This week is Mental Health Awareness Week worldwide, so excuse my little essay that follows. For it is a chance to start those conversations that for some are so difficult to begin we do not know how, and need to listen actively with an open mind that does not judge or laugh back. We all have good days and bad days but when those days seem to merge into one grey mess it can be hard to find the courage to ask for help as do not know who’s hand will grab ours back and those that will push us under to drown us. It is often through surviving through the thick fog we discover our true friends that will always have one hand there for us and the other with a tea/coffee to give with us; sharing experiences and a slice of cake and laughter as realise we do that thing too.
For some the image from Hollywood movies is still very much how they see someone that has any mental health condition, yet the truth it can happen to any of us at any time and we look no different to anyone else. We cannot just ‘snap out of it’ as events can leave scars that may not be visible but inside are ripping us apart days to weeks and months to years later, reliving those times again and again without them ever stopping. We may also have a brain who’s chemistry is out of sync, so need medication in order for it function, just as we may take insulin for diabetes. Finding an outlet such as writing, painting and dance can also help us, but others turn to alcohol and/or illegal drugs, as sometimes we just want it all to stop with a full stop/period.
Going to therapy is a way to express just how we feel, words aloud can be scary and ring on in our minds after we have said them. Letting in a stranger can feel as invasive as brain surgery, which is why a qualified therapist is a must. The current UK general election has even been discussing mental health provision, at a time when many services have been or being axed already perhaps this should have been considered first. Health should not have to be split into health and mental health as adds to the stigma; medicine should be holistic covering body, mind, and spirit as everything is interconnected. We are all human, we all experience this journey uniquely, and we are all loved and appreciated, just remember that. The past is gone but yet still may hurt us, the future is unwritten but we can choose a new path; yet we live in the now, we can support and be there for each other today, and we can end this old stigma on mental health for good.
By the age of 7 I knew there were tears in not just my eyes but my tummy too. I was sad from school and things that even now feel like razor blades self harm if dwell on them. I did not understand what they meant.
By the age of 14 I knew these tears meant I was depressed but had no outlet for them. Turned away if talked to family and a school guidance teacher that did not understand the wounds bullies leave behind.
By the age of 21 I knew I was an outsider looking in on the world and felt I did not belong. The music that helped so much in my teens now felt like they sang of a life I would never know and forbidden entry to.
By the age of 28 I knew therapy was a must and began to admit openly I had depression. A scary label but it would not define me as a person and would not let the stigma scar me as memories had before it.
By the age of 35 I knew the image inside my head was wrong, I was not an unloveable ogre or Martian that observed earthly activities. Depression still lingered but it was never going to make me take my own life.
I am approaching 39 with optimism. The tears in my tummy are still there but no longer sting as they did. The ogre is vanquished forever to be replaced by a rag doll, made from parts of my story and sewn in love.
Today is World Health Day, which this year focuses on depression. It does not mean someone is crazy and should be locked up. Nor does it mean walking on eggshells around them. Talking is good, listen never judge.
Why is it when someone tries (or sometimes succeeds) to take their own life do we call it a ‘cry for help’? When they may have been trying to tell us things just aren’t right but we have either been too busy or could not read the signs. How can we be there for someone when they pretend that all is alright until we have that sudden alarm call that everything is far from ‘fine’?
When I was at my most depressed I likened it to sitting on a rocking chair sat on the edge of a cliff. I could see rocks falling by the side around me yet had nobody that saw them fall but me; I knew that one day the rocking chair would snap and send me hurtling down down to the canyon below. That ‘scream’ would be my ‘cry for help’, and lying at the bottom of canyon was like hitting life’s metaphorical bottom. Sometimes the fall kills us, but sometimes when we fall we find our wings and fly. Could I have let others see the rocks falling? I tried but most were more interested in their own lives or I could not tell how I ended up on the rocking chair in the first place due to fear that led to me losing my words even in therapy. I was not strapped to the chair so yes they could have helped me escape it, but we do not always realise how much things from the past have built up to in my case a cliff one hell of a drop.
So what can we do? Be the friend that actually listens and cares in a two way form, it is not an one way street for what you or I want, it’s what WE want and can do as a partnership. I had one ‘friend’ that after hearing me say I wasn’t good would turn things on themselves before saying they were off or suddenly too busy to talk. Distance should not matter, in these days of text messages and social media a message can be sent in an instant and let another know we care and there if need someone. Yes, it can be hard to admit we are on the cliff or see a friend on the cliff but we need to let others in not shut them out. They can help us set fire to the rocking chair, not burn both of us as some may do in jealousy, envy and/or greed; a true friend does not care about splinters or shards hurting them as worried how and/or why they are hurting us, The burnt remains of the rocking chair can then be pushed over the edge. from which the ashes can act as a fertiliser to help us grow and gain the strength of a tree that formed the chair. Do not be afraid as that one person can be all that it takes to see the view from the cliff that actually shows how far we have come in life and is not the end of the journey.
