Wednesday, 20 January 2016

1 in 4.

I've been thinking about the 1/4 statistic recently; y'know, that at some point, 1/4 people will suffer from a mental health problem. Excuse me, but I call bull. Actually, I was chatting all things mental health with students at Huddersfield Uni the other day and I literally called out 'bull' whenever the bloke I was presenting with referred to the stat.

The best way I can explain why I think it's such a load of bull probably won't go right online, but when has something not quite going ever stopped me doing anything? Exactly. I'm currently wearing a green, red and white jumper, with black, pink and purple joggers, so come on. My explanation method sort of worked when I was doing my public speaking thang, so just imagine you're a student (possibly hungover, because you're a student) in a lecture theatre with me. 

So raise your hand if you've ever had a mental health problem. Assuming that everyone was to humour me, theoretically a quarter of those asked would have their hand up right now. Ok, so you can put your hand down. Raise your hand if you've ever had a physical health problem. When I tried this with students, I probably ended up with about half the people in the room with their hand up, but I think if they weren't so worried I'd call on them, I'd probably have had even more. To anyone who hasn't put their hand up because they've never had a physical health issue, keep your hand down if, at any point in your life, you haven't had a cough or cold or ear infection or sickness bug or chickenpox or anything. All hands up? Exactly.

The 1 in 4 statistic is meant to demonstrate that mental illness is common, but it does the opposite, because the flip side is that 3 out of 4 people won't have a mental health condition. It's a Them and Us situation and it isolates. In my late teens especially, I lived much of my life online. I didn't have any friends who were open about being mentally ill and my illness was so all consuming that I didn't think the friends I'd had all my life would be able to understand that. So I sought out friendships online. I had friends from throughout Europe, the states and Australia. Eventually, I had very few friends left outside of my computer and so very few friends who weren't ill. I met some great people, mostly people in a similar situation, people who didn't think that the 3/4 people without mental health problems would care. But I met very few of them in real life. I was extremely isolated.

In making new friends this way, I did a massive disservice to people who had stuck by me all my life. I discarded the 3/4. I think I even became kind of elitist about it, as time went on, believing that nobody could or would get it. I made it into a sort of gang thing, an exclusive group that only the 1/4 could be a part of.  

We were Us and we had no interest in Them. They were Them and they were scared of Us.

That fear is what stops everyone raising their hand at the idea of having a mental health problem. It also takes something from people at different stages of their illness. It isolates those who are clearly in the 1/4, but it also isolates those who feel like they're not ill enough to be in the minority but not quite well enough to be in the majority.

This is what I think: mental health is fluid. It ebbs and flows. Any life will feature times when you get the mental health equivalent of a cold or bug, times when that develops into something more dangerous and times when you identify as mentally healthy. The symptoms vary in severity and longevity, but they're still worth noting. In the same way that you know getting a cold won't kill you, but you still try to avoid catching one, everyone needs to be aware of fluctuations in their mental health and protect themselves from becoming unwell. There is no 1 in 4 or 3 in 4. There are just people and a whole spectrum of illnesses to strengthen yourself against.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Moving on.

I don't exactly get nervous, but I am prone to ridiculous levels of excitement. When most people would get a bit nervy, I tend to be bouncing off the walls and saying really dodgy things. Actually, any strong emotion for me tends to bring out excitement- I'm like a puppy- but especially nerves. Like the time I walked into a job interview and told the panel I was going to steal a chair. Or at my uni interview last week when I told them to let me in 'because I'm very nice. Unless you read my social media!' Honestly, I just should not be allowed to talk. 

BUT ANYWAY, I bloody went and bloody got in! As of September I'll be a student mental health nurse at Sheffield Hallam. It's all cracking. I keep squealing. 

Life moves on, who would have thought? I always knew the earth spun and leg hair grew, but I thought bodily hair would be the only growth that would occur for me. The rut I was stuck in felt like it was all there was. But here we go, I'm getting on. I'm not going to get all cheesy, but hey, life goes on.

Speaking of moving on, I'm going to literally be doing that. Moving, that is. I was always the laziest/least talented person in any PE class at school. I was guaranteed to be picked for teams close to last and after a few years of secondary just flat out refused to participate. My hair hurts, my tooth itches, any excuse was valid for my lack of participation- I got less and less convincing with my excuses as the teachers realised there was no point in me even trying. I was a nightmare. In fact, my PE teacher told my mum she'd never met anyone before who hated the subject as much as me. I was the least active anorexic going.

I told you that background because I'm doing a 10k in May and I thought it might make you more likely to sponsor me. Don't get me wrong, it's all true, but I hope you realise me doing a 10k is like somebody else doing 10 marathons, fact. Here's my link, go be lovely...

Friday, 8 January 2016

The truth.

This is the truth of my recovery: sometimes I miss being ill. Sometimes I miss being sad. The kind of sad that takes over everything and wraps itself around you like an oversized dressing gown. The kind of sad that makes you unable to feel much of anything, apart from a constant ache for the better days that you don't feel you deserve. I miss that constant. Oh, I miss that ache. Being ill, I sacrificed the human experience for the ache; it seemed safer to hide behind that self-imposed pain than it was to risk feeling something worse at the hands of somebody else. I couldn't feel anything emotionally, good or bad, because of that ache. I've taken off my suit of armour and although that suit of armour was lined with barbed wire, it felt safe and stable.

I wake up each morning and I panic, without knowing what exactly I'm afraid of. Am I afraid that the new day will bring good or bad? Am I afraid of being alone or the feeling of not being alone? I'm terrified, for those first few minutes, of either and any eventuality. I can't move. Frozen. Stuck in an early morning paralysis, where being well is as terrifying as being ill.

Of course, I'm scared of being on solid ground in a completely different way to how I'm scared of falling off the cliff edge all over again. The solidity is terrifying for its predictability and stability. It's new and it's its own sacrifice. It's a risk. Every day that I wake up and decide that I can take this on, I can manage without the armour, I risk feeling all manner of things that could potentially be bad, in a different way to the badness of being mentally ill.

Sometimes, I wonder where it all went. Sometimes, it's too quiet. Those voices I begged and pleaded with, the visions, the black dog that prowled all around me... where did it all go? How will I survive without the voices telling me I don't deserve the silence of death? Sometimes, it really is too quiet. Sometimes, it's too lonely. I lost my friends down to being ill, so I made new friends, friends who were also ill.  Friends I seem to have lost since I got more well. Sometimes, I don't seem to belong anywhere and sometimes it's really bloody lonely.

But I romantise my own illness at these times. I forget. I forget that the sadness wasn't just wrapped around my torso, but also around my neck. I forget that the pain was worse than anything anybody else could do to me now that I'm stronger. I forget that it didn't all get easier because of luck, it got easier because I worked my arse off to make it this way.