Why Should I Be Silent?
Advisory Panel member Claire tells her story:
I’ve had a mental illness for a very long time but it’s only in recent years that I’ve started being so open about my illness and the experiences that have come along with it. Yet even now I find myself whispering words like ‘sectioned’ when I’m speaking about my mental illness in a public place.
It used to feel like my entire life was one big secret and that was so isolating. I’d wear long sleeves to cover the scars, baggy clothes to hide my anorexia and a smile to conceal depression. I’d be smiling and laughing but inside I was dying. My mind had fallen into this deep dark hole and I couldn’t get back out. I wanted help and I wanted to feel better but I didn’t think I could talk about it because that would make me an ‘attention seeker’ or people would tell me to just be happy and for a long time that silenced me until I realised that actually that was the exact reason I shouldn’t be silent.
Education is so important when it comes to mental health. I realised I had physical health when I was a small child and yet I didn’t realise I had mental health until I was a teenager. I wish I could go back in time and talk to my 12 year old self because I thought I was weak, I thought I was weird but actually I was poorly. Crying was seen as a sign of weakness but I was getting out of bed and getting dressed and going to school every day with depression and anorexia, I now see that as strength. I wanted to die and yet I fought my hardest to carry on with my life. I want to use what I’ve gone through to educate other people about mental illness.
After I left school my life became far from normal, I have very few qualifications and I’ve only had a couple of short-term jobs and I’m sure that probably disappoints many people but actually I’m alive and since leaving school I have been in and out of psychiatric wards and sectioned under the mental health act. I honestly didn’t expect to still be alive at 23, so I’m pretty happy with that achievement.
I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and maybe I don’t have a degree or even A levels but I have spent many years in the mental health system and I think that it happened to me so that I can use my experiences to help others. Along with my voice and my love for words, I am using my mental illness to stamp out stigma, raise awareness and offer hope to other people who may be suffering.
I decided to get involved with YWT because my mental illness has left me at a disadvantage in terms of education and employment and I think it’s really important to speak about that and give people a real feel as to what it is like to be a young woman with a mental illness in today’s society.