Mental Health Awareness Week

Sunrise over Hayling

Apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I say apparently because I’ve been avoiding much of social media for the duration. All the influencer posts. All the one size fits all advice from people who aren’t trained in the area or are just repeating glib suggestions. I’m being harsh. I am sure the posters concerned are trying to do good. And maybe they do reach out and help someone. Fair enough.

But those of us with closer, lived experience in this area maybe don’t need reminding every single time we scroll through Facebook or LinkedIn, (and yes, I know I’m potentially being hypocritical here, but at least if you’ve got this far you have done so by choice ).

For a lot of us every week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Something we deal with. Every. Single. Day. It’s exhausting. Looking out for signs, trigger points, anything that might lead to some kind of relapse. And along comes a well-meaning mental health awareness post to brighten our day. And then another, and then the first post again, shared by someone else we follow.

Not only this, but these articles are so full of sweeping generalisations – just because I’ve suffered from depression it doesn’t mean I know anything about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any of the other myriad conditions that people have to find a way of living with. It’s as if someone who once had a broken leg can automatically be an expert on mitigating the effects of varicose veins.

Although as Gillian McKeith managed to build a career as a ‘nutritionist’ from not much more than an intense interest in the contents of someone’s bowels, it isn’t that surprising. Anyone can be an expert on anything if enough people are listening. Being full of shit can be highly profitable.

Back to Mental Health Awareness Week itself. It’s 2021. Surely we’ve had enough focus on developing awareness of these issue by now for this to be unnecessary? But then I hear a colleague in the office moaning because someone won’t go to work because they are ‘a bit sad’. Yes maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have snapped. But perhaps they were just covering their own insecurities, their own issues, their own illness. Many of us are just trying to find a way to deal with our own crap (unless we’re Gillian McKeith of course).

Despite my colleague’s comment, I do think attitudes are changing – I only have to think back to what it was like in the 80s and 90s to see how far we have come, and initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week have probably played a part, despite my ambivalence and curmudgeonly annoyance. Just don’t expect me to share any chain mail social media posts on this subject (or any other for that matter).

There is so much that still needs to be done. I could rant and rage about the government’s woeful attitude an funding cuts to mental health provision in the name of austerity, but I’m not going to bother. They aren’t listening and they certainly don’t care.

On a personal level I’m not at the stage where I am willing to divulge everything that I went through. Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t see some badge of honour confessional from me in this post.

One thing I will say is that in my case there were times that I felt as if the treatment was as bad as the illness it was treating (it wasn’t). The prose piece which follows at the end of this post, (at this stage part of a much larger sequence I am writing – though it might not make the final cut), is an attempt to give an insight into one aspect of my own treatment through the use of (in my case a relatively low dose) anti-depressant medication.

Having started by criticising advice being given out during Mental Health Awareness Week, I am going to give two pieces of advice of my own.

Firstly, from personal experience and what I’ve read, I don’t think you can properly begin to deal with depression in someone until that person realises or accepts that they have a problem. Secondly, if you are struggling with depression and getting to the point of thinking that those you love will be better off without you being around, then you are wrong. The void you will leave behind is far greater than anything anyone who cares about you will be feeling right now.

Anyway, before this ends up as one of those self help articles I pilloried at the start of this article, here’s the poem / flash / hybrid writing piece. It hasn’t appeared anywhere else before. It’s entitled Sertraline (the anti-depressant I was taking for some time). To misquote The Verve, sometimes the drugs do work, even if we don’t always think they are at the time. They helped, and alongside the support of health professionals and my wonderful family and friends I was able to find my way back from the dark.

Sertraline

A comfort you said it was being unable to feel. You’d paid for the fog with your own credit card. It came in a box of bitter-white pills. Slip one from its pod and sleep not needing to dream. 

Numbness is a blanket. Tuck in the edges. The gaps where light might grow. It’s a fair price to pay for a few hours of peace.

A bus-stop shelter in a nondescript town, where stormwater guttering sluices with despair. Been waiting for years for a way out of this place. For a discourse of traffic through a diaspora of spray.

Walking the centre in a figure of eight. Stanchions of concrete stained with rain. Shopping precinct garlanded with for sale signs. The acrid scent of alleyway piss. Playing chicken with passing cars. The thrill of knee brushing steel.

Or finding a feather in the park. Look how it shimmers in the sheen of a summer moon. Remembering a smile, the whiteness of teeth, the shape of a laugh. But there is no iridescence here. I like it that way. 

I’m not the man I thought I’d become.

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