Sticks and stones they threw in words and laughter bruising my skin,
Painting all in shades of purple, blue and red that nobody could see.
Hurting feet with a blade to answer why as rivers fell from my eyes,
Feeling trapped like prisoner all in green on life sentence at row M.
Outcast as nobody dare make friendship with the one with my name,
Only a fool would try but soon learnt to toe the unwritten party line.
Writing SOS notes in Latin hoping someone would hear my cries,
But would never take a final bow as wouldn’t give that final pleasure.
As stage was set for the final act I was pushed out and shown my place,
Forever on the sidelines not upfront with those I journeyed long with.
About to be released into the world with freedom as served my time,
For a bespoke crime that had been created for me by my fellow inmates.
They say that time can heal the pain but can never heal my scars,
Forgiving and forgetting actions now memories only takes me so far.
But I have no place for hateful thoughts or plotting my revenge,
They are but footnotes in a journey that they’ll know or understand.
Last week I kept getting baby thoughts in my head, a miracle birth much like the one many were to celebrate later that week, which followed a day later by an old friend announcing the birth of her daughter after years of health issues. I was genuinely overjoyed as know how far she has come to get where she is now, achieving many things that to me still seem and are impossible for different reasons. The smile on my face however was not to last as I received a message on Facebook to tell me news of a girl I was at school with twenty years ago, she had overosed and taken her own life. Both people knew each other but one had been an off and on friend for over twenty five years and the other had been one of the bullies that reduced me to tears and suicidal thoughts throughout my teens. I felt numb. As someone that writes and campaigns for an end to the stigma on mental health as well as being naturally empathetic, I wondered what had happened to the girl I had known and had she secret torment that had no voice. It was not a sign of weakness or selfishness to take her own life, as when the rocking chair at the edge of the cliff breaks, it takes a very strong person to fling on, I have been there and it is not a pretty view or one I ever wish to see again.
I scanned my year photographs from high school that I intended to burn years ago and sent them to the girl that told me the news. I saw people’s faces and names I had not seen in twenty years trickle down my Facebook news feed as comments came in on pictures she and others posted. I could not bring myself to ‘like’ anything as was like being back in the playground with her usual French taunt in my ringing in my ears. Was I being selfish? Feeling that my pain was important as they were my experiences and memories of this girl, but ultimately felt they should be secondary to her friends and family dealing with the aftermath of suicide. It all left me with the strangest of feelings; nothing in life can prepare you for it and know what is right or wrong to feel or say. It comes at a time when I am considering setting up an organisation to support, spread awareness and educate on invisible illness such as depression to fibromylagia and endometriosis as feel along with my writing I need to take it to the next level but uncertain what way just yet. Perhaps her death shows how much pain we carry with us; we may have nobody to share it with or know where to turn. Just remember dear reader someone does care and will listen without judgement, never ever give up and always rember my mantra, believe it again.
If we lived in a world like something from a science fiction novel where we could go for a full body scan at any time that would tell us what was physically and mentally wrong, which would be followed up with a customised pill to cure whatever was wrong with us, would we live differently to as we do now? Would we be free from bullying and abuse or jealousy and envy? How would we define or set limits to what a normal human body should and should not be capable of? Would a human being’s blueprint be just like we read about in science textbooks? What about individualism? Would we see that as dangerous as all should looks and feel the same with a hive mind? Is being different being abnormal?
Now consider the world we do live in. Why when someone is diagnosed with cancer, arthritis or asthma are our reactions different to dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety? Why do some let a diagnosis change how they see a person was from the person they knew yesterday? Why are they now not normal, and what therefore is normal? We are not robots or clones, we do not experience this world in the same way as anyone else has or ever will again. A book can only so show much of the human experience, but does not allow for individualism that comes from being true to ourselves and living life the way that is normal for the journey we alone are on.
What about the future? In the past we may have swept problems or issues under the proverbial carpet to locking someone up in an asylum as a danger to society, but even now mental health issues are stigmatised as cannot see by looking at someone how much they are suffering mentally. More and more the world is getting darker with fear, greed, envy and jealousy, instead of light with hope, empathy, compassion, and understanding. Unless some of us start to punch holes in this darkness it will only continue until we all stagger around blind and deaf to the needs of others. Today World Mental Health Day, so let us use it as a stepping stone to hold open doors and windows with light today and every day.
We all have good days and bad days, but it sometimes feels like there are more bad than good until every day is like living at constant night with no light of the moon to give us hope and no stars bursting through to guide our passage. We may try to explain these feelings to family and friends, but ignored by some, laughed at by others, and may even be the source of the darkness themselves. It can feel like there is nobody to talk to as too, as others are too busy living their lives or understands quite why we feel the way we do. So inside we slowly die, but outside wear a mask or three to hide the pain or go unnoticed by others as see no physical change. Then that day comes, there seems to be only one answer, so take that white flag and raise it aloft to say…goodbye for the final time without even a whisper.
