Sometimes I surprise myself with what I now do since setting up Balloons and the Brain! If my teachers at school and previous employers were to see what I am doing now, speaking to the public about me and what I have been through... I think they would be shocked!
Here is a talk I did yesterday as part of the sermon yesterday for MH Shabbbat;
If you were to look at me you would not think I would experience a serious mental breakdown, be 31 and have to move back with my parents, loosing touch with friends and isolate myself.
This can’t happen to “people like me”. I was brought up in a loving, caring home with everything I needed so mental health would never be something that could affect me, what do I have to complain about.
Well, this IS me.
This IS my life.
I am 1 in 4.
It’s taken along time to say that. A long time to admit it even to myself; I didn’t realise it was happening until it was too late. Perhaps if it were not for stigmas attached to mental health I may have been aware of what was going on and feel able to reach out before I reached breaking point.
My breakdown was triggered by work, a change of circumstances changed a job I loved to one I hated and dreaded each day.
I was feeling things I couldn’t share because they were wrong and unjustified.
On my way to work I was on the brink of tears, stomach in knots, finding it difficult to breath I thought I was weak, useless and unable to cope … no I wasn’t, I was suffering from chronic anxiety.
Being late to work, not caring what I looked like or not working to my usual standards, I felt I was lazy, acting like a child, rebelling from things I did not like… no I wasn’t it was depression.
All the signs were there but I and everyone else were clueless to the fact I was seriously unwell.
It wasn’t until I quit my job and was out with a friend from my Jewish Youth Group days telling her “things were a bit tricky”. She told me a mutual friend had a breakdown and spent time in a mental health hospital. It then dawned on me, things like this CAN happen to, “people like me”, it CAN happen to anyone.
Why did it take so long to notice and acknowledge things were not right? The answer is we are never taught about mental health.
At school we are taught about sex and drugs, yet mental health is never mentioned, not even the signs and symptoms to look out for, let alone encouraged to talk or express if we are struggling – we are made to feel scared of judgement or laughed at for feeling what we “shouldn’t”. It is unspoken and taboo from the start resulting in the inability to talk TRUTHFULLY of our feelings staying for life, and why we feel ashamed and perceive ourselves weak if things are not going well.
It can feel impossible communicate feelings as we have never been shown how or that it is OK, therefore throughout life it has stigma.
We are hard wired to answer the question “how are you?” with “I am fine”, we would never say “well things are a bit difficult”. Why is that? What is wrong if things are not going well? It is life, we all have ups and downs so why can’t we be authentic.
People compare mental ill health to a broken leg, something we can get over and fix over night.
The truth could not be further from this.
I often refer it like another invisible illness… Asthma.
Asthma is something an individual learns to live with knowing they need to manage it for life. Not something they can “get over” and not talk about. No questions are asked if you cant go somewhere or about medication, as it can be a matter of life and death. Mental ill health is the same; yet people know how to help someone with asthma but approaching the subject of mental health is “scarey”.
Interesting fact, according to ‘Asthma UK’ 1 in 12 are affected by asthma, yet 1 in 4 are affected by mental ill health. So why, if mental health challenges are more common is it ok to talk about asthma but mental health remains taboo and something only a “certain type of person” suffer from.
People say I am brave for speaking out but I am not I should not and I don’t like be considered this, it is something we all should feel able to do with out feeling shame. If I were talking about asthma I wouldn’t be brave, the fact I am called this is more evidence of it being something we shouldn’t speak of.
This is why I talk about my experiences; people need to be shown it is OK to say if we are struggling.
We all have mental health. If you look around the room right now 1 in 4, will be affected at some point, I am one of these who felt unable to acknowledge it was happening or ask for help, resulting in me becoming seriously ill.
So let's get talking about it, learn about it so we feel able to ask for help and less alone…..not be in a situation where I was because, “it doesn’t happen to people like me”.