1 February 2018 is Time to Talk Day, and also more or less one year since I ‘came out’ about my mental health. Mental health problems affect around 1 in 4 people (although I firmly believe we’re all on a spectrum that slips and slides over time), yet many people are still reluctant to talk about them. I can understand this, I’ve lived with anxiety for most of my life, and for most of my life I’ve felt ashamed and like I had something to hide, which ultimately made everything much worse. It’s really hard work keeping up the pretense of everything being ok, and it’s even harder feeling ashamed of how you feel and having no idea how to ‘get over it’. Being damaged goods is exhausting.
It took me a long time to get to the point where I wanted to talk as openly as I do. I had to work through a lot of stuff to get to a place where I had a clear understanding of my own situation and felt confident enough to put my story out there (because, after all, the internet is forever). It wasn’t easy. It was messy and sometimes painful. A lot of private conversations helped me along the way (including with a therapist and doctors), simply the act of talking about things without fear or judgement allowed me to work through what I was feeling and understand more about what was going on. I realised that talking helps us to process what’s going on, shared stories make us feel less alone and listening helps us to support people better. Starting to talk changed everything. It lightened the load, helped me process how I felt and made me realise just how many people are in a similar situation, and how sharing a problem makes lighter work of dealing with it. It was a revelation. My experiences made me want to speak out more, to share my story and offer a listening ear just in case it might help one person to feel less alone, ashamed or worthless. I also wanted to show the world what a ‘mental’ person looks like – a professional, accomplished woman in her 30s, with a great relationship and a loving family – in an act that pushes back against the stigma mental health can create.
I want to see a world where we’re as open about mental health as we are about any physical illness. Where people don’t feel afraid to tell their school, employer or family that they’re not feeling great and where people can easily access the treatment and support that they need, when they need it. I want a world that isn’t afraid of mental health, and to get there we need to destroy the stigma that plagues these conditions. Talking can help us do that. It helps us influence society to become more comfortable with something it’s been very uncomfortable with, and helps the world understand that these problems are common and nothing to be afraid of. My challenge to you on Time to Talk day is to have just one conversation, with whoever you want, about mental health. Doesn’t have to be about your mental health, doesn’t have to be about theirs, just needs to be a chat. Let me know how it goes.
*image: Anna Rachel Photography