For many years I was to ashamed to talk about my mental illnesses. I was worried what people would think, or that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, but more than that - I didn’t know how to explain how I felt, or why I behaved the way I did. Instead of talking I put on the bravest face I could find and tried to carry on with life as usual.
The problem was, the more I didn’t talk the more I found I didn’t want to carry on with life - as usual or otherwise. My mental health deteriorated over the years until, finally, I had no choice but to talk about it.
When I did eventually talk I felt, sadly, that my sense of shame was justified. In general the responses I received were along the lines of ‘we all get a bit down sometimes, you just need to be a bit more positive.’ ‘Some people have it much worse than you do.’ ‘Stop taking yourself so seriously.’ And, for childhood trauma related mental health problems, ‘that was such a long time ago - you need to move on and put the past behind you’. Actually, what I needed to do was keep talking but I felt silenced, invalidated and misunderstood.
'We are living in an age where mental health is a hot topic; more and more people are doing their best to lift the lid of taboo from mental health, and encouraging us that it is time to talk. But is it time to talk? Or is it actually time to listen?'
We are living in an age where mental health is a hot topic; more and more people are doing their best to lift the lid of taboo from mental health, and encouraging us that it is time to talk. But is it time to talk? Or is it actually time to listen? Speaking on women’s rights Meghan Markle said recently, "Women don't need to find a voice, they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it.” I think the same can be said for those with mental health problems - we all have a voice, but when we use it are we being heard? We can talk about mental health until the cows come home, but if there is no understanding, listening or willingness to learn how much good will it actually do for any of us in the end?
In order to be able to talk, really talk, we need to know that we will be heard. Whether we ourselves or a loved one struggles with a particular mental illness, my first piece of advice (were you to ask me!) would be to learn as much as you can about the condition. Read up about it and ask questions so you can understand the nature of the illness, how it will impact on your life, and what can be done in terms of help, support, and staying safe.
Mental illness can be a tricky subject to broach, not dissimilar to when somebody we know is bereaved; it can be difficult to know what to say. Sometimes therefore we say nothing - we avoid the issue (or even the person), or else we try to fix and placate them with no real idea of what they need. When we don’t know what to say to someone, isn’t it enough to tell them that? Invite the person to tell us more, and listen to what they have to say. Let them do the talking. Empower them to use the voice they have, and walk beside them when they need you. Of course we should talk about mental health, but we should do a lot more listening and learning as well.
It is almost a year since my first book A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder - a journey into borderline personality disorder (and out the other side) was published. I have received several messages from people who have read my book, telling me how much it helped them to understand themselves or someone they love; they know they are not alone, and they know there is hope.
I wrote this book, as I write my blog, to work towards de-stigmatising mental illness (BPD in particular), to raise awareness and understanding and to encourage and inspire people that there is, always, hope. I write a lot about mental illness, but still I find it difficult to be honest with people face-to-face when I am struggling.
I have a few trusted friends with whom I can be completely honest, but outside of this circle I don one of my trusted brave faces and I carry on. I think that’s okay though - talking about mental health doesn’t mean we tell every Tom, Dick and Harriet that we meet that we are having a ‘bad’ day, does it? To me it is a collaboration of trusted people being open to talking, listening, learning, and understanding not only the mental illness but also the impact it has on those around us.
For over twenty years I did not talk about my mental health. I had a voice, but I believed I was powerless and I did not use it. A combination of the right treatment, support and understanding has empowered me to add my voice to the throng of warriors and advocates as and when I can; to tread a pathway that will hopefully make it easier for those who follow by raising awareness and fighting the stigma surrounding mental health.
Talking about mental health saves lives. It creates communities, and it empowers those who have not yet felt heard. Not everyone feels able to talk, just yet, but we are all able to listen, and being willing to do so is sometimes all that is needed for the healing process to begin.
You can find more info, reviews and purchasing for Tracy's Book here