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We're in this Together by Talk and Cheese
Posted by SANE
11th May 2018

“Together we can stop stigma and change mental health for good.” SANE

There are a number of charities doing tremendous work in the field of mental health.

Living with a mental illness, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for the way in which these charities fight my corner. Our corner. The way in which they are constantly striving to improve our lives, despite our illness.

It’s astounding just how far we’ve come in this once unspoken world. Mental illness used to be the silent illness, sometimes known as the silent killer, where those living with it had to fight a secret battle.

We’ve come on leaps and bounds over the past twenty years or so, but I believe it’s up to each and every one of us, in our times of feeling strong enough and well enough, to continue to raise awareness and to quash the stigma.

In this blog, I’ve chosen to concentrate on the charity SANE.

Amongst it’s objectives, SANE offers support to people living with mental illness, and extends it’s support to family and friends.

I think this shows great insight.

Let’s face it. These illnesses could never be described as frugal. They have great generosity of spirit in the way that they share their misery beyond just the poor individual with the diagnosis.

The impact on those around us who are trying to understand and cope with our battles is not to be underestimated.

It can be confusing and upsetting for our loved ones, yet it’s so difficult for us to put into words what we’re going through.

SANE make sure the needs of our loved ones are met too.

Aside from the direct support side of things, the charity also work to raise awareness, encourage and contribute to research, and to educate. All vital objectives.

Plus. They fight to combat stigma.

 

Right now, for me, the stigma thing is hugely relevant.

Two months ago I ‘came half out’ about my battle with bipolar II.

I say half, as I made the bold decision to bear my soul by starting to blog about my journey with bipolar, and certainly haven’t shied away from telling it as it is, but I currently write under the guise of Talk and Cheese.

I’m 99% ready to ‘come all out’ and put my name and face to my blogs and other social media platforms, but the negative reactions I’ve had in the past, and in fact even very recently, are what’s held me back.

It’s hard enough to face an everyday battle with a severe illness, far less to compound the issue with having to prove that you are ill. I hate that!

If the depth and devastation of our illness was visible, I doubt anyone would say, “Get over it”.

 

So stigma.

Let’s look at the facts.

If you have a migraine you’ll let your employer know. He or she will duly wish you a speedy recovery and tell you to come back when it eases.

If you’re in the midst of a severe depressive low and are unable to function, the lack of understanding of the illness may well mean that your call to the employer won’t be met with any degree of sympathy.

I appreciate that many employers do have an understanding of mental illness, but sadly, they’re still in the minority.

I’ve come up with the most ridiculous of excuses when I’ve been so low that the prospect of also having to deal with the stigma is just too much to bear.

I may feel utterly exhausted from weeks of pretending to be ok. Of coping. Of hoping. Of Living. Of breathing.

At times I’ve wanted it all to end. At worst I’ve wanted to die.

More debilitating than a migraine, don’t you think? (That said, I do suffer from migraines, so can sympathise on that front. They suck).

But such is the stigma attached to mental illness that rather than tell the truth, all too often, the excuses come rolling out.

I deserve an Oscar for Best Script and Best Actress.

I’ve had to stay at home until the windscreen repair company arrive to fix the smashed glass caused by vandalism to my car overnight.

I’ve put my back out more times than is humanly possible.

I’ve had to go and visit a family member who has become seriously ill.

I even lost my voice on one occasion.

The sad thing is that in feeling the need to hide the real