This post was written in celebration of WMHD 2020!
Everybody has a brain, so surely EVERYONE has mental health.
This message is nothing new, it’s been well-circulated since 2016. But I’m always surprised by how many people think it doesn’t apply to them. As in, they feel ashamed for experiencing sadness, anxiety, or panic, rather than accepting that’s it’s completely normal and human.
What’s the other saying….?
You wouldn’t be embarrassed by a broken bone, so why should mental illness be any different?
The disparity between brain and body is huge. Even I fall prey to it now and again.
A bad period you ask? Oh well, I’ll be sure to cancel all of my plans and comfort myself on the couch with a hot water bottle and cinnamon buns (I have a thing for cinnamon buns).
Back to back panic attacks? Oh, no it’s fine, I can still do that speaking gig or event.
So, what’s the problem? Why are we so reluctant to acknowledge a poorly brain?
Well… for starters, it’s because mental illness is invisible right? Unlike vomiting or a bad cold, the symptoms although excruciating to the individual, are not obvious to others. Plus, if you’re new to the condition, it can be difficult to explain. Before I was first diagnosed with social anxiety and panic attacks, the only description I could give was; Somethings wrong, I don’t know what. But something is very wrong. Which made me feel foolish and dramatic.
Then there’s the message from previous generations that we should all ‘be tough’ and ‘snap out of it.’
Talking about an emotional disorder puts us in a place of vulnerability and being vulnerable in front of others doesn’t come naturally to most of us. If it did then Brene Brown would’ve had zero cause to write about it. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
She’s not wrong. I hid my condition for over ten years, partly because I was afraid of what others might think of me. She can’t handle anything – she’s pathetic – she needs to get her shit together – (were a few that came to mind).
But also, I didn’t want to believe it myself. After all, what did I have to be anxious or unhappy about? I had a loving family, friends, and a good job. What the f**k was my problem? I must just be self-centered and fragile.
So, for years I went into autopilot and ignored the storm brewing in my mind.
(Trust me, your brain won’t put up with it forever, as I found when I had my breakdown in 2012).
It’s only when during recovery I started thinking of my condition as an illness, rather than being a character flaw did things start to change. For example, having a loving family won’t prevent you from catching the flu, or a bad case of the shits. Physical illness doesn’t work that way and the mental variety is no different.
If I had the flu, I wouldn’t question for a second whether I deserved rest and care…. So maybe I should give my brain the same respect.
The term mental health can be intimidating, or even scary to some. As (thanks to media and popular culture) we automatically picture brutal ‘psych wards’ and patients in straight jackets, ‘zombified’ by medication.
But the truth is, mental health is a huge spectrum and varies in severity. For instance, you can feel depressed and not have depression, or feel anxious but not have anxiety. A panic attack might strike only a few times, or you could have a period of insomnia. What’s important, however, is that EVERYTHING is valid. Why ignore something that’s causing you pain?
How do you know if you’re experiencing a mental health issue?
In a nutshell, you know what’s normal for YOU.. and if symptoms (both physical and mental) are starting to impact your life on a continued daily basis, then it might be time to have a chat with your GP.
For a detailed list of symptoms for individual conditions, check out MQ’s WEBSITE.
MENTAL HEALTH IS FOR EVERYONE, SO BE KIND AND GIVE YOURSELF A F**KING BREAK.
Happy WMHD everyone, and a big shout out to all NHS workers battling daily with the COVID crisis. You’re all heroes, but even heroes should safeguard their mental health.
My bestselling book We’re All Mad Here – is available online and in all good bookshops.