On February the 2nd it is Time to Talk day 2017. I think this is a great initiative. I know it’s been running for a few years now and I really hope that each year more and more people speak up about their mental health because we all have mental health. Just like our physical health, our mental health can be good, or not so good and it will vary. Just like our physical health, we might suddenly find ourselves in a situation with our mental health that was previously unthinkable. Very suddenly everything can change but the world still turns, the people around you still go on, and you can be left wondering.. how could this have happened to me? I’m not like that… Just like with our physical health there are risk factors in mental health – you probably know that being overweight increases your risk of diabetes, but, have any of us really stopped to consider just how that person with mental illness arrived there? I wonder what they were struggling with for the illness to begin. I suppose it’s easier for us to think of those suffering from mental illness as weak, sensitive flowers because it means that we can reassure ourselves that it will never be us. Until it is. And then…what?
Over the last few years I’ve noticed more people speaking openly about depression and anxiety and it’s brilliant. Even men, a group that speaking about their mental health is almost forbidden (sensitive flowers right?). This is awesome…but… (I’m sorry there’s a but) I want us to talk more. I want us to start being able to share some of of the more (perceived) frightening aspects of mental illness. I think they’re frightening because they are so mysterious, shrouded in hearsay, misinformation and sensationalism. Let’s name some of these bogeymen: suicide; self-harm; hallucinations; hearing voices; psychosis; dissociation; flashbacks; delusions.
I don’t work anymore. That came as a huge surprise to me. I never imagined that would be me. I used to be a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company – intercontinental conference calling, symposiums, shares and benefits. Then I retrained as a science teacher and I was successfully climbing the career ladder with the aim of being a head of chemistry and a lead teacher. See? Normal. Doing life and doing pretty well at it but the risk factors were there. Without realising what I was doing I actually fought mental illness all my life and then, and I don’t know how it happened really, everything changed. I tried to kill myself. Now I’m at home I get to catch up on a lot of TV (no, not lucky me). There’s a lot of crime stuff on during the day. Know who the baddies are? Yeah, they usually have mental illness and are suffering with the bogeymen. But, you see, this is my point – I’ve experienced a few of those bogeymen symptoms and I’m as dangerous as a wet tea bag (i.e. not very). People would know that if I could talk to them about it.
Very few people in my life know that I tried to kill myself. Even fewer know about the self-harm. My husband and I haven’t even spoken about it. I keep meaning to. He must see the cuts but then I hide them so well I wonder if he does know. How do I tell someone who loves me that I deliberately take a knife to myself? I don’t know but it’s definitely time to talk, seriously, because self-harm is a very real and troubling part of my mental illness. This leads me to another massive misconception about mental illness – that it is attention seeking. Are you kidding me?! Attention seeking?! Ha! Right. No, that’s the kind of attention I can do without ta. People being afraid of me, thinking I’m crazy (which I am but it’s ok)?! No, no,no! Attention seeking. Wow. I’m not saying people don’t ever look for some sort of concern or help and that can be in really messed up ways but that’s mental illness for you – it can make rational thought kind of difficult sometimes!
My diagnoses are borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). I’d never even heard of BPD so I googled it. It’s a heartbreaking and damning read: attention seeking, manipulative, liars. Difficult to love? Aggressive or violent? Hand on heart I will tell you that those particular traits do not apply to me (well, maybe I’m hard to love I dunno) but imagine what people will think of me when I tell them that I have BPD (that they’ve probably never heard of) and if they go so far as to google it? Yeah. So it’d be really great to be able to talk about it, to let them know the truth; what I struggle with and how I manage it and why I’m still me. Then there’s the cPTSD bit. This tells people that I have something awful in my past. They don’t want to ask for fear of upsetting me and I don’t tell them because I know it will upset them (been there, done that, sat through the awkwardness).
No one knows what to say but, you know what, that’s OK. This stuff is complicated. It’d be a lot easier if we could talk about it so that’s what I’m saying: it’s time to talk about the scary (not really!) stuff too. Oh, and I want to make clear that I am absolutely not minimising depression and anxiety. I find the depression the worst part of my illness. It’s brutal and can be life-threatening, as anxiety can be too. These conditions have a continuum and if your depression/anxiety is classed as mild then it is still an illness and you have every right to receive the correct treatment. You deserve empathy and understanding. So, no matter how your mental health is faring currently do make time to talk. Please.
From a crazy, wet teabag x