I’ve probably mentioned this story before.
I started self harming aged thirteen. There is something very wrong with a world in which a thirteen year old is driven to such things, but that’s besides the point. Aged fifteen, I made my first attempt to get some proper help for this problem. One lunch break at school, I disappeared to the local GP and asked for an appointment. I was asked to announce why I needed to see a doctor in the middle of a crowded surgery, and refused. In turn my request to speak to a nurse, a receptionist, anyone so long as it was in a private setting was refused. People in the queue behind me became impatient. I left. Commence drugs, commence alcohol, commence a very sordid decade of life I’d rather forget.
If I’ve already gone over this story before, why bring it up again? Why break the regimented – ish – blog structure I’ve stuck to over the last six months (Christ, has it been that long?) just to dredge up a not so happy memory?
There’s a campaign going on today called Time to Talk. Or #timetotalk, if you exist in the same twittersphere that is slowly consuming my life. Or #runandtalk, if you exist in the same twittersphere and do the whole athletics thing. It’s being championed by a number of both prominent and smaller mental health charities, among them Time To Change, who I have recently signed up with as a Champion – someone who, in a variety of ways and means, helps to break down the stigma around mental health by talking about it. Which I kinda do every week in this blog (unless I’ve had a super busy week and forget). It made sense.
One thing that caught me off guard when I started this blog was the amount of people who got in touch, not just to say that I’m witty and dashing and possibly the most interesting person they’ve ever known; but the amount of people who said, yeah, me too. The amount of people who I would have never expected it from. Even me, the perennial depressive, cannot fathom other people being depressed.
We just don’t talk about mental health in everyday life, do we? If you’re depressed, or are suffering from anxiety, or any of the others: unless a close relationship of yours is under threat for whatever reason (illness, infidelity, stock market crash; get imaginative), you’re screwed. Prepare to be judged, or suffer in silence. It’s just not chic. We live in a society that encourages people to be self-reliant in fixing their own problems, but has no measure for giving people the tools to do so. You know what happens when you’re left to find those tools above? See paragraph one. See drugs, alcohol, self harm. See self loathing and suicide.
I can look back on that incident when I was fifteen – and I do, often – and wonder how a little kid can be so scared of public reaction if he dares open up about mental health. I wonder how people who were, ostensibly, medical professionals could have given so little shits about the whole thing. I’d like to say this was all just part of the central figure in the story being a fifteen year old kid and the baggage that comes with that, but this continued into my adult life.
I still find people who clearly don’t want to even try to understand depression – if you want proof of this, take a look at my social circle and how it was decimated in early summer 2012, when I had a very public mental breakdown. I lost friends overnight that have never spoken to me again – not that they were there, they just heard I went crazy and that was that, I assume. I have also struggled with councillors and doctors that do not want to engage with it, but just want to stamp their own regimented next-patient-please on it. That’s just as frustrating when even the people who are meant to help so obviously don’t care. For my part, I still get worried when I have to confront feelings that are current and present in my life, because I’m scared of how people will react. I closed myself off from a lot of people for the longest time. In many ways, despite this blog, I still do.
I’m on board with this whole Time to Talk thing because I really, really think this needs to change. We need to be more open about mental health. I’m not going to quote numbers that you’ve probably seen a dozen times, but people are suffering, and in a horrifying number of cases dying, from a lack of support with problems that we’re not even willing to engage. It’s ridiculous.
I’m not much comfortable with getting on my high horse and telling people the dead certain way they should go about things, to be honest, because I don’t know what to say. I’m not going to say “go and talk about mental health with everyone you see today!”, because that kind of defeats the point. It should need to be something we make a special effort to talk about. I don’t really know what the first step towards people being more open about mental health is – you can’t just change society overnight. I don’t have all the answers, as much as I wish I did. Maybe the first step is just getting a bunch of people to ponder the matter for a few minutes. Maybe we’ll see what comes from that.
Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!