Julie stood on the fringe of the field and watched as an army marched towards her. Each soldier was clothed in a black hood and wielded a shadowy sword that appeared to move in the wind. It was as though the swords were living shards of night that merged into the creature that held it.

She gripped her own sword tightly and closed her eyes for a second. They hadn’t stopped advancing for a week. All she’d eaten was a slice of toast, and sleep had become a distant memory. Dark circles surrounded her eyes as mercilessly as the army surrounded her and her skin had faded to a grey as though the fighting had sucked the life from her veins.

“Go on then… Man up and get out there!”

Julie’s friend shoved her towards the army with a smirk.

“It won’t be that bad. You have to try. You’re just making a fuss.”

A helpful stranger smiled encouragingly from her other side. Both wore a look of severe and unrelenting sympathy that Julie suspected wasn’t genuine. She took a step toward the army of shadows and dropped to the floor in tears.

“I’m just exhausted from fighting all the time! I don’t think I can do it!” Her words crept out mid sob as a tear made a muddy pathway down her face.

“I know it’s tough, we all get like this sometimes Hun.”

This time it was her colleague who had spoken in that familiar high pitched squeal she used so frequently. She began to reel off a story about how she’d once not slept for a day after an intense night out and had still gone into work the next morning. Julie stopped listening, all she could hear were the taunting cries from the army.

An icy wind shot across the field from the army and Julie began to shake. She wasn’t sure if it was fear or cold. She wasn’t sure if she cared. She would never win this battle while so outnumbered. Her colleague patted her on the back while her friend stared at her and the stranger checked her phone.

The army had stopped moving now, clearly pleased that their presence was felt. Julie knew that her movement would triggor theirs and so remained where she was. Stalemate. It wouldn’t last, how long before they sensed their advantage and stalked over to collect their prize?

Julie felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up. Beside her stood a warrior in torn trousers and a rusted breastplate, smudged makeup and hair that resembled a birds nest more than anything attached to a human. She held out a muddy hand.

“Come on then, let’s do this! You can’t sit here forever but you won’t be fighting alone.”

Mental illness can feel like you’re on a battlefield. You’re constantly fighting the monsters that your brain conjures up, and sometimes that darkness and fear that other people can struggle to see. I want to remind people that mental illness doesn’t make people weak or lazy… It just makes them ill. The battle is real to them, it’s important to remember that!

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