Five years ago this month, I went to my local doctor. I had been feeling unwell for months. I had found myself unable to sleep, lacking an appetite, feeling nauseous, hating myself and unable to concentrate in college. I felt low. I was lost and hopeless. I was terrified of what was going on inside my own head.
You feel vulnerable when you have to share your innermost secret with someone else. I had kept these feelings, these symptoms, bottled up from everyone else around me. I sat in tears while I answered all of the doctor’s probing questions.
After their assessment, another doctor was called in and a second opinion was sought. I spent about 45 minutes in the doctor’s office, but it felt like forever.
Finally, I was told what was wrong with me – I had depression. I was recorded as being a suicide risk; but not imminently. An appointment with a counsellor and another with a psychiatrist were made. The doctor wrote me a prescription for medication and advised me to begin taking them as prescribed immediately.
In that hour spent in the Health Centre my life changed forever.
I was given labels that day – 'Depressed', 'Mentally Ill', 'Suicidal'. I was categorised as someone who was mentally unwell. Years later I was given another label – ‘Anxiety Disorder’.
Before that day, I didn’t have any personal experience with mental illness. It hadn’t been talked about at home, in school, or even in university. All I knew were the labels that people attach to the mentally ill.
‘Crazy’. ‘Psycho’. ‘Attention-seeking’. ‘Weak’.
During my illness, I too have been prescribed those labels. Often, I give them to myself. I question my own sanity; ‘Am I crazy?’ But what does ‘crazy’ even mean? Self-stigma is an extremely common occurrence amongst those with a mental illness. We form our opinions based on how popular culture portrays and society discusses our illness. Being given a label can change how we view ourselves, if we let it.
Five years on from my diagnosis, it's strange to look back at the exhausted, quivering shell of a person I was that day. But for me, these labels aren’t a negative thing. They make up a part of me. They are part of what has made me the person I am today. They are labels that I have tried to embrace and fully accept over the years.
But my depression and anxiety don’t define me. Being called ‘crazy’ doesn’t define me. ‘Crazy’ is just one of many labels I own that make up the person I am.
I am so much more than my mental illness. I am strong, resilient, a survivor. I am a blogger, an activist.
Like everyone else with a mental illness, I am a person first and foremost. I live with my depression and anxiety every day, and it's not always easy.
‘Depressed’ is just one of many labels you can put on me. And I won't be defined by just one.
You are so much more than your mental illness. Don’t let someone else define you with their labels. Create your own.
Zoe Alicia is a 23 year old blogger and Ambassador for See Change, the organisation seeking to change minds about mental health. She shares her mental health journey at www.ibelieveinromeo.com and on twitter (@ZoeAlicia101). See Change’s Green Ribbon campaign runs throughout the month of May. Join in the national conversation online on 20th May by using #TimetoTalk and help end the silence on mental health. 500,000 ribbons are being distributed across the county right now to promote an open conversation of mental health. For more information and to order your FREE Green Ribbons please see www.greenribbon.ie.