This month – May – is Mental Health Awareness Month. The initiative is being supported by See Change and there is more information about the campaign on the Green Ribbon website. (Green ribbons being the symbol for the campaign).
It is true that there is more awareness around mental health and mental ill-health and smashing stigma, but there is still a long way to go. Getting people to talk and to listen and to engage with the conversation is just the beginning. It’s a bit like feminism, starting the conversation doesn’t mean the job is done. It means the job has started.
I hit a bump this week and found myself flooded with all the usual detritus that goes with such bumps. It’s torrential when it happens and – like a torrent – it overwhelms. I could cry for hours straight. I can go to sleep late and wake up early just to fit in extra crying jags.
My children write me notes to tell me how much they love me in the hope that that can cheer me up. It does. And it doesn’t. It makes me feel better because I feel wrapped up in their love. It makes me feel worse because I don’t think it’s their job to make me feel better. My nearly nine-year old shouldn’t feel she has to spend 20 minutes writing a list of all that is good in the world to try and keep me in it. Because, of course, at the back of my mind is the guilty knowledge that – a few years ago – they came very close to losing me. I worry that every time I am sad, upset or in tears, they worry that I will turn them into orphans. At those times – and at others, when all is well in my world – I remind them of my promise not to leave them.
They think I don’t notice that one of them has her eye on me at all times – as though they have discussed it with each other and agreed this between themselves. Which, in truth, they probably have. They think I believe them when they say – as they position themselves either side of me at night, like two guardian angels – that they just want company and to sleep in a bigger bed tonight.
I was in conversation with a very dear friend during this latest bump and he put his finger on it.
‘Don’t be scared,’ he entreated me down the wobbly line from his part of Asia. ‘You’re not on your own.’
I was scared. I hadn’t realised that until he pointed it out to me. From ten thousand miles away, he could hear my fear when I – who was feeling it – didn’t even realise it was there.
I can’t speak for everyone who has an episode of mental ill-health, but here’s what it’s like for me:
I just don’t feel like I deserve to live. I feel like I’m a burden on humanity. I am an offense. Feeling like this about yourself is scary.