Sometimes the hardest thing in life is just being happy. We’re talking the real kind of happy, not the forced smile in a selfie on Instagram or the carefree demeanour you fake among friends. Being happy may be hard but being happy is accepted. What isn’t? Acknowledging that not being happy is okay, too.
Mental health affects the way we think, feel and act and while it may be at the forefront of our overall quality of life, it is still talked about in hushed tones in the quiet confines of doctors’ offices – if even that. But how do we combat this and help de-stigmatise something that affects one in four people worldwide?
This is a question Thabile Mpe asked herself when she first realised that she was suffering from mental-health issues. Thabile braved society’s warped attitude towards mental health and took to Twitter to document her psychiatric treatment in an effort to create a shift in conversations around the fundamentally taboo subject. Here, she shares her experiences in acknowledging her own struggles with mental health and finally accepting that it’s okay to not be okay.
I’ve known for years that I was sad
‘The thing with depression, is that you can learn how to function with it. My “okay” ended up being the state where I was sad, but not enough to keep me from getting up in the morning. My anxiety problem was never new to me and my relationship with my mental health was weird in the sense that I could always identify it. In matric I realised that my anxiety often physically manifests itself in my back, stomach and general health. Having the runs before an exam made complete sense. Feeling flu-ish and having colds made sense when I was stressing over something.’
What are your physical manifestations of anxiety? Mine are:
• a runny tummy
• flu-like symptoms
• back problems
— Mental Wealth™ ZA (@MentalWealthZA) September 26, 2017
I got tired of being strong
‘Last year, when I was sick for two months straight, when my body had given up on me, in spite of all that I had to do, I knew my mind had had enough. It was now tired of functioning while subconsciously being wrought with sadness. I was over this thing going as far as affecting different aspects of my life, including my studies.’
The Internet became therapeutic
‘The Internet can be a terrible, toxic place because it gives human beings access to a great number of people through relative anonymity. My little part of the Internet is not that. My followers were incredibly supportive throughout my treatment. When I was in a clinic they would send love and some even came to see me. That was and still is therapeutic for me.
‘For others? It was an eye-opener – and a chance to come out about their own struggle with mental illness. Sometimes openly; sometimes in my DMs and e-mails. It serves its intended purpose.’
When I’m having a bad day…
‘I call my mom and I try to do things that I enjoy. That gives me a healthy escape. Right now, I find my escape in watching cartoons for adults. It used to be reading. It’s often the smallest things that offer the greatest comfort. That’s my tip for others who might be feeling overwhelmed by not being okay. Talk to people whose mere presence makes everything better. Do things you like. Take a long, hot bath at the end of the day. Watch your favourite TV show. Go for a run if that’s your thing. It’s the little things. They can make all the difference.’
What are your healthy escape mechanisms?
Mine are rude cartoons/series, reading and music. The gym when the discipline decides to visit.
— Mental Wealth™ ZA (@MentalWealthZA) September 11, 2017
Helping others who suffer from mental-health issues
‘To best summarise: listen, validate and affirm. A lot of the time they just need someone who will listen. Tell them they’re not unreasonable for feeling whatever negative feeling they’re feeling, because they usually aren’t. Tell them they deserve to be okay. I’ve spent the past eight months listening to people vent to me and not once was the person being dramatic. Or being a baby. Or whatever other insensitive thing people say in order to invalidate mental-health issues. Their feelings were 100% valid.’
There are many different conditions that are recognised as mental illnesses. The more common types include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Eating disorders
- Impulse control and addiction disorders
- Personality disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Need to get help?
Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline
0800 708 090
0800 554 433
Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit (24-hour)
0861 435 787
Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Helpline (24-hour)
0800 121 314
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837
SADAG Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567