Who am I and on what grounds I can talk about mental health and well-being? (Content/trigger warning for suicide and self-harm)
Mental health is a topic I have been passionate about since I abruptly discovered what it was aged 19 (!!!) but looking back it is clear to me that I have struggled on and off with my mental health all my life.
Over the years I have been diagnosed with BPD (borderline personality disorder), depression, anxiety, anorexia and bulimia. I have survived three suicide attempts and used to struggle with self-harm. At worst I have had the symptoms of all of these at once, in better times I have had none and often I am somewhere in between. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the support of friends, family, multiple therapists, the Samaritans, and even a couple of wonderful strangers over the years.
That’s a lot of disorders and hard-hitting admissions for four sentences, and I don’t like listing diagnoses out like that because it feels pointless and silly, like I’m trying to show off all my Blue Peter badges. Look how many badges I have! Here’s the one I got for not being able to get out of bed for two months because life felt pointless, here’s another one I got for my head making me panic every time I tried to leave my room, here’s a big golden one I got for not being able to eat anything without being sick, I could go on.
However, labels and diagnoses are at least helpful for roughly identifying my experience to you, and to stand any chance of doing this well I need to be authentic and give a true account of my experiences. I can’t claim to be combating stigma if I write about my personal experiences behind a pseudonym or pretend I’m 100% mentally well all the time when I’m not. It makes me feel vulnerable but it’s the only way to do it properly. Fortunately I have supportive friends and family who have my back. Not everybody does, so I feel I should make the best of it.
Why am I starting a mental health blog?
There are so many reasons why that I lost count, but I’ve boiled it down to three key reasons:
1 So I can help other people
On balance, for all its challenges, mental illness has not prevented me from achieving some big milestones in life so far even though it has made it pretty harrowing at various points for me and those close to me. At the time of writing, I am well enough to want to share my story and experiences. My hope in doing so is that it will help others, whether this is helping people experiencing their own mental health struggles know that they’re not alone and that it’s OK not to be OK, or those without experience wanting to understand what it might be like.
2 Mental health still isn’t talked about enough, and nobody is immune
People should not only be finding out what mental illness is when they’re in such a bad state that they are forced to. Also, it literally does not discriminate. Mental illness is the number one supporter of diversity and inclusion… no matter who you are or where you come from, you’re a candidate for it. Many different factors can make mental illness more likely, but not a single person on this earth is immune. Yet stigma still very much exists and feeling deep shame around mental illness is still a thing. Until all of this is firmly a thing of the past, there is a lot of work to do. If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: one of the best ways of combating stigma and shame is through talking and the sharing of personal stories.
3 So I can help myself
I have written before about my experiences of depression and anxiety (before I’d been diagnosed with anything else) and found it incredibly cathartic and liberating, so if I gain nothing else and help no one in writing this blog I will at least have got some free therapy out of it
Why the name?
“It’s all in your head” is something I’ve heard too many times from people who don’t understand mental illness, often in an attempt to be helpful or fill a silence that makes them feel awkward. It is… and it isn’t. Yes, it physically starts with the brain inside our head, but we all know that’s not what this remark intends. Mental health underpins our entire existence and without it we would literally not be living (which is why its absence is so crippling).
Mental illness is real. It isn’t something imagined or made up, even though we can’t see it in the same way as a physical injury or illness. Except when you know what to look for. Sometimes you can see it; in the lines of worry on someone’s face, the marks of self-harm on someone’s skin, the inability to eat, speak or get out of bed, the partaking in dangerous, reckless, and/or impulsive behaviour, etc.
You can see it in the shocking statistics. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide, and Accenture recently found that mental health affects 90% of UK workers either directly or indirectly.
It’s all in our heads – the 1 in 4 of us who have suffered, and those of us who have not. We collectively have the power to change the way mental illness is viewed by society, and doing so will literally save lives. People who are supported in looking after their mental health at work have been tangibly found to be more productive, motivated, engaged, innovative and perform better.
This blog is my contribution to the change I want to see, and we have a lot to do.