I may be a few days late with this post, I procrastinated about it a lot. October 10th was mental health awareness day, there was so much recognition on social media which was really positive but awareness cannot be one day, there are 365 of them. I am going to put it out there now, I am yet to meet anyone that has not or does not experience mental health on some level. Go forth keyboard warriors, do your worst.
Mental health as a term is socially often associated with some sort of extreme diagnosis, in reality ‘no hun’, we are not all schizophrenic, sometimes my brain chemicals aren’t always tip-top, relax, I’m not Girl Interrupted. Think about it rationally, (like think really hard), it's pretty obvious. Mental health and physical health are both symptomatic, however, the symptoms when you are off colour mentally don’t present themselves publicly. For example, I had measles two years ago, no concealer in the world was hiding that, I look like a tomato that had been hit with a bat, then reversed over by a JCB. Mental health can be masked as easy as the freckle on my chin. Tell you what, send me an email if you think that you have never had mental health issues on any level after you have read this. This must mean that you have never had any physical health issues either, no arthritis, flu, chickenpox, not even a touch of the sniffles. Course you have. But mental health isn’t an inflammation, a few spots or a runny nose, it's still an enigma we don’t want to quantify or acknowledge. Why? Well as a proud Polish-Geordie my Eastern European roots mixed with Newcastle ones have made me of strong stuff, a grafter, being raised to ‘stop being a fanny’, there's nothing the matter with me and talking about anything to do with mental health had always seemed a little taboo.
So not to be a hypocrite, I am happy to admit after many years that I have always had pretty bad anxiety. It is my nemesis. I wouldn’t say I have gotten better as I’ve gotten older, just shifting paradigms of ways of dealing and understanding it. I didn’t realise that as a 6-year-old only eating jaffa cakes and Marks and Spencer's ham for a year and almost giving my mother a nervous breakdown (whilst making me look like Wednesday Adams) was an indication that I worried about stuff more than your average person. I was worried about the food having lumps in it, WTF? I remember getting given a Parker pen and wouldn’t sleep in case I thought that I had lost it for school the next day shouting down the stairs in my 10-year voice ‘Mam, Dad, can you check my pen is in my school bag?’ I must have loved that pen. Anxiety was manifesting itself before I knew what it was. I was brought up to be acutely aware that circumstances could change in an instant, life was fragile, you could lose your strongest human connection in a heartbeat. The fear of that loss has been something that I have carried with me to the present and will do every day. For example, because a text hasn’t been responded to, clearly the receiver has been killed in some freak accident; I haven’t heard from a friend for a couple of days? This means a lifelong friendship is over. I could go on. This has gotten better with time, however, the worry is always there, the fear of the loss, basically living daily with the worst-case scenario as the likely outcome no matter how much people say ‘worry about it when it happens’.
Mental health awareness is of course about acknowledging the big stuff, but for me, it's also about sweating the small stuff. I will always be a worrier, Doctor Google has diagnosed me with AIDS and Cancer more times than it has a common cold (and I have believed it). I worry that I am not a good enough daughter, friend or colleague, sometimes I’m not, but it is never as often as what my mind tells me. The weirdest part (shouldn’t say weird when talking about mental health, soz) is that I don’t worry about the big stuff. I’ve talked a jumper off the Tyne Bridge whilst holding onto them (you’re not meant to do that in case they drag you with them the police told me, oops). I have held a detached scalp onto a strangers skull after a motorcycle accident when everyone else stayed in their cars staring whilst being covered in their blood, although I have to admit I was anxious as I wasn’t sure if my claret soaked Reiss skirt would recover - it did. I have told off mean strangers and intervened in fights without giving it a second thought, so clearly I am not a total fanny, none of those things has kept me awake at night. Anxiety can be so subjective to the individual. As a side note, if anyone wants to nominate me for a Pride of Britain can you arrange for Cheryl to give me my award so we can be besties, love her.
As time has moved on, and by time I mean age, I have learned to be bolder and not worry what others think as much. There is a caveat with this however, I do care, I care an awful lot about if people think that I am a good, kind and thoughtful person but I couldn’t give a shit if you think that my outfit is over the top, my eyeshadow is crap. This mindset has come with maturity and less of a need to be liked and accepted. Some people will not like you and that’s fine, I like very few humans. The need for friends has shifted dramatically from quantity to quality, and there has been a good clear out the mean girls, I can count on one hand the ride or die bunch, they know who they are.
The thought of blogging and having my photograph taken is something that does not match with someone that has any form of anxiety. It genuinely is something that I could never have tackled when I was younger. I do have a feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ sometimes, not just with how successful the blogging has become but my real job too. Imposter syndrome is; psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". When things are shit I don’t have it, that's just my life. When things are awesome I definitely have this, I consider myself a realist rather than an optimist or a pessimist, I don’t see the glass as half full or half empty, there is a glass with water in it and it’ll probably get knocked over, by Neville, my loveable but spatially unaware Airedale terrier. Blogging has given me the platform to face my fears head-on, get out of my comfort zone and take 145 photographs to get one good one. As you will see on the photographs that I have included and the captions, a picture on social media does not say a thousand words, it's all smoke and mirrors sometimes, but that’s not to say its bad, it can be escapism. I like creating that alter-ego on my Instagram and blog, it’s a nice haven from rush hour traffic and doing the food shop.
Probably the most common in our day to day society but the one people are frightened to say out loud. We all have been depressed at some point, for some reason. Remember what I said at the beginning, have you gotten to this point in life where you have never had a single physical ailment? Of course, you haven’t, so why would your mental health have been working 100% all day every day for your entire life unless you are a robot. Depression is a blanket term and manifests itself in many forms, it can be a chemical imbalance that you inherit, develop or more commonly can be situational as a result of medical or circumstances that life throws at you. I have seen depression in so many people but rarely talked about it with them. Socially it is acceptable when someone has a terrible cold to say; ‘you sound loaded with cold, how long have you had that for?’ but can you think of a time when it would be socially acceptable to say ‘you sound depressed, how long have you felt like this?’. People worry about the judgement, the stigma that depression may bring upon them, a label that you cannot shake off, what if you always become known as ‘the sad one’? Best just say nothing then.
I don’t know how to change it, I don’t have the answers, but we do need to talk about it. We need to educate ourselves and be as understanding with mental health as we are with physical health. A good friend of mine goes through many spells of ‘being healthy’, normally he starts on a Monday and is vegan, I won’t tell you what happens by the Thursday but it often involves a burger. I have no friends or even pretend online friends that text or show something to suggest that they are going to work on having a healthy mind this week. I suppose people would think that it sounds a bit wanky and self-indulgent? But why? See, it is so easy to trivialise mental health as a default setting to dismiss it rather than address it, unlike our physical health. Maybe the ‘what’s up hun? You OK hun?’ facebook generation is to blame, that makes giving a shit about someone so tokenistic. Next time you ask a friend if they are doing alright, really ask, tell them it’s fine if they are not, it really is good to talk. Things may seem fine but in reality nothing ever really is, maybe aside from my ears, they are perfection.