Living with Mental Illness: what you might not know

Young woman with headphones around neck

In the spirit of “Sharing the Journey” for Mental Health Month, headspace youth ambassador Chelsea has shares her journey with mental illness…

When I was 13 years old and undiagnosed, I kept thinking it was ‘just a bad day’.

But those bad days were rapidly turning into bad weeks over and over again. It took a month of feeling this way to truly realise that it wasn’t ‘just a bad day’: that I could barely remember a time I didn’t feel as if a heavy smog of worry wasn’t weighing on my every moment.

I couldn’t understand what was happening and like many other confused teenagers struggling with mental health, my first step was jumping online and looking up some resources.

Since then, I have been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

There is something that cannot be said enough about mental illness: it is a journey and a diagnosis doesn’t fix everything…

Diagnosis answers the “what is happening to me?” question, but that is only a starting point. Before a close friend helped me to reach out and get professional help, I tried to deal with things on my own. During that time, the panic, stress and depression caused by my anxiety stopped me from living my life in a way that was meaningful and enjoyable. I lost contact with a lot of people around me and closed myself off. After I got support, my life started to seem whole again, and I was able to build up relationships with those around me again. My diagnosis was only the start of claiming back my life.

This journey isn’t a clear, straight path…

Some days the struggle drains me physically and emotionally. When anxiety is heightened, your brain is constantly running on high speed, but the body also plays into this. For me, this often means shaky hands, feeling sick, overheating, fidgeting, increased heart rate and sometimes becoming so overwhelmed I can’t help but cry. Even then, as I’m shaking or crying, the frustration sets in. Logically, I understand there is nothing to be anxious about, but in the moment it seems impossible to manage the emotions. It can be so alienating when you feel like you’ve got no control.

While there are definitely generalised signs and symptoms, it affects different people in different ways…

There is such an ingrained image that society has about how someone with mental illness should look or act and it definitely impacts how sufferers can be treated. I have anxiety. I also am a very loud and talkative person. Somehow people seem to think that I can’t be both. They can be quite dismissive and shocked and while they don’t mean to offend, it’s hard to have someone doubt you when you’ve trusted them enough to disclose something so personal. On most days, I am just as able as others to complete tasks, work, study, or care for others, as anyone else. That doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling with my anxiety even as I succeed.

My message for others experiencing mental illness…

Remember you don’t have to go it alone. Speak up and accept help. It is without a doubt one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life, but the best thing I have ever done. I promise there is always someone willing to listen. It can definitely be hard opening up to others about how you’re feeling, especially when mental illness can often be confusing and difficult to explain, but sometimes just being able to share your story with others can be comforting in its own right.

If you’re suffering from any mental illness right now, I can’t express how highly I think of you for every little thing you do in your life. I know how hard it can be to even make it out of bed some days, let alone continue education, work or family responsibilities. If there is one thing that is more important than anything, it is to be kind to yourself, and to celebrate even the smallest of victories. Even if it is just leaving the house for an hour or two, having a shower, going to school or in fact, anything that takes you out of your comfort zone. These smaller goals lead to big achievements and it’s important to recognise that.

Samaritans runs numerous mental health services and is the organisation that auspices youth mental health service, headspace Maitland.
 Important note: Samaritans is NOT a crisis service; if you need assistance immediately please call 000 Emergency or Lifeline on 13 11 14.