Last October, I fell in love. With a woman. The relationship lasted six hours long and was entirely sexless. However, the lasting effect it had on me was far from forsaken or frustrated. It did what all good relationships do- it taught me about who I am. More specifically, it created a safe and supportive environment for me to learn more about my mental health.
In my mid-teens I experienced bouts of clinical depression that have left me with the delightful legacy of an anxiety disorder. This disorder has been the bane of my admittedly sheltered life.
The woman I fell in love with was my NHS appointed psychologist and I hold her solely responsible for my calmer, braver and ultimately happier 2.0 self. My therapist tryst turned my angst-ridden stress story into a real life rom-com, if you will.
A lot is made in the press of the need to remove the stigma from mental health problems and the 1 in 4 of us in Britain who are affected by one over the course of the year. Undoubtedly, as with countless other issues, understanding how crucial it is for society to ditch discrimination is key to progression. But I have an alternate message.
What many people don’t realise is that mental health disorders can have a detrimental effect on surprising aspects of a sufferer’s life, such as their capacity to complete routine tasks or even sit still for 15 minutes. Personally, I knew it was time to check myself in for a mental once-over when I became so riddled with paranoia, self-doubt and a futile habit of taking every circumstance to worst-case scenario in my head, that I could not sleep. I couldn’t actually do anything. I couldn’t work (leading to relentless aspersions about my laziness), I couldn’t relax (even when plied with my favourite gin), and I couldn’t keep on top of my bills (the council get seriously ratty when you don’t pay tax on time). I also could not stem the bizarre Virginia Woolf style stream of overwrought consciousness my friends were becoming so frequently privy to. I was frenzied and unfocused. It had to stop.
All it took was talking to someone. A professional who could give me some perspective and clear a path toward self-acceptance. An entire specialised gardening and landscaping unit, armed to the teeth with pruning shears and when occasion called for it, chainsaws, was dispatched for that task. No mean feat.
My own issues aside, over the past couple of years I have seen several friends suppress symptoms and signs of an underlying mental health issue. These range from short attention span and lethargy to finding escapism in drink or drugs. As with physical symptoms, left untreated, these only lead to something worse. On the other side, in more extreme circumstances, I’ve witnessed the consequences of not taking prescribed medications for a diagnosed case of bipolar disorder in a bid to be ‘normal’- not for the faint hearted. This is where acceptance must come in. Acceptance coupled with awareness.
So what I’m saying is, absolutely try to be less afraid and uneasy of mental health disorders, definitely wade in to rid society of the archaic notion of freakiness it attaches to mental health problems, which subvert the origins of said problems. Because in this way, we are free to be aware of and undaunted by the state of our own – and our loved ones – mental health.
I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I’m not telling you you’re all as mad as a box of frogs but if you notice that someone close to you is not themselves and might be suffering, or if you recognise something in yourself, do something. We owe it to ourselves to check up on our minds as well as those pesky STIs, even if just to get the all clear.
In the meantime, my top tips for sanity balm would be as follows:
1 – Leave that obsession with the social media platform that so torments you to just once a week. No, checking 73 times a day if he has updated his Facebook to ‘in a relationship’ with the girl in all of his photos won’t stop it from happening. Get on with your own stuff. Oh, and if you’re wondering, all those city slickers who are posting photos at pricey watering holes with unlimited champagne and statuses about bonuses? They won’t be able to afford a mortgage before you because they’re spending all that cash on extortionate booze and questionable ties.
2 – Meditate. Sitting in an upright position and clearing your mind, counting 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breathe out for a whole minute does not make you a tired, old hippy. It keeps you grounded; away from the sheer drop over the ledge into Frantic Panic Valley, a terrible place rife with insomnia and unappealing sweating. Nobody needs that.
3 – Take charge. Remember that everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
And check out Mind.org’s mental health selfies to learn more from real people.
Written by the gorgeous (and ever surprising) Joanna Mackay
My most recent guest blogger and newest recruit in the quest to understand – and help out – humankind. Find her on Twitter here.