I Guess I Am Two People--Right?
WRITTEN BY DA Blogger, Samantha Ferguson
I'm sure most of you will agree that when it comes to having a mental illness, we are essentially living our lives as two split people rather than a whole:
Sam: the social worker; the girlfriend; the daughter; a carer. I’m recognized for the role I play and the people that I support. I work full time, I am in a long-term relationship, I am living with my parents, and I am a carer for my aunt, grandparents and mother.
I refer to my anxious personality as Sammy. It's important to recognise that on my bad days, Sammy has organised a shift swap with Sam without giving me any warning. You just have to accept that today you don’t feel great and try and manage as best you can. I am still getting to know Sammy and everything that makes Sammy struggle. I know this will take a while.
Sammy often likes to spend time in bed, curled up, drinking tea and cuddling cats. Whereas, Sam gets up every morning to practice as a social worker. Sam appears 'normal' and Sammy just appears 'lazy'.
My family would consider me to be Sam and a stranger. They don’t see ‘Samantha’. They feel that the stranger in me is created by the drugs I am taking. A stranger that is not in line with the upbringing and future they crafted for me. My family considers that I choose to be a stranger; when that is further from the truth. I am not a stranger. I am just sometimes quite simply Sammy and not Sam.
My partner would consider me to be Samantha. He sees me as a whole person; the person I want to be. He is the light at the end of the tunnel that should be given to everyone in society. He may not always understand Sammy, but he sure as hell is there to support both Sam and Sammy to be Samantha.
And yes, on paper, society does view me a stranger and to be someone with a lot of NEEDS and NO personality or characteristics. The media would probably have a 'day out' framing me as an incapable social worker; despite the fact that I am heavily supported and appear to be progressing in my role. But if people met me, out in the community, as Sam, they would probably question what the hell health professionals are on about. That I am perfectly normal. Whatever that is...
Can you relate?
Prior to significant life events and my eventual diagnosis, I had a large group of friends at school. I was a networker, confident in myself; a very girly girl. I suffered a death by suicide, many instances of bullying, took on a caring role and was exposed to changing family dynamics. It wasn't until December last year that I was diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder. I spent a lot of time on my own and now my biggest fear is ending up alone. Inside, I still believe that I am the Samantha from before, but that I am currently looking through a pane of glass and unable to reach those elements of myself that seem so jumbled up. That doesn't mean they are gone for good or that I want to change and move on. I just cannot physically activate that side of my personality at this time. That's the illness.
"I am a person, with my own struggles; with goals, ambitions and wishes; Samantha."
I know that most of the time I don't really understand myself and how irrational fear has the potential to take over each hour and day of my life. To me, each encounter with anxiety disorder feels very much real. But I know that I shouldn't accept people viewing my illness as a 'mask' of my identity and as if anxiety is all that I am. I am a person, with my own struggles; with goals, ambitions and wishes; Samantha.
In the future, I could gain a new next door neighbour (let's just call him Pete for now). Pete could be physically disabled and has been for much of his life. Pete may go to the pub on a weekly basis and hold down a part time job. Pete may have lots and lots of friends. We would understand Pete as a person behind his diagnosis. But would Pete understand me? Or would he, like so many in society, wonder what I have to complain about? Would he argue that my illness is a choice? That thought scares me.
That's why I have always avoided talking about it. That's why I have taken almost ten years to engage with services and want support. That's why I have only just felt comfortable talking to my partner about it and trying to explain without thinking 'oh he just won't get it'. That's why I decided to disclose to my family a few months back. I cannot possibly practice as a social worker if I am ashamed of my illness; one that I support people with almost every week. I guess deep down I have just felt that society has always thrown a blanket over people and ignored the fact that your struggles can be as painful and as debilitating as any other serious medical condition. I felt left behind and lost within the system.
Going to work is the only part of my daily routine that stops me from analysing myself, hating myself, doubting myself, and getting caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. Don't get me wrong, each day is a complete and utter challenge. Each day is as exhausting as the next. But, I get there--in my own unique way. I'm not afraid anymore.
2015 seems to be the year so far that people are talking about mental health. Sure, it's not enough but it is a start. I am proud of Sam, Sammy and Samantha. Samantha does not want to get out of bed in the mornings but she still gets to work. Sam, Sammy and Samantha go to work with a real fire and passion inside them. Samantha is more than just Sam, and more than just Sammy. Samantha is a person with a future despite her illness.
I'm going to continue to blog for Depression Army and explore the person behind the diagnosis. I'll share with you some of my most personal occasions where mental health has affected but not won. We'll talk dates, interviews, fitness classes, counseling, cuddling cats; you name it.
No matter how illness interplays with our lives we are still valuable human beings with goals like any other. They may be little goals, like getting up in the morning. But for all of us, that is an achievement as big as any other.