You don’t have to be alone. You do not have to deal with these feelings on your own.
For just under twenty years, this is exactly what I did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no martyr to my mental health problems - I spoke to my GP and was given anti-depressants that balanced my mood for the most part, but with the exceptions of my husband and parents, no one even knew there was anything wrong. I didn't really have any friends; and my brother and I aren't close, so he didn't even know. You see, when you are fighting depression and/or anxiety, you spend most days behind a mask of normality. To anyone who met me I was a bubbly, easy-going person who always had a smile on her face and a self-depreciating sense of humour. I became so good at hiding the way I was feeling that I think even those who knew forgot that there was anything wrong as it was never talked about.
I think my parents and husband thought I had just been “a bit down" or “down in the dumps" and I had managed to “snap out of it” or that I had “pulled myself together" They didn't understand that depression is a mental illness and it’s not something you can just snap out of. Mental illness is still a term that is surrounded by stigma; it’s a taboo subject that people don’t want to mention for fear that they will be thought of as mad, weak or dangerous – someone to pity or fear.
It wasn’t until May this year that I finally found my perfect family. I had signed up for “Miles for Mind” a running challenge to raise funds for the Mental Health charity, Mind. I had pledged to run 50 miles over the month. I dutifully joined the Facebook group where we were to post our runs and chat with others who were taking part in the challenge. Many were also fighting their own mental health demons or knew someone that was.
The sense of community was amazing. We congratulated each other on our progress and commiserated when times we’re hard. We ran more miles than we needed so that those who were struggling, would also be able to accomplish their goals and to receive their well-deserved medals. Mental health wasn’t a taboo subject here, it was accepted as the norm to chat about how you were feeling. To receive encouragement and kind words from these complete strangers, many of whom were going through the same battles, was awe-inspiring. We were a team with a singular goal; to raise as much money for Mind as possible, to help others like us.
I completed over 100 miles during the month of May, 50 miles more than I needed. It became far more important to me that those extra miles would be donated to another person who had struggled with the challenge than the satisfaction that I had smashed my own target.
We didn’t want to lose this wonderful community spirit that had developed between the “Miles for Mind” group, and luckily, one of our number set up a follow-on group, “Team Jelly Baby” so that we could continue to grow and support others. This group and these people, most of whom also completed the “Miles for Mind” challenge, are my mental health family. I now know that I won’t ever have to be alone with my demons again, my family will be there with me.
I am now even happier as it has been announced that there will be another similar challenge to raise money for Mind, and hopefully we’ll get to catch up with our friends from the “Miles for Mind" challenge.
It will be just like a family reunion, but this family is made up of people just like me.