It’s Time to Talk Day.
On this day, we’re all encouraged to talk about mental health.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a Very Good Thing. Mental health directly affects 1 in 4 of the population (so by extension, affects everyone), so it seems a bit ridiculous that it’s such a taboo subject. I’m not entirely sure why asking your loved ones ‘are you okay’ and genuinely wanting to know the answer is quite so tricky, or sure why it’s so difficult to answer the question honestly, and to admit when we’re not okay (and even using the word ‘admit’ implies a level of guilt), but apparently it is (and I’m not saying I’m immune from this difficulty, because I’m really not).
I am someone who works in mental health, volunteers in mental health, and lives with mental illness, I don’t keep that a secret (it would be sort of hard to when my job is a Peer Support Worker so the job title reflects the fact I’ve experienced illness). But despite all of this, and all of the years under regular GP appointments/services (sometimes… but that’s another blog for another day), I still struggle to tell people when I’m not okay. I struggle to tell people when my mood is dipping. I struggle to tell people when other aspects of my mental health are slipping. Like anyone else, there are some people who I find easier to talk to about these things, but even with those people I really struggle to initiate conversation, and I’m excellent at tripping off ‘I’m fine’ before I’ve even though about whether I am or not.
There are some conversations I struggle with more than others. I don’t want to hurt people with my illness, I feel guilty, I don’t want to put things on people, I don’t want to sound selfish or ungrateful. I am more than aware that I am incredibly lucky to live where I do, do the work that I do, have the friends and family that I do, and generally have the life that I do (mental illness doesn’t care about that, though).
I rang my Dad up last week; I needed to talk to him about something. We got onto the topic of where I was up to with work/meds/life. It was a hard conversation but a necessary one. We’re both learning how to communicate again. So many unsaid words are left hanging in the air, at times. He wants to ‘fix’ things, I wish that this whole thing was easily fixable. Time frames are frustrating at the best of times, but never more so than when you’re off work and services are stretched. Medication changes can take weeks/months to get right, and even then you don’t know how long you’ll be on them, you don’t know how ‘good’ you’ll ever get it, and you don’t know what impact it will have on your body long-term.
I have a number of friends who also experience illness, and it’s so hard to know what to say to them, too. What do you say to someone who literally doesn’t know why they should stay alive? Someone who is terrified by some of the things they’re thinking, hearing, or seeing? Someone who can’t see how wonderful they are, and is paralysed by any sort of food decision to the extent that they’re becoming increasingly poorly? You tell them you love them, you listen, you book in craft dates, you tell them how wonderful and how talented they are, you tell them you’re there for them, but you’re also painfully aware that perhaps that’s not enough, and worry that their body or mind won’t take it any more and they’ll die.
We shouldn’t feel shame. We shouldn’t feel guilt. We shouldn’t feel broken. We shouldn’t feel paralysed by fear of speaking. We shouldn’t feel judged by medical professionals (and yes, they do sometimes judge you, it does sometimes feel like they’re punishing you for being ill, it does sometimes feel like your mental illness is affecting the treatment of physical things).
Before I finish this, I also want to remind people that if you feel unable to speak about your illness, that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel guilty for what you do/don’t want to share. Having a mental illness, and having a day dedicated to talking about that illness doesn’t mean that you have to participate in the day, or that you should feel obliged to share or talk about things you don’t want to talk about.
If you do feel able to do so, I urge you to talk and speak to people, but please don’t just limit it to today, please keep talking, and keep listening.