*TW: references to self-harm and suicidal ideation.*
Another mental health day, another influx of social media posts saying ‘it’s good to talk’, ‘it’s ok to talk’, ‘let’s get talking’ about mental health. Obviously this is excellent. But what about when talking about your mental health involves things that are unpleasant, scary or downright upsetting? Is talking still ok, or should we just share palatable infographics and cosy self-care memes?
I’ve thought about this a lot recently, especially as I’ve met a lot of new people since having my daughter Robyn in April this year. I’ve met loads of other new mums, and sometimes I’ve wondered how much is too much to share. It’s a bit like a job interview – feeling like you want to explain how you came to this point in your life, including addressing any gaps in your employment/sanity. In most cases I have told the truth- I used to work in a secondary school until a mental breakdown and psychiatric ward admission in 2018, followed by a break from work and retraining as a makeup artist. I try to be as matter-of-fact as possible but eyebrows still raise, and heads still tilt in sympathy. I’d also like to note that any time I have told someone this recently I have been met with nothing but kind words and understanding. It always astounds me how lovely people can be.
Have they noticed the self-harm scars that run up and down my arms and legs? Maybe those silvery lines are only obvious to me now, but I don’t make my effort to hide them, and it has been a hot summer of shorts and t shirts. We don’t talk about that stuff much on mental health days, do we? About how sometimes it’s possible to feel too much and you’ll do anything, _anything_ to distract from the sheer volume of pain. We don’t talk about the hours of mind-numbing boredom in A&E waiting to be seen by MH crisis teams, eating cardboard sandwiches and drinking watery tea. The weird comedown when you arrive home and realise nothing will change until something drastic happens. Those aren’t really the kinds of things people want to hear about mental health.
My other thoughts around talking involve how much I want my daughter to know about my illness. There’s some things she can wait until she’s a lot older to hear, but there’s some stuff I want her to talk to her about as soon as she’s able to understand. It’s probably easiest to list…
Things I don’t want her to know for a good long while:
⁃ The things I said and did while ill that hurt others.
⁃ The things I did while ill that hurt myself.
⁃ Just how desperate I became.
⁃ How terrified I was on the day of my admission, sitting in a hospital room, shaking, waiting to find out what would happen and whereabouts in the country they would find a psychiatric bed for me.
⁃ The shame I felt, and still feel, about what happened.
⁃ The look on loved ones’ faces when they see what lengths you’ll go to to hurt yourself, and the fear that you’ll do it again.
⁃ What day to day life on a psych ward was like, the things I saw and heard (and did myself).
The things about my illness I want her to talk to her about:
⁃ That it wasn’t my fault.
⁃ Everyone has mental health and everyone goes through ups and downs with it.
⁃ Things can be going well and you can still become depressed.
⁃ The right medical care and professionals can be truly life-saving. (And how lucky we are to have the NHS.)
⁃ That it’s more than ok to take medication for your mental health; for some of us it will be vital, and lifelong.
⁃ Some people just aren’t good for your mental health and it’s ok to say goodbye.
⁃ Just how amazingly supportive her dad was, and is.
⁃ Just how amazingly supportive her grandparents, aunties, uncles and wider family were, and are.
⁃ Feeling mentally ill is awful, but the first time you feel good again after so long being poorly is absolutely mind-blowing.
⁃ Being kind is important but putting that kindness into meaningful action is more so.
⁃ Things can and do change, no feeling is forever.
⁃ Sometimes all we need to do is breathe and hold on.
⁃ And, yes, that it’s good to talk.