Mental Health Awareness Week

I realised the other day just how long it’s been since I last posted on here, and how much longer it’s been since I stopped contributing to my primarily mental health blog Bake Offs and Breakdowns.  The main reason for this is I’ve been in a bit of a rut.  Given it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I’ve vowed to do everything I can to shake it off – one process being to get writing again.  So here I am.

Typically, I’m the kind of girl who wears her heart on her sleeve; if I’m having a bad day or if something’s plaguing my thoughts I generally find it quite hard to hide it.  As a result, I’ve generally been very open about my mental health and having what I call “wobble days”.  These have been met with mixed responses.  Sharing that I’m having a bad day has warranted some people, often strangers or very loose acquaintances criticising it as being attention seeking.  Yet, when it hits the weekend, they’re quite often the same people who take to social media to moan about a self-inflicted hangover, or a minor injury from Sunday morning 5-a-side, calling out for sympathy.  How is a broken head any different?

Throughout our lifetime, it’s fairly likely we’ll break a bone at some point or another. So far (touch wood) I’m lucky enough that I haven’t broken any. I don’t understand what it feels like to break one; the pain, the frustration, the restriction and recovery.  But I, like the majority of people, can quite readily offer words of support, help with shopping, play taxi if needed.  It’s a physical ailment and regardless of having not been in that situation myself, I can empathise and give aid where possible.  Similarly cancer patients; 1 in 3 of us will suffer cancer at some point in our lifetimes.  Very much like a mental illness, is an invisible illness, until the affects of treatment start taking their toll in a physical form.  Again, something we don’t know what it feels like until we’ve experienced it ourselves.  Yet we’re so ready to offer words and actions of support to anyone fighting that battle.  Not far behind the cancer statistics, 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health issue in their lifetime, and that’s just those diagnosed.  But somehow, fewer people understand or can empathise with another’s mental health issues and what’s more concerning is fewer people are opening up.

In 2017, suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK, the highest suicide rate in the UK was for men aged 40–44.  This is unacceptable.  With all of the help, support and charities out there, this simply should not be happening. 

Despite the few seeing my posts about my mental health in a negative light, fortunately I’ve also been met with a wonderful amount of positive feedback  At the end of the day, being open is who I am.  I’m just as likely to moan about a hangover, being hungry or a stubbed toe.  Being in a funk or struggling with my depression is just another facet of what makes me, me; so I’m not going to hide that.  It’s also cathartic, getting things out in the open stops me ruminating over the bad and them manifesting into something unmanageable.  The amount of people who approach me; from close friends, acquaintances and complete strangers, coming forward saying how my honesty about my struggles gives them inspiration is truly humbling.  In writing my old mental health blog, my only aim was that if it managed to help just 1 person in their own personal battle then I’ve done my job.  I had strangers from the other side of the world reducing me to tears with their heartfelt messages of solidarity, let alone people close to me revealing their secret battles. As lovely as it is to hear people say such things; to me it’s just basic humanity.  If we all looked after our own and each other’s emotional first aid as we did physical, then the world would be an infinitely better place.

VIDEO: Ted Talk: Why we need emotional first aid

Take for example a broken leg.  It breaks, you’re given pain killers, it’s set in plaster to protect it and help it heal, then after weeks of being allowed to heal, its released from its cast and most likely undergoes physiotherapy until it’s built it’s strength back up.  At the moment, how we are treating our heads is akin to breaking a leg, throwing some painkillers at it and carrying on as normal, or forget the painkillers completely and completely ignore the broken leg you’re dragging around.  It doesn’t work.  We need time to heal, nurture and tend gently.  If you don’t allow that leg to heal properly, it won’t function properly in the future.  It might be months, or years down the line after it’s healed but you might exert yourself too much, and it starts troubling you again and becomes a more serious problem requiring more invasive treatment.  The brain works in exactly the same way.  We need to treat broken heads, like broken legs; gently, with time, patience and proper understanding.

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I’ve suffered with my head since my early teens, but was formerly diagnosed in 2013.  Whilst I have not been taking medication for my depression since October 2016, I am still very aware that if I don’t look after my head; if I party too hard, don’t get enough sleep, get too stressed then things start slipping.  The theme for this MHAW is “Surviving or Thriving?” Right now and for the last few weeks, I feel like I’m surviving, treading water.  And to tell the truth I’m exhausted. Whilst I’m not “drowning” or falling completely to pieces, I’m finding it near impossible to dig deep and find that extra energy to break into a front crawl, power on and thrive.  It is only by talking to friends and family about my thoughts and feelings that I’ve been able to keep from “drowning”. Day by day, I’m getting a bit closer to finding that spurt of energy and motivation so I’m no longer just treading water, soon I hope I’m thriving again.

Talking is without a doubt the easiest way to help someone’s emotional first aid.  You don’t have to be an expert in mental health, or indeed know anything.  You’ve just got to have ears; sit there and listen.  It took me years to be able to talk; I’ve not always been this girl who’s so open about her feelings.  Even still, quite a lot of the time it takes a good while for me to work out whats going on in my head before I can even think about opening up.  It’s not easy, I am not disputing that.  But even just the simplest of words or support and encouragement can make the world of difference.  Before berating someone for being “attention seeking” about their mental health on their social media…maybe see it as a cry for help.

“How are you really doing?”, “What can I do to help?” “Do you want to talk about it?”….They’re all able to save a life.

 

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