Since the age of 16, I've suffered from depression. Now those that have known me since then might be a bit surprised, and if so, that's understandable.

That's the clever thing about mental illness: it's invisible. You can't usually see it unless it's starting to take a toll. And a lot of people mistake it for rudeness, weakness, being weird or strange, being unsociable, being annoying or irritable...basically it puts people in a bad light. But as soon as you understand it, or at least understand that somebody might be going through something, I really hope opinions change.

My experience with mental illness has been up and down. I've had some very, very low periods where I can't even begin to explain how low, devoid of energy and apathetic I was; but on the other hand, sometimes I've felt absolutely fine - happy, energetic, and how people assume I am.

I find it interesting talking about mental illness - I myself, no longer feel ashamed for the 'labels' I might have: depressive, anxious person, weird, etc...the list goes on. I don't feel bad for myself anymore - I'm proud of how far I've come from where I was, so much so that I feel like a completely different person. However, it does sometimes feel hard to talk about it - not that I don't want to, but I can't necessarily tell how I'll be judged or if I will be at all. I've had mixed reactions when I've told people I suffer from mental illness - some completely unfazed, some who felt relieved because they'd been going through a similar thing, and some who definitely judged me and saw me in a different way. And if that happens, this is what I think:

I did not choose to have a mental illness, but others have chosen to judge me. 
That says more about them than about me. 
That's their problem, not mine.

It's certainly not been easy, and since I've grown older, I've learnt a lot more about myself - how I react to certain things, what feels comfortable to me, and what I can manage. I'm not so hard on myself anymore, and I really don't feel so negative as I used to. Easier said than done. And if you're reading this, and you're struggling at the moment, you'll know what I mean.

There are some positives though. We are lucky to be alive at a time where people are beginning to speak more and more about mental illness - raising awareness, promoting education and attempting to break the stigma. It's so so important, and I feel very grateful to be brought up at a time when things are changing, and more people are being brave enough to speak out about their experiences. Because, at the end of the day, everybody is going through something. Maybe not now, but at some point in our lives, we struggle, and that's part of being human, because nobody's perfect. 

As a result of all of this, there's so much more that can be done for those with mental illness than ever before; new medications, therapy, support groups, etc. are all invaluable and remind us we are not alone. We have a choice to get better and accept help. Your treatment is completely up to you, and what you feel comfortable with. It can be hard to get help, because in the past, 'getting help', 'therapy' and 'medication' have all been associated with being ill, and 'bad' and 'strange' and sometimes, 'dangerous'. It's. Not. True. 

If you are struggling, you are not a bad person. 
If you take medication, you are not a bad person. 
If you receive therapy, you are not a bad person. 
If you suffer from mental illness, you are not a bad person.

You are aware and choosing to look after yourself, and that is a really amazing thing. And if you're not comfortable with getting help yet, that's ok too; go at your own pace, and take your time, but remember you are worth looking after, don't let it take you down. It took me a long time to feel brave enough to go to the doctor, but when I did, it was like a huge sigh of relief: finally I had an explanation, and I was on the way to recovery.

I spent years beating myself up for the smallest things that didn't matter to anyone else but me; I turned everything against myself because in my mind, it was my fault, every time. I felt I wasn't worth anything, and I couldn't get out of that mindset, no matter how many people told me otherwise. I turned to dangerous coping methods to feel better, which only made me feel worse. I dealt with unbreathable anxiety attacks on top of crippling insecurity. 

But, I'm still here, and for the better.

I can't tell you how I got better, except that I got help when I needed it, and I fought to keep going. It's different for everybody, and there are still some days when I struggle a bit more, but I'm happy and healthy for the most part, and things are on the up. It's even made me look more positively on mental illness: without it, I wouldn't have learnt the importance of empathy, of understanding, of giving everybody a second chance, of respecting and being sensitive to peoples' feelings. These are all qualities that I really like about myself, and without suffering from depression, I don't know that I would've realised that in the same way. It's taught me to take each day on its own, to not worry too much about everything, and to not let others project their insecurities onto me to take me down with them. I understand now, that some of those who may have come across as judgemental at first may just have struggled themselves to understand.

I kept reasonably quiet about my diagnosis for several reasons. I knew people around me already judged me for my behaviour, so telling them I had a mental illness felt impossible, in case they judged me further. I was ashamed that I couldn't be 'normal' and cope like everyone else could. I hated my illness, and I hated not only having depression but anxiety too. I hated myself for who I was and I couldn't bear the idea of others maybe confirming what I already felt about myself. But eventually, when I did open up to a select few, I was able to understand them, and they were able to understand me. For some, they then felt comfortable to open up to me, too, which meant a lot. I realised that those who judged weren't worth my time, and that some of those who I thought were fine were also struggling too. It's helped me to become a lot closer to people - some after a long time, some straight away, and I'm really thankful for that.

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I really hope anyone who reads this who is struggling feels they are not alone, because they're really not. I hope it's helped in some way, shape or form, and I'm happy to answer any questions if anyone has any - like I said, it's not a shameful subject anymore! 3 years ago, I didn't want to exist anymore; 3 years later, I'm so bloomin' glad I kept going.