When it comes to mental health and wellness, we appear to have got it all wrong.
We believe the rubbish purported in the media and judge each other harshly, never really understanding what it is we are talking about.
For example, RAPE is never about SEX! So it makes no difference ‘What she was wearing’, or whether ‘She was promiscuous’, Rape is an action of Over-Powering by one person to another (gender irrelevant) and represents a MENTAL ILLNESS on the behalf of the rapist: Massively low self esteem coupled with hatred of women,(where appropriate) anger at being rejected or feelings of powerlessness create rapists, not short skirts, big boobs or effeminate men!
ANOREXIA is nothing to do with dieting! It is a MENTAL ILLNESS which controls the psyche, constantly attacking and belittling the mind, using weight and body image as its focus point. But much more importantly leading the sufferer to lie and cheat and distance themselves from anyone else. Just as an abuser would isolate a victim, so Anorexia isolates the sufferer from friends and family, making them lie, hide and cover their tracks, all the while feeling powerful in their deceptions, but disgusted at themselves at the same time.
DEPRESSION is not about SADNESS. It is not the result of a ‘bad day’ or simply a reaction to a bad experience. Depression is a MENTAL ILLNESS which tortures the mind of the sufferer into believing they are worthless, toxic and do not deserve to be happy.
That sufferers of depression can excel in the performance arts is akin to the anorexic who excels at hiding their habits from their family. The ability to pretend, to cover your tracks and to use humour to displace attention becomes the major activity in Performers with Depression. The list is endless: Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Robin Williams, Robbie Williams, to name but a few. Larger than life characters who made us laugh and cry with the witty pathos of their performance and the deep knowing of their truth, shining through their smiles.
We have all been rocked by the sad loss of Robin Williams on Tuesday, and the many posts on FaceBook and the subsequent ‘threads’ of opinions which followed have prompted me to write this.
As a lifelong sufferer myself, I have long been an advocate for Fighting Stigma; Opening up the conversation and Dispelling the Myths surrounding depression. On my first outing on Twitter, a few years ago I connected purely with mental health sufferers, reading posts of such desperation and trauma that I could no longer continue. Stories of young women not eating, not washing, being terrified of hospitalisation, of threatening to run away from the CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) in fear of being drugged up to the eyeballs, was horrifying, and in the end I had to delete my account.
Now back on social media with healthier boundaries, I am following Coaches and Trainers, Business Builders and forward thinkers, rather than the suffering. Not to avoid them, exactly, but because my own health now comes first.
This ‘selfishness’ is part and parcel of my self care, along with taking medication every day, practising mindfulness and watching what I eat. Did you notice that? I refer to myself as ‘selfish’ for not being willing to read of the suffering of others, that is a key ‘depressive statement’, we do so struggle with self worth, and seem to need reminding constantly that it is, in fact, OK to say NO.
This post is primarily to ask you to think again about what constitutes ‘Mental Health’? What, in your mind does ”Being Mentally Healthy’ look like? I think this is a question rarely asked, and I would truly love to hear your ideas. After all, if we have no dialogue for what Good Mental Health looks like then how can one understand that they are suffering from Mental Ill-Health.
Ironically, good mental health is not reliant on you feeling happy all the time. It is not being clever, or bright or funny or any of those ‘positive’ states. I believe that a Healthy Mind is able to be self actualising, to think for itself, to know where you are and what you are, to have a firm grasp on the differences between ‘the real world’ and ‘the imagined one’.
This is key. In childhood we have our wild imaginations, we see things that are not there, we feel things others do not feel and we sense things we cannot put into words. I personally believe this is where many -but not all- mental illnesses stem from. The powerful push and pull from outside to conform to ‘norms’, the failure of those around us to understand our ways of thinking and feeling, create a falseness inside, the need to ‘look happy’ in order to satisfy parents or visitors, the constant disapproval of our tears, our sadness, our ‘big thoughts’ or our over excited exuberance! I think this is where mental health problems start.
If you are constantly undermined, criticised, talked over and dis-empowered; if you are raised within sadness and anger, you can learn to assimilate those feelings as normal, and, I believe, your brain chemistry will alter retrospectively.
i.e. A lack of joy in childhood, a lack of freedom to think and feel for oneself, can create subdued supplies of dopamine and serotonin thus setting up the brain for emotional frailty in the future.
In the wake of Robin Williams Death, we have heard cries of ‘But he had it all! What did he have to be depressed about?’
This is the biggest misunderstanding of all. If you have depression, you have it forever. Like alcoholism. It’s always in you, it simply becomes easier to manage, sometimes looking like its gone. But, I believe, its never far away and you need always to be on your guard.
So to carry this Black Dog around with you, and yet be lauded with accolades, to be adored and put up on a pedestal, can only further serve the disease which is constantly telling you ‘You are Worthless, you are a fraud. What you do is SO unimportant. Who do you think you are? What the hell did you do to get ALL OF THIS?’
If you’ve never felt it than I guess you cannot possibly imagine how it feels. As someone who has, and who felt as if simply living was putting my children in danger, that I was going to ruin their lives and they would be better off with me dead, I can understand only too well. I, too, am a gifted individual; with people always telling me How clever I am, How well I write, How great I am at performing, How helpful and skilled I am as a Coach, and yet still, my self confidence is so fragile, that I struggle to master the true ownership of my gifts. I always need help. And I know I always will.
I have done the CBT, attended the group and take the medication. Currently I am lowering my dose as it makes me hyper and my GP is concerned about my Bi Polar Tendencies. This is one of the greatest gifts of mental illness. Its not simply a one hit pony. Oh, No! You don’t simply get depressed, go to bed for a few days then feel better. I’m not officially diagnosed as Bi Polar but I can see that in some periods I am full of energy, planning my business, full of ideas of how to make more money and have ‘the life that I’ve always dreamed of”, then , very quickly I am so stuck that I cannot even comprehend how to do the dishes or process the laundry!
As a result I am not in paid employment, and having a disabled partner, this means we live on a low income and are always working towards improving our situation. So you can see how I would swing rapidly from using my skills to be self employed and getting it all sorted to I cannot even get up today, please let me sleep and will somebody Please feed the dog! Poor Dog!
I will leave you then, with this question:
What does Good Mental Health mean to you?
How would you know if you were unwell?
What would you do about it?
Please, please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. I want this post to be the beginning of a thorough conversation about mental health rather than a blame game and judgement call.
I look forward to hearing from you.