It has been approximately one year since I first did my training with Time to Change Wales. In the time since, I have stood up and shared my story out loud to over 500 people, as well as the infinite number who are able to access the Internet and the membership base of England Netball.
For a girl who couldn’t say she had depression out loud just one year earlier, this is quite a turn around.
People sometimes ask why do I do it?
Why do I share some of my darkest moments, and most fragile thoughts? Leave myself open to ridicule, to rejection, to exclusion.
Those things have happened, but so has a lot of acceptance, pride and empowerment.
I genuinely believe that by talking about mental health, I can help other people. Hearing the stories of others helped me. The realisation that I wasn’t one person full of hideous, dark and intolerable thoughts. I was one of many. It wasn’t so freakish and abnormal. It is a disease. Maybe it is a disease of modern society, but any which way, it has affected the way in which I think, the way information is processed in my brain and the way in which I cope with life experiences.
Honest conversation is the only way to overcome it. By talking out loud, I am taking control. The shame and stigma is what has undone me time and time again and by taking control of that shame, it suddenly doesn’t seem so real.
Saying things out loud reduces the power of those words. The world doesn’t end. People don’t faint or even run away.
I don’t share everything. There are still secrets that I’m not comfortable acknowledging. Thoughts, incidents and fears that I cannot yet reconcile with. Maybe one day I will. Maybe one day I won’t. But maybe I don’t need to.
"It’s ok to say that you don’t know what to do. Get advice. Be open. Be brave. Talk about things that make you feel uncomfortable."
It is hard to support someone who is mentally unwell.
It’s ok to say that you don’t know what to do. Get advice. Be open. Be brave. Talk about things that make you feel uncomfortable. Reflect on your mistakes. Be creative. Be flexible. Don’t get sucked into the silent shame. It really is ok not to be ok.
The world is changing. Mental health is hitting mainstream media in a more positive way. There is growing acceptance that we can all work on our mental health and positive wellbeing. But there remains a danger that people now know the right things to say, but actions don’t always back them up.
It can so easily slip into “I’m not racist, I’ve got a black friend”…
I often get told that it is ‘good that someone like me, with my background’ can stand up and be open about mental health. But really what does that mean? Someone like me? Someone like you? Mental health doesn’t discriminate. We all have it. We could all get ill. A cold doesn’t care how much money you have, how tall you are, or how articulate you might be.
Neither does depression or schizophrenia.
I have worked hard to change the way I think about my mental health.
And yes. I call it my mental health, not my mental illness. I don’t suffer from it, I live in spite of it. Recovery is coping and managing my vulnerabilities.
It is not about being cured.
I’m learning new coping skills all the time. Sometimes that might be making a list as simple as how to get through having a shower. Sometimes it might be a walk in the local park and practicing mindfulness through nature photography. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I know that I am getting it wrong.
But I am trying.
I will continue to share my story because it helps me to take control over it. And if it helps one other person think differently about mental health, then the battle is being won.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org