The power of vulnerability
My mental health is something I have never really thought about discussing on the internet.
Not because I'm ashamed of it, but because for most of my teenage years, my mental health was the elephant in the room, the big black dog lurking in the corner, and it was far too easy to fall into that stigma of ‘hush’ ‘hush’.
Don't talk about it.
But when I started the long road of recovery I promised myself I wouldn’t let my mental health define me anymore. And it doesn't. Nor does it lurk, unspoken about.
By writing about my experience, I hope to help others know that talking about mental health is a vital part of supporting one another.
I have learnt that allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be a blessing, rather than the curse we can feel under when suffering in silence.
Of course, everyone who has experienced mental health problems has a completely individual perspective; this is mine…
I first started realising something wasn't right when I was 14, yet it took me three years - after a particularly bad night - to finally admit to someone that I was not okay and needed professional help. The numbness I was feeling, the isolation and inability to be content with my body and food were not just ‘hormones’ or puberty.
I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. At one point, my friends thought I had dropped out of Sixth Form, and I replied with the vague excuse of ‘illness’ as the reason I had been missing so much. I felt like it was a more legitimate reason than being unable to make it into class because I couldn’t face being around more than 4 people at a time without imploding.
Letting myself become vulnerable was terrifying, exposing myself for everything I am, scars and all. Opening up about my true feelings, emotions and struggles was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Illness is consuming; recovery is hard. I felt as though I was burdening other people if I talked about it, and that I was in the wrong. But my friends and family were relieved to feel that I could talk to them, and then they could talk to me about their own mental health.
That was when I realised that I was not alone.
Starting the conversation then began a network of support.
Now, at 21, I am eternally grateful for the support I have received from friends and family, as well as the NHS and support groups. As cheesy as it sounds, I really wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t finally discovered that sharing can really be caring. We live in our own personal (sometimes closed-off) bubbles. And with the rise of social media it has become especially easy to assume that the grass is always greener for others - and in turn that others won’t be able to understand or support us. But that can change.
Vulnerability is still something I occasionally struggle with. At times - even though I have stopped needing daily professional help - it can be tricky to admit to others when I feel low or unable to do day-to-day tasks.
But I have no regrets in laying myself bare, because it reminds me of the empathy and humanity we are capable of, when given the chance. And it really helped me to deal with my mental health a lot better.
- Jennifer Bell