"As it's Mental Health Awareness week I thought I would share my story. About 14 years ago after having been on antidepressants a few times I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression as it used to be known. In the media it has sometimes been portrayed in a very negative light - who could forget Britney Spears trying to hit the paparazzi with an umbrella during her meltdown? But that was not an accurate picture of what it is really like to live with mental illness. "
"In my own experience I have never even attempted to attack someone with an umbrella (it's ok, you can laugh). My experience of mental illness has been that sometimes everything I see is in beautiful technicolour and other times everything is so dark and gloomy that it seems life is being drained out of me. Other times anxiety takes hold and I'm like a deer caught in the headlights, almost paralysed by fear of what's coming. Fortunately, most of the time though I feel completely normal.
When I was first diagnosed I was scared of what people would think if they found out, would anyone even get near me? Want to get to know me? What's going to happen to me? Will I have to be on medication all of my life? But over time my opinion changed. It's always been a bit of a taboo subject in Gibraltar when in fact there are so many people who are mentally ill. I have always thought that it is best to let those around me know so that they can understand me better and know that I am just ill.
Being mentally ill does not mean that I want to take my own life, that I am dangerous or crazy and definitely not that I should be feared. I like to think that those who are mentally ill and are lucky enough, like me, to have some sort of awareness of what they are dealing with are just like everyone else. We strive to have an absolutely normal life. We just have to try a little harder, take some extra care of ourselves and, more importantly, know when to surrender. We can try and achieve what our peers have achieved but never at the cost of our mental health, it is okay to simply stop, heal and take things slow.
It is important to remember that there is help available and there is no need to suffer in silence. Through the years I have learned that the first and possibly the hardest thing to do is admit to yourself that you have a problem. Do not be scared to approach your GP who will be able to give you some advice and refer you to the Community Mental Health Team at Coaling Island. I have always found them to be very helpful and approachable. There is a phrase I recently heard which is typically used to refer to addiction being used to describe what it is like to deal with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, “riding the tiger”. Riding the tiger means that the only place where you cannot be eaten by a tiger is when you are riding it - but of course it is not easy to stay on the tiger. In my experience I have found that medication is not the only approach to feel better when suffering with mental illness, the best approach is a combination of medication together with counselling, cognitive therapy and meditation. Meditation and especially Mindfulness helps to bring you back to the present moment and has helped to remind me that whether low or high, every storm passes and things will eventually return to normal.
Mental illness can strike anyone. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The last thing a person needs is judgement, or be wrapped in cotton wool. They only want someone to be there and walk alongside them.
Just be there."
This is the personal story of Robert Borge, who spoke about his illness on Social Media just 2 days ago. Like many others openly sharing such private and personal struggles, Robert’s decision to put himself out there in the interest of education and awareness deserves commendation, especially in such a small community as ours. If you, or anyone you know, feels they need help, make sure you seek medical advice. You are not alone, and help is available.