Less Than Strong

“The loneliest people can be the kindest. The saddest people sometimes smile the brightest. The most damaged people are filled with wisdom. All because they do not wish the pain they’ve endured on another soul.” – Timothy Delvecc

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Hi everyone. I’m not promising that this post will make much sense but I need to write a few things down. Bear with me and perhaps some coherence will emerge….

So it’s been a tough few days.
Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent to me things aren’t quite right. I don’t always realise that I’m not feeling myself or acknowledge that the sinking feeling is back. That sadness seems to have become a default setting again.

I’d love to know whether feeling, well, less than strong causes me to feel more of the world’s pain than I should, or whether being susceptible or sensitive to the world’s cruelty makes me Less Than Strong. A chicken-and-egg situation perhaps?

I watch the news and read. I look and listen and I consume too much social media and sometimes it seems that everywhere I look there is pain. This week alone there are child killers being released from prison. The mentally ill are being stigmatised by the world’s most read newspaper. Children are suffering in Syria (and all over the word) and babies are fighting cancer. Friends of mine are suffering illness, depression, loss. It feels like life gets harder and crueller and it’s overwhelming.

Have you ever looked around at your messy house or another task which seems enormous? Thought about how there is so much work to be done that you may as well just do nothing? Maybe that’s just me. But that’s how I feel at the moment. Literally and metaphorically speaking. I’ll come home and plan to sort the laundry or wash the floors or whatever. Then it all seems too overwhelming so I’ll just sit instead. But I won’t be able to rest or relax and I’ll feel guilty. I feel that way about the world and life.

Like there is so much I could or should be doing to affect change. Help people. But it’s all too much. It hurts to think about it. So I do nothing. I sit and think about friends I should contact or charity work I should do. Then I distract myself with the Internet and more and more sadness seems to find me there. It’s endless, really.

I know that I should stay away from sad stories and not watch the news if it upsets me. My mum said so and I’m trying. But it just doesn’t seem right to walk around in a bubble of ignorance.

I tried strategically thinking happy thoughts and counting my blessings. But that just causes more panic:
“I’m so fortunate! Look at everything that could go wrong! Something bad will happen if I indulge in too much gratitude, surely?”.

What I’m trying to remember is that reality is only in the moment.
This moment. Thoughts pass and I must let them. The very fact that I’m able to rationalise this is a really good sign for me. I’m grateful for being able to write this down and for being capable of thinking this through. I know this is a temporary state of mind. Today I can sit and write whereas yesterday all I wanted to do was lay in bed. I didn’t, but only because my children need me.

The other day, in traffic it occurred to me that we can rush through life quickly when the lights are all green. We can reach our destination so much faster. But once the lights turn red we’re forced to slow down. We can take in surroundings that we’d otherwise rush past. Catching a chain of red lights can be inconvenient at best and can sometimes screw up your entire day. But sometimes being forced to slow down or stop gives us the chance to think and reflect and to collect our thoughts when we’ve got nowhere else to go.

So for now, I’ll wait here until the lights change again. Because change again they will.

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Supermarkets and Stigma

Last night a link to the following product appeared in my Twitter feed.

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One of the UK’s top four supermarkets, Asda, were marketing a Halloween costume consisting of an axe-wielding, blood stained straitjacket under the title “mental patient”.

Someone, somewhere felt that this was appropriate and my mind simply boggles. On the most part, Twitter was a frenzied hive of activity directed at Asda, who eventually (and eight hours after their initial acknowledgement of a complaint) removed the item from sale, apologised and promised a “sizeable” donation to a mental health charity.

Their main error was simply in the name of the costume. This would be a non-issue had they called it a zombie outfit or something like that.

What has concerned me more than anything has been reactions from those who feel this outcry is “political correctness gone mad.”

I’ll share a tweet I received, by way of illustration.
” @Mummykindness @asda there is nothing offensive about this… Why are people hating on asda? Other companies sell the same costumes!”

Other online comments asked:

“Why are people getting so offended at Asda selling this? Don’t other shops sell this too?”

“Wow apparently even Halloween costumes are now over sensitive…”

“So are these people going to ban horror movies now? PC idiots.”

This. This is what I feel the need to address.
These people have completely failed to realise that the greatest barrier to treatment for those suffering from depression is stigma. Suicide accounts for more than 6,000 deaths a year in the UK, three times the amount of those killed in road-traffic accidents. A least ten times this figure attempt suicide and according to charity mentalhealth.org.uk:
“People with a diagnosed mental health condition are at particular risk (of suicide) Around 90% of suicide victims suffer from a psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.”

