I’ve not written for a while… tardy!
But I have written this piece for a blog at my work where I’m one of the Mental Wellbeing Helpers.
Anyhoo. Thought I would post as hopefully it’s relevant. SO here goes.
This week you’ll be seeing a lot in the press, on social media and on telly about mental health… That’s because it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. For some of you it could just be a bit of background noise or of passing interest. But for others it could resonate very deeply. Some of you may be going through a tough time at the moment and may be able to relate to the things you’ll be hearing about.
You may have a long standing mental health issue (like me) or you may be experiencing stress, anxiety or depression for the first time. You may be worried about someone you know who’s experiencing difficulties with their mental wellbeing. Whichever it is, know this. You are not on your own and there is help out there.
So, this piece is a little bit about my experiences and why I think it’s important to be able to talk about mental health. I will pop some useful and interesting links to sites at the end. I do want to say before I start, this is not professional, or indeed, any kind of advice. I just want to share thoughts and let people know they can, if they feel ready, open up about their feelings.
It’s all about me…
I was diagnosed with depression 25 years ago (oooh I feel old) and have been living with my ‘black dog’ my ‘guilt monkey’ and my ‘fear lizard’ for a long time… Come and have a chat and I will explain about the menagerie! I’m mostly well. But not all the time. It’s something I know will always be a part of me, like my slightly crooked nose, addiction to tea and my annoyingly brittle finger nails! I take my medication to keep my brain chemicals in balance and have techniques, tricks and lifestyle factors that help me stay well. I try to learn as much as I can about the physiological, emotional and psychological reasons for depression (knowledge is power), and I am passionate that we talk about mental health issues! That they are no longer ‘unmentionable’ subjects.
Opening up and letting it out!
I read a really awesome post by Blurt Foundation today, called ‘Why it’s not attention seeking to talk about mental ill-health’.
It made such an impression on me and reminded me of all the times I’ve spoken to people who’ve bottled up their feelings and have been going through things alone. So many have said exactly the same words to me… So much so that I can confidently list them. Here goes:
- I don’t want to be a burden
- I feel guilty for taking peoples time and energy
- I don’t want people to think I’m weak or that I can’t cope
- I don’t want people to think I’m looking for attention
- I’m ashamed because there’s still a stigma around this
I have felt ALL of these. Especially in the early years of trying to work through my depression. And even now, when I’m in a tough place, these things spin round and round in my head and I can, if I’m not mindful, ‘shut down’ and stop communicating.
When I stop communicating I can start to internalise everything. I look inward and become a bit ‘cut-off’. This can mean a bout of me feeling low or anxious can spiral into a full-blown episode of depression.
That is why I’m passionate about dispelling these ideas when I’m mentally well! Dispelling them in my own mind (or at least ‘dampening’ them) and talking openly about them.
By getting these worries about talking out there hopefully people will be able to see that they are not alone in thinking them, they are a universal theme!
Making people aware that those of us with mental illness find it hard to talk, because we feel guilty or ashamed, is important. Knowing how hard it might be to open up can make people more receptive and supportive and less dismissive when we do go to them.
Opening up and being truthful about how we feel to friends, family, colleagues or bosses can be super hard. For me it can be a fight to get the words out. Part of me want’s, no needs, someone to listen and help, the other part of me wants to shove it all inside so I’m not troubling anyone else with my ‘stupid problems’!
I remember the time I had to sit down with my senior lecturer and say ‘I’ve been diagnosed with depression and I’m absolutely not coping ’. She was a world-weary, intimidating woman. I was terrified and convinced she was going to tell me I was being overly dramatic, weak and I was a quitter. Needless to say, that’s not how it went down. She listened, empathised and opened up about her troubles with anxiety, and told me about her best friend in New York who’d just had a complete nervous breakdown. We both had a cry and both said we felt relieved to ‘let it out’.
Now, I know not everyone is going to open up back to you, and I’ve not always been lucky enough to have this level of understanding. A negative reaction can be a real blow and make you want to lock everything away again. I feel it’s important to stick with it… Talk to someone else. By and large I’ve found most people have been supportive. They have listened, digested and offered me their help.
In my experience, those you love and trust will most likely be eager to support you. They will try to understand and won’t judge. They won’t think you’re weak. They won’t mind you talking through the same worries several times. They won’t think you are looking for attention.
What’s is wrong with a little attention anyway? We all need some, especially when we are feeling really low or anxious. This attention could really help you get on the path to feeling better! Attention is a good thing!
But if you genuinely feel there is no one close to you at the moment who would ‘get it’, please know that there are other people, organisations and communities that are there when you do want find support.
Your GP. This doesn’t instantly mean you will be prescribed medication! You always have choices! I think talking to your GP can be a good first step to opening up. You know they can’t by law tell anyone else what you’re going through, they can refer you to counselling or other therapies and and they may be able to suggest some lifestyle changes that will help.
A support line or mental health online service. There are quite a few amazing organisations out there who may be able to help you. I’ve certainly found them useful. They can listen, they can sign-post and they can advise. Some can arrange counselling sessions, some have their own social media pages so you can chat to others who may be going through similar things.
I’m not the biggest fan of quotes and memes… but this one is true. ‘It’s ok not to be ok’.
But I’d like to add ‘It’s ok to tell people you’re not ok’!
Here are some great places to visit if you want to find out more or need some support.