Today is the day when the world stands up and takes notice. The general populous reads articles, sees adverts and is exposed to the realities of mental ill health. It's meant to be a big mental health love in where everyone hopefully realises that you shouldn't be shit scared of a mentally ill person and it's not contagious. We are not all Michael Myers.
These things for me are a double edged sword. Embracing mental health tends to be like cuddling a hedgehog. It's got the soft, gooey, love me stuff on the inside, but there is a hell of a lot of prickly stuff to get through on the outside that can put you right off. "Life threatening illness" does not spring to people's mind when you talk about mental illness. The amount of times I have sat on the tube and someone has flung themselves under a carriage and people use words like selfish, attention seeker, and waste of space is shocking.
Demystifying mental health is a massive task. It is complex, odd and other worldly. You cannot see it or feel it, so it's really easy to think that someone is making it up or it's not that bad. What amazes me is that people will readily believe in talking to the dead, that tarot cards can predict your future, and that there is relevance in 6 magpies together on the lawn, but mention depression, hearing voices or anxiety and all hell breaks loose. There is some inexplicable hysteria about losing control of your mind, or the perceived fear of being slightly unhinged from reality. People of mental ill health have been demonised for years and the drip, drip, drip of paranoia leaks into your psyche and festers. We are not all murderers hiding in bushes. In 2010-11 635 homicides were recorded in England and Wales. 95% of those murders were committed by individuals who had not been diagnosed with a mental health problem. It's so easy to focus on the perceived weirdo, rather than accept that the other 95% who were doing the murdering were of, "Sound mind". Like your next door neighbour.
So we battle fear. We also battle impatience, dismissiveness, misunderstanding and get patronised and ridiculed quite a bit. I know that the mental health camp is not the only group of people getting this kind of deal. I suppose for now though it is my topic of choice so I am not casting aside other groups who experience similar alienation. It's just that this is my current experience. But in amongst all of that, I do want to be accepted, understood and embraced for the person that I am, with my illness as part of that wholeness. That means exposing myself to you, at the risk of being rejected or gossiped about or avoided. It's not like I'm choosing between two pairs of shoes now is it. Show the real me to you and possible have a nightmare experience. Hide myself in plain site and be living a half truth, colluding with the denial camp and suffering in silence. And the thing is my illness is a part of me, it's not the whole me. There is more going on than just intrusive thoughts, feeling suicidal every now and then or running around like a headless chicken.
Visibility. It's all about visibility. Drag the fears into the light and they wither and die. Just like pouring water on the wicked witch of the west. I have chosen to be visible. I have chosen to embrace my truth and put it all out there. But this isn't just for me. By taking that risk, other people see their truth and are able to feel just that little bit safer about sharing theirs with me or someone else. I have had the huge privilege of being able to listen to other peoples experience, advise them about where to go for help, laugh at the madness we share and generally be a person in solidarity. We can actually save each others lives by letting someone in and seeing who we really are, and bring hope in times of despair.
What might be frightening for you to understand, is a living horror for the person experiencing it. They will be so much more terrified than you and showing compassion and empathy is a cooling salve to someone who has experienced hostility and animosity.
Go gently and confront your fear. You may just save a life with a small act of love.