Hello Mental Illness

Part of me doesn’t want to post this. Shame can be a powerful aspect to mental illness but I have found reading about other people’s experiences so meaningful I feel compelled to share my own.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. Or SAD for short.

I had never heard of the condition until this year but it is one of the most common anxiety disorders. I have struggled with depressive episodes and anxiety since my teens but have never been able to quite put a finger on what the problem was. I have had a persistent sense that I could not function in the world in a ‘normal’ way – ordinary day to day activities could be anything from a strain to so stressful they were to be avoided. I put it down to ‘that’s just the way I am’.

During the last year or so I found I was becoming increasingly irritable, angry and withdrawn from my family. Suicidal ideation was starting to creep into my thinking. I asked myself why, when I am in my mid-forties, am I not getting any better at this ‘life’ game?

Back in the spring, while wrestling with this question, I had what I refer to as my Oh Shit Moment. I came across an article about Social Anxiety Disorder. I couldn’t quite believe it – here was a description of what I experienced in a nutshell. The anxious and negative thoughts, cognitive impairment and physical symptoms associated with the illness are only too familiar to me. In turn all of this leads to the previously mentioned depressive episodes. I was both devastated and relieved in equal measure. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, it enabled me to make sense of my life.

It took some weeks to start to get my head around this knowledge and then pluck up the courage to go and see my doctor. A useful discussion with him and later, a lengthy assessment with a therapist confirmed the diagnosis.

It has taken months to start to come to some sort of acceptance. I know recovery will likely be a slow process. But I am glad I know what’s going on in my head. The symptoms are all still there, but viewed through the lens of the diagnosis their impact is diminished. Right now I am taking medication, not long enough to decide if it is making a difference. My doctor tells me I also have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I am on a waiting list for a CBT course. My family are being very supportive. I am reading around the subject of mental health as much as I can.

This post only scratches the surface – there has been so much to learn, take in and think about. The nature of identity, labels, the mental health/illness continuum, stigma. I think writing will help and I hope to further explore some of these thoughts.

Stephen James

Minding the gaps

© Stephen James 2021

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