It’s World Mental Health Day. An opportunity to raise awareness. We should be raising awareness every day.
I’ve been open about my diagnosis of GAD and depression since soon after I collapsed at work mid-2016. I wasn’t open to start with. I couldn’t have it. I was the only person in the world with it. How dare it choose me!
When I looked into it, I was only ever a few steps away from somebody else who was struggling. At that point in my life, I’d had paramedics crowd me and I thought death was upon me. I has three months off work, went back, was signed off several more times, had socked back pills, and eventually admitted defeat. Defeat from a job I was becoming a champion at.
Something good came from my diagnosis. Not the label, at least not to start with. Every bit of paperwork I completed asked if I was disabled and mental health was a tick box. I wasn’t disabled. No way! It felt wrong that I should be labelled in the same way as friends and family who were ‘disabled’ in the sense that I understood – physically. Yet, actually, my mental health was disabling me, and if there was a tick box for it, I guessed I should tick it. I’m not sure it ever made any difference on the paperwork I was completing, but I began to accept how much of a disability mental health can be, and as I completed my final dissertation for university to qualify as a Youth Worker, I found my focus to be on young people’s wellbeing.
I fell into being self-employed, setting up a wellbeing mentoring business for children and young people, and at the same time launched a youth club that had closed completely which has been thriving ever since, with a strong wellbeing and family focus. Even now, despite all the great jobs I’ve had, I have moments in where the anxiety can creep in and tell me I can’t do something, but I’ve gotten better at managing it, and I use my lived experience to relate to those I work with.
I’m open about my mental health. How open? Ask the young people I work with. My youth club folk don’t usually know what’s hit them when I do my little demonstration, but it certainly opens discussion. For a long time, I doubted my mentoring abilities, but I keep being booked to work with ages four to 16, and when a Year 9 pupil told me that he’d been ‘offered so many things that haven’t worked, school stuff mostly, and people who say ‘This is what you should do’’, but what I offered was the only thing that worked, I realised I was actually good at what I do. I never expected a 13 year old to tell me: ‘I’m grateful to have my life back…Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been as helpful as working with you.’ That gives you the warm fuzzies.
We can’t work solidly all the time. That’s what tipped the balance for me. Today, I took the day off. I spent lunch with my friend talking about everything we could, and then I painted. I’m not the world’s best, but I enjoy it, and it stops me, allowing me to relax and reset.
Be open. Be honest. Talk and hear. You never know who’s listening.