Yesterday marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week and anyone who knows me, or is a regular reader, will know that this is a topic very close to my heart. I had Virgin Radio on in the car yesterday, on our way to daycare, and Chris Evans had an incredible young man on his show as a guest. Ben is only 22 but he has written a mental health book after a family tragedy : his younger brother was diagnosed with clinical depression , which he had ignored as he had not understood it, so he was wracked with guilt when his 15 year old brother took is own life. He had suffered with terrible guilt and had thought that he would never look forward to anything in his life again. Both Ben and his mother had become active campaigners for mental health in school aged children, she was studying mental health and giving talks in schools, while Ben had written a self-help book about his experiences, so they had both turned the tragedy into a positive rather than becoming consumed by it.
Ben talked about something in particular that struck a chord with me, as thankfully our family has not been affected by suicide, though depression is common amongst my family members. He talked about accepting ,and even embracing, our flaws rather than trying to hide them. He spoke of the Japanese art of ‘Kintsugi’; whereby broken crockery is re-built by gluing it together again with gold, so it treats the breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than being something to disguise. This is a beautiful concept I thought, so lets not hide our damaged parts, lets illuminate them as an important part of who we are.
I do not now try to hide my poor mental health, my ups and downs are a key part of who I am and without the lows, I do not get the highs either. I am not sure that I polish and highlight my depression, but for me, it is invaluable to talk about it, in the open rather than trying to deny and hide it. I was forced to hide it when I was working as I always continued working throughout my lows, I never took any time off for my depression. I would tell my bosses when I was feeling down, although I always thought that it must be obvious to them before I would confess. They would reassure me that I was disguising it well. It took supreme effort, which was exhausting, but I maintained my responsible role at work and would even manage to wear a disguise when visiting clients, so that they would be none the wiser how much I was struggling. Everything took me longer than when I was well, as when I was writing a report for instance, I would be constantly changing it, being filled with self-doubt and feeling that every line was not good enough. Now that I have retired from work, that is a heavy burden lifted from me, I will never have to pretend like that again.
This weeks theme is loneliness and having poor mental health is a very isolating experience. I tend to withdraw from most social situations when I am low, which is why lockdown suited me well really as there was no expectation to socialise. But this is probably exactly the opposite of what I should be doing, as that gives you even more thinking time, more time inside your own head. Time with your friends can show you that you do have worth and that they do not need you to be the life and soul of the party all of the time, good friends will love your highs and lows. That is something that I have only recently come to appreciate; previously I did not want to see my friends when I was low, as I did not expect them to like me in that state, but now I realise that friendships are important for my recovery and that if someone is willing to stick with you through your lows, then they are a true friend.
So during this Mental Health Awareness Week, be kind to those who are struggling.