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Mon 17 January 2022

Working in Mental Health with My Own Diagnosis

I work in mental health support, I have a mental illness but I am not a peer worker.

If fact, I am actually too afraid to tell anyone. I do wonder if a few people might suspect this but I have never directly confirmed anything. I try to use my lived experience as an ability to relate to our clients, to help me do a good job and I am sure it does, but part of me still feels like a fraud.

I wish our clients knew how brave they were for not living in the shadows afraid of stigma, but also for owning their situation and not letting anyone else define them. I am proud of them for seeking help and for being able to be trusting and vulnerable with strangers who are paid to help them and for being committed to their recovery journey. I often say these things to our clients and my colleagues but I think they are often received as off handed comments made in passing. I am sure they don’t hold the same weight as they might if they knew they were from someone who is genuinely admiring them, too afraid to live life with the same honesty, integrity and fearless commitment to their health and wellbeing as they do.

It infuriates me that stigma still exists and even more so that I am a part of that. I have other health issues and they are considered ‘normal’ and run of the mill that can easily be compartmentalised. But my biggest fear is that if people knew I had a mental illness, then my emotions would never just be mine, or just be a personal reaction or response. I genuinely fear that people would just think “oh is she unwell” and every reaction is overlooked and scrutinised. I also appreciate I am in a privileged position where I can choose if people know I have a mental illness or not, I know that not everyone gets this option and often the choice is taken from them due to the nature of the treatment.

I am devastated that I can’t be part of the solution and that I can’t stand up and lead the way with my peers, that having a mental health diagnosis is no different to having a physical one. What my rational brain knows to be true needs to align with my fearful emotional brain.

What has become clear to me from anonymously sharing my worries and concerns out loud, is that at the moment I am the only one in my way. How can I expect others to not judge me until I figure out how to not judge myself? I need to work out how to be kind to myself and accepting of my whole self.  I am better than I was yesterday and tomorrow is a new day to try again.