Dignity in Mental Health

How indeed do we keep our dignity while suffering a mental illness?
As a 48 year old woman who suffers from depression, I’m speaking from my own experience but I can imagine it can be somewhat like this for others too.
Depression for me began when I hit puberty, at about ten years of age. Ok, so I had a parent that was angry and aggressive due to his alcohol issue and his behaviour made me afraid. I didn’t know how to deal with this fear as a child, so I hid it for the most part. I was able to go about my duties as a child with my friends and appear normal. I did cry when there were difficult times at home and I did wish I was dead by the time I was 14, and I even contemplated taking my own life then to escape the fear.
But nobody knew I was depressed, not even me. I was able to get on with things. I appeared to be a normal, happy, boisterous, teenager on the outside. I looked normal (albeit an ugly duck). I didn’t look depressed. I was young. My face hadn’t learned to be haggard with depression at that point in my life.
My behaviour changed dramatically after I had my first child at 22 when I was either crying inconsolably or extremely angry. I suspected I could be depressed but couldn’t see that any of these emotions were related to depression. I just thought I was a horrible person. My doctor encouraged me down the road of self help, rather than medication at the time and it was the right thing to do, as I needed to learn about myself.
I worked really well in the self help program and I definitely improved. I was a very busy young woman at that time with working full time, but I seemed to be managing.
 When I had my second child six years later at age 28, I again went into a depression. It was fear based. I was irrational. I spoke about a trip away to Majorca in 1996 with my husband in my book (My Beautiful Flower) without the kids, where I was convinced Saddam Hussein was going to blow up Ireland while I was gone. I still remember the two kind Scottish ladies faces when I told them, while I was waiting anxiously for the news. They must have thought I was mad!
I was full of fear. But once I was home safely in Ireland, I was able to perform again and appear to be normal to the outside world. I knew I was struggling with something inside me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
From the age of 34. I began to be less and less able to control or hide my outbursts. I found everything difficult; The workplace, my relationship with my husband and my relationships with my kids. By the time my last child came along 11 years ago, I was 38 and I knew I was suffering with depression. I couldn’t function and I now had a huge hatred for myself and my face was beginning to tell the tale. I was haggard looking. I also felt physically ill and I had no interest in my appearance. Because I was aware of all this, I didn’t want to see anybody, nor talk to anybody. I couldn’t even face the doctor at my worst. I had to wait till my emotions recovered a bit. No matter how mentally ill I was, I couldn’t go to the doctor looking and acting the way I did. (This is important because the doctor is not getting a real record of your illness, because of your infrequent visits!)
This is more common than you would imagine. The last thing any person wants to be seen as, is some mad women sobbing out of control and looking a wreck and having to sit and wait in a waiting room exposed to all.
 This is the reason why doctors don’t diagnose depression correctly. They misread the patient. If the patient looks presentable, it must mean they are well enough. They don’t listen to the patient. They are unsympathetic to the patient. They send them home with, ‘Ah you’re grand’ attitude. That’s why sometimes patients may go and take their own life. They feel there is no help. They hate themselves. There is no escape.
I think the worst thing for us sufferers of Depression is that your personality is exposed or the very worst side of it is exposed. Despite your mental illness, you still feel embarrassment and shame. You dislike yourself. And because of the sensitivity of the nature of your illness, you’re easily put off from getting help by insensitive administrators, nurses and doctors. You also have to divulge innermost thoughts to the Doctor in order to get proper help and most of us don’t want to do that or can’t.
 Hospital staff’s insensitive behaviour towards me only confirmed my feelings of unworthy-ness to myself by treating me with no dignity. I was an unworthy person. I hated myself.
My experience of these nurses and doctors would prevent me from going there for future help. And that is the pity. That will just give you an idea of how many people could be in my position……
Amazingly enough I found the ambulance men, during my spell of panic attacks, more understanding and knowledgable, so I must commend them.
I, like many others was prescribed medication, which I’m still on, but for me, it helped clear the clouds. It didn’t have any nasty side effects, so it suited me. But I also had a lot of work to do on myself. I had to find my way out of the clouds completely.
 I had to figure me out. I asked God for help.
I did get fantastic guidelines from one very good therapist, Linda Keen from the UK, who was in Ireland for a few years, but inevitably, I was going to have to help myself. I looked at my personality and I could see where I was letting myself down. I had to start being good to me, respect me, accept me.
I apologized to my family for the way I behaved while I was depressed and I worked hard on changing. I changed. I didn’t go back to that person.
I began to practice positive thinking and gratitude. I focused on myself and released my mind from negative resentments. This really started to turn my life around. I took fresh air walks everyday and I truly felt God’s guidance. I ate well and slept well.
I began to fell happy. Secure. Confidence in myself.
 I am also conscious of treating people with compassion, respect and dignity.
 Because I know for a fact, that it would make a huge difference to people in pain.

Jean xx

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