Suicide is still seen by many as a selfish act because of the action of taking our own lives and leaving behind many questions that will never get answers. However, few consider what led the person to reach that point or consider looking back there were signs but just did not see them, nor realise how something that left one person untouched traumatised another even decades on. From personal experience, wanting to wave that flag is not an easy option, it is how lonely and actually quite terrifying as realise inside is shattered in pieces and unlike a jigsaw there is no way to put them together again. Mental health is something we must talk about not push under a rug, drug until we can no longer feel or lock people up in hospitals as may hurt us (but really more of a danger to themselves than others).
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day so lets talk not about others with judgement or hate but together in supportive empathy and love. Make time to talk with those that matter to us, even if it is only five minutes, as those five minutes may form a quarter moon or even let the stars shine just for that day. To those that feel it is another of the black days, take this stardust and sprinkle it everywhere you walk, the white flag does not need to be raised. Remember that the past is gone and cannot be change, but yes it may hurt like anything even now in ways that others may never see or hear. Equally, the future is a whisper and never a promise, so make that first step today, as soon you’ll have crossed more than you ever thought we would. Today is all we have, so make the most of it. So lets talk about anything to everything.
This week I noticed mental health charity See Me Scotland had a campaign on social media called “my unfiltered life“, for which people post a selfie and tell their story. It made me feel proud of each and everyone of them for taking that selfie, as that can be far from a ‘simple’ tap on a phone, and being so open in a way I felt I could not; for I am not someone that likes to say hey look at me but more look at her or him and what they have achieved.
However, it felt like it did when I first saw an ad to post a picture of your smile as part of Yoko Ono’s Smiles film four years ago, which in taking part in led to the ripple effect of accepting, appreciating and loving me. I am also reminded of the photo I took two years ago without my wig, showing my bald head, during the no make up selfie craze, which showed me there was nothing to hate or fear now. I am me, not an artificial, edited or manipulated person but her free spirited, open minded self and rag doll not ogre self.
So yes I have posted a photo on Instagram, and below. However, I do not care one way or the other as did it to inspire others to learn to find acceptance not for personal gain in the hope of a 15 second taster of fame. This week coming marks a couple of personal milestones, major ones that will be on the highlights reel of my life, so makes a fitting addition to them.
Next time you see a selfie, remember it can maybe a simple touch of a phone to you but to them it maybe a whole story you don’t know, so don’t judge but admire the beautiful differences slight changes in our DNA make to create the creatures we are.
Depression can leave you feeling like you’re sat lost on a wooden boat in the middle of the sea. Rowing every direction but forward as you fear the unknown that lies ahead and the pains from the past although distant still leave a bitter sting. Every wave that hits the boat makes it feel like it will soon break into hundred pieces, leaving you stranded with cuts from clinging on to the driftwood and fearing that you will never be rescued, becoming just another one that was lost and drowned at sea.
It is at that moment that you should pause, not stop to give up but pause. Let the tears fall from your eyes like rain to a forest for you’re not a robot or desert. It does not matter if you did not pack flares to show your light to others because it is within you. Listen for the birds for they are wise and are your friends and are there even when you cannot see them or think that there are none. Shut your eyes and count to five, repeat this three times, and now look to see the land you never saw before.
As you and your boat head to the land do not expect it to be heaven or hell, take each moment as it comes and tackle any of your problems as they occur before they suffocate. As you reach the shore, make a note place your boat somewhere that it can remind you of your journey to get there. Now as you land, take that first step on the beach feel the grains with your hands and feet, you are like those grains; a small grain in a big world, but also each one matters just as you do to others.
10 years ago the lyrics of this song and many others by Tori Amos haunted my ears and tears would fall from my eyes when I heard her sing as each one felt like I could have written them myself. Lines such as “I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again” made me think of my mother who I then called ‘she who must be obeyed’, as I was frightened of her, nothing I did was right if did do not do things her way but now know she is a narcissist and need to carry on being me regardless; “I hear my voice and it’s been here, silent all these years” as I started having counselling to try make some semblance of why I felt my life was painted in monochrome and saw myself more like Princess Fiona the ogre from Shrek than the princess, through a journey that was just as rocky as any shore with no lighthouse in sight, not realising I am the lighthouse; and “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts, what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts” not realising how powerful they are and what a gift they can be to inspire others. Now life I see as multicoloured and multi-sensory, grateful for the special people that make me laugh and smile for being in it and the importance of living mindfully. Today is Tori’s birthday, so a timely reminder to myself of all I have overcome and remind others not to give up, making that first stepping stone today is possible as things do change for the better.