I’ll be taking part in Time to Talk Day on 6 February 2020 by sharing my story, to help change attitudes towards mental health. Find out how you can get involved too: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday #TimeToTalk
So here’s a fun fact you may or may not know. Two incredible organisations have partnered up to get the nation talking about Mental Health. Mcvities (the fabulous biscuit brand) are supporting Mind in the opening of 8 new Time To Change hubs and the training of 400 champions across the UK. When I heard first heard about their collaboration, I was thrilled. What better way to start a conversation over Mental Health then with a cuppa and a biscuit or two – or if you’re me, ten.
Having what I like to call a ‘McVities Moment’, was always very special. My best friend and I – still to this day when I’m not gallivanting around the world – have Saturday nights in with our favourite cookies, chocolates and films – McVities Digestive Thins are the winners in this category – and have spent many happy and sad times stuffing our faces with them. One of my fondest memories is when we spent hours laughing – said biscuits still stuffed in mouths – watching Bridesmaids and Friends. Although I am now lactose intolerant, I could never turn down a ‘McVities Moment’ but I’m super excited for when they bring out their first dairy-free chocolate biscuit and I will be right there with them!
Thinking about this genius partnership and those happy times got me thinking about when I first openly spoke to my friends and family about how I was feeling – those times when I wasn’t joking and smiling at a sleepover; those times when I was by myself rocking on the floor at work having a panic attack – before putting on a smile and leaving to continue with my day. Or even getting up in the morning, desperately trying to leave bed, only to put on my clown face.
It was exhausting to live a lie. It was tiresome to feel so ashamed of who I was and it was scary to not be able to confide to someone about what I was truly feeling. I turned to anything to avoid admitting the truth – I ate food like it was going out of fashion and then felt guilty and threw it up. I secretly drunk to feel alleviated of mental numbness in order to feel physical numbness, which one night, left me collapsed in a toilet at an important work event. I used to walk slowly across the roads in hope that one day, someone wouldn’t be looking. If I wasn’t having a panic attack during my day then I was having them at night, in my dreams, constantly seeing my deceased, beautiful Grandad begging me to save him. I worried constantly about my Dad and Mum and then finally I couldn’t do it anymore.
When I finally broke down to some of my best friends, I felt ashamed to explain to them what was really going on. I was convinced to see my GP where I told him – red-faced and ashamed – about how I’d been really feeling and I was prescribed Anti-Depressants straight away.
At first, I was incredibly embarrassed to be on Anti-Depressants. I’m typically an outgoing, social butterfly – I couldn’t possible be depressed.. right? I felt weak for having to rely on a drug to help me balance my emotions and I felt fake when I laughed at something funny, in case people thought I was pretending to have Depression or Anxiety. I was unable to see myself climb out of the dark tunnel I’d subconsciously created and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel because it was dark, and bleak.
Since talking openly about my mental health issues, I’ve been blown away by the level of acceptance I’ve received. I know, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me as so many people are speaking out, but even until this day, it still does. My friends have never made me feel anything other than brave for being honest with them and have been so understanding of how I, perhaps, came to this point in my life.
After two months of living in Seville and now over a year of travelling across incredibly diverse continents, with equally diverse people, I’ve come to realise the supportive community behind the supposed mental health ‘stigma’. Lots of people I’ve met have had a story, a past and a determination to get through a particular mental illness, or to aid someone else that has. I’ve had people comment on how they never thought I would be someone that suffers with Depression, because I’m so bubbly. My response to that is to talk about Robin Williams and how no one would have guessed about him too and they’ve nodded, silently.
I still get days where I feel like I’m almost “fake” for writing about these mental health issues I suffer from because I suppose I’m still in denial that I, too, suffer from Depression and Anxiety. Yeah, I’m on Anti-Depressants but surely I don’t have the Black Dog? Sure, I’d get so anxious I couldn’t breathe, but that can’t be Anxiety, that’s just being a bit nervous and everyone gets that right? But it’s okay, because whatever I am, labelled or not and despite what I feel, I’m going to keep writing about it with the aim to get the nation talking.
I thank my friends for all the special and earnest conversations I’ve shared with them, usually teamed up with a strong cuppa in one hand and a McVities biscuit in the other. A sense of honesty and a simple, honest chat, is what drives that darkness out and brings the light in and I urge you to try it one day, it really does help.