill.
My message is simple: whenever you see someone struggling, or showing signs that they are not their usual selves, do not ignore them, do not humiliate them, but show them that you care. Just ask them a question, and genuinely be there for them. Mental illness can be a sad and lonely place, and it costs nothing to show somebody that act of kindness. All it would have taken would have been my work colleague to have accompanied me on a walk, or to sit and have a coffee and a chat.
If I had been shown this care, it would have enabled me to make a faster recovery instead of setting me back.
– Karen Manton