The costume was not the issue. By any other name it was just another halloween costume. But using such grotesque imagery to depict mental illness perpetuates dangerous stereotypes which, in turn, further ingrains a perception that mental illness is to be feared and ridiculed. This places additional obstacles in the path of those who need to seek help and endangers lives.

To address another online comment:

“While I do agree they could have worded it better, I think this is being taken too far, Freddy Kruger masks etc could upset burns victims, fake arms and legs could upset amputees and knives dripping in blood could upset the families of murder victims. The list is endless!”

I believe this is completely missing the point. This is not simply about “upsetting” those who suffer from mental illness. It’s about stigma and shame and ridicule, not political-correctness-gone-mad. It’s not simply insensitive to suffering, but outright damaging and dangerous.

Depicting a “mental patient” as a blood-thirsty maniac perpetuates an (albeit extreme) ideal that psychiatric treatment is to be avoided at all costs. This is a viewpoint that can literally cost lives.

I’m not suggesting that one fancy-dress costume will push someone over the edge, of course not. But as a society, we need to do everything we can to eradicate the stigma attached to mental health. One in four of us will suffer from a mental illness during our lifetime. In an ideal world, discussing and seeking help for any illness should be equally as straightforward, whether mental or physical in nature.

But looking at the attitudes I’ve seen in the past twenty-four hours, we’ve still got a very long way to go.

For the record, in case you’ve ever wondered, here is what someone who suffers with mental illness looks like…

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If you need help or support with mental illness, please see the following links. You are not alone.
http://www.mind.org.uk/
http://www.rethink.org/
http://www.sane.org.uk/

Dear You

The Recovery Letters is a blog which publishes letters addressed to those suffering with depression, written by people who are recovering. They kindly approached me to write one for them. I hope you like it.
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Dear You

Did you know that there are flowers which bloom only in the darkness? Even on the blackest night, Moonflowers blossom, their beauty shining through.

Depression can make you forget everything you know and rob you of rational thought. It sucks the colour out of life and makes you feel like the world is spinning without you, like you’re absent. Like you don’t belong in any conversation. Like it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t present in the room, the town, the world.

The strength of depression lies in its ability to negate positivity. No matter how sincere the compliments others may pay you, you can’t believe them. You can’t accept that you’re worthy of love, acceptance or even happiness.

But you are. You really, really are. You can’t see it at the moment, because you’ve got a rain cloud over you. There’s a deluge of icy rain blurring your vision and a fog in your mind, obscuring your thoughts. But underneath it, the truth is you’re still there. You’re here and you matter. You’re kind, beautiful, loved. You’re important to so many people and you deserve to get better.

I know you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed these words either. I’d have discounted them, ruled out any positive words. Put myself down.

I spent long, dark, anxious nights awake. My mind raced and I felt like the only person awake in the world. As if the night would never end. Panicking and palpitating and crying.

But little did I know then, that even during darkness, flowers still bloom. And one day, without you even realising, you start to notice them again. It starts with a strange feeling one morning. You think of something you’ve got planned for later on that day, and an odd feeling comes over you. It takes a while to recognise it at first. Is is anxiety? No. It’s called positivity. You’re looking forward to things again. Fancy that.

You might look up at the blue sky, and really see it. Once clear sky seemed to mock you, going about it’s business despite your pain. But suddenly you’ll really see the sky again, appreciate it, allow it to bring you a sliver or joy.

One day soon you’ll notice a beautiful flower, or laugh at a joke, or sing along to something. Little by little, you WILL get better. Because you, as much as anyone, deserve happiness. You are worthy of love, of kindness and of compassion.

In the depths of the darkness it seems like you’ll never recover. But you simply must believe that you deserve better than this. Because you do. You are more than your depression and it does not define you. It is a chapter in your life, yes. Perhaps a big and significant one. But it’s not the final chapter.

Help is out there, so please, please, find someone who will listen to you. Who will sit with you in the dark place until you’re ready and capable of leaving it behind you. If it’s medication you need, take it. Seek out therapy, support, exercise…. Whatever you need. If you don’t know what you need, please find someone to guide you.

Falling apart gives you the opportunity to put yourself back together, like a phoenix from the ashes. You may never be quite the same, but that’s okay. Even in the dark you’ve been quietly blooming and learning. You just haven’t been able to see it in yourself. Soon you will.

Be kind to yourself, dear friend. It truly can and will get better. I promise. You’re not alone.

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You can find many more letters here.