Tasha Borkowski talks about the difficulty of living up to the role of ‘strong independent woman’ when suffering from mental health issues.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has encountered mental health problems that no one disorder likes to work alone. To the detriment of our well-being, different mental health issues are team players; if you are afflicted with one, you’re more likely to suffer from another. I myself have been stuck with these not so friendly team mates in my struggle with depression and anxiety throughout the last four years, and the ever trivialised obsessive compulsive disorder for as long as I can remember.
I have often reflected on my situation and how being a young woman has impacted the way I express myself when discussing my own mental health and I wish to provide my experiences as food for thought. I come from a family dominated by strong and opinionated women which has no doubt had a positive effect on my self-perception and confidence. This is why when I found myself facing a plethora of insecurities and a feeling of utter hopelessness and self-hatred I really struggled to grapple with what was happening. Depression: that heavily weighted word that instills feelings of awkwardness and dread in those who do not understand it and have to handle someone who is dealing with it. Coming to terms with such a label, relating to it and eventually accepting it as an accurate description of my own feelings was something that confused me. I am a feminist, I believe in the strength of women and I have always been vocal about female empowerment. I am conscious about how I present myself to others, and to suddenly find myself in a weak position lead me to feel as though I felt I was no longer the resilient person I had tried to be and had presented myself as.
Telling my friends and especially my family what was going on was admitting defeat. I found this to be particularly true when I imagined telling my mum; she has raised my sisters and I to be independent, so to feel an unexpected dependency on others made me feel small. I felt I was disempowered and had become the damsel in distress and the hysterical woman that other women have tried so fervently to erase.
That was not the only issue I was having; the longer I left my depression untreated, the more my anxiety had built up. By not telling anyone, I had made my life so much more difficult than it needed to be, all out of shame and pride. This impacted my school and university life as well as inhibited my friendships. It took me so much longer than it needed to for me to realise that my fear of how others viewed me was self-destructive.
Do women need to defend their mental health problems in order to remain respected and equal? Of course this is a similar issue for men who are not willing to confront their issues out of fear of being seen as effeminate. These are two sides of the same coin; why must gender dictate how we think about mental health? In reality, anyone can be struck with this plague, no matter how immune you think you may be. This point has been stressed by so many people but the point remains: we need to treat mental health in the same way that we treat physical health.
What I think is important is that we learn to appreciate that these issues cannot make anyone any less of a feminist. For that matter, they should not be looked at in relation to gender at all; a health issue is just that, a matter of health.
Illustration by Izzy Finlay
This piece is part of our series of Mental Health Week articles. For more information about student counselling and mental health support at the University of Bristol, please visit: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students-health/services/mental-health/