Why I Won’t Shut Up About Mental Health
You know, back when this blog first started, it was a quaint little place, wasn’t it? Moaning about TV shows, books, the occasional Deadpool movie. And since I’ve started it (nine years ago this year, somehow), I’ve changed so much of the direction of the content here – and a lot of it now revolves around mental health and mental illness.
And it’s Mental Health Awareness Week where I am in the world right now, so I want to talk a little about the why. I know that, for some people, the fact that I share the intimate details of what goes on in my brain is profoundly odd (or just boring, which, fair enough, to be honest).
But I can honestly say that being open about my mental illnesses and the state of my mental health in general has been a game-changer for me. And what’s been even more game-changing is other people doing the same thing. I can specifically remember, at the height of my health anxiety, at the point where I was having panic attacks on the daily and just so sapped and exhausted and in bits over all of it that I didn’t think I could carry on, digging up an article that someone far on some other side on the internet happened to have put together about their own, similair experiences. Do you know how powerful it is to see something like that, when it feels like everything is out of control? It might sound silly – after all, why would someone else suffering the way I had help a damn thing? – but in that space, that strange point where it felt like I was totally disconnected from the world around me, so lost in these obsessive thoughts that I couldn’t see the light, that article was a thread back to reality. A small shaft of light in the shroud that reminded me that real people had been through this, too, and that meant that I probably remained a real person as well. If I could do that for someone else – make someone else feel even slightly more normal in that terrifying, liminal space between normalcy and losing it to a catastrophic degree – I wanted to.
At first, when I began writing my own stuff on the subject, was really just a way to navigate my own feelings towards whatever the fuck was going on inside my head, a way to put them into words and thus into the only language that my writer-head can remotely understand. I was too scared to share a lot of it, too sure that it would be too much: that people would see me as a liability, that potential employers might see me as an unreliable prospect, that people would view my work through a different lens because they knew that I Was Not Right In The Head. Stranded in that feeling, I hid it, seeing it as my burden to carry, like some sort of ancient artifact cursed with the spirit of a miserly old housewife or something.
As I’ve gone on, though, that writing has become something else for me – a place to put all those feelings that actually feels constructive, even if I might be the only one who reads them. Sometimes, when my OCD is so bad that I struggle to see a way out of it, looking back on some of the previous stuff and seeing that it had happened before and that I had survived it then, too. That I could again.
But as time went on, and I began to share more and more about the shit that I’d been through or dealt with on the regular, the response that I got was genuinely crazy (no pun intended. Well, maybe a little) to me. Not just the acceptance that people met me with, but the things they shared with me that reminded me how far from “normal” most of us are, anyway.
For many years, prior to my diagnosis, I tried to contain what I saw as this terminal strangeness inside of me, sure that it would be enough to drive away all but the most committed (pun for sure intended that time) of the people around me. But in the time since I’ve started having more conversations in more honest ways with more people about this stuff, it’s become clearer and clearer that our tolerance for this stuff – our ability to meet it with kindness, not derision – is far higher than I ever believed it to be. Turns out all that time I spent trying to hide being crazy would have been better spent telling people about it, instead.
And that’s why I don’t want to shut up about mental health and mental illness. Because I spent far too long containing all of my issues, in fear that they would drive people away, lead people to devalue my work, have the world at large see me as less-than. And I don’t want to ever give the shame that I used to carry for the way that I am to get in the way of doing the best I can out here while I’m still kicking.
If you have a few bucks to spare, please consider donating to ReThink, a charity that supports those with mental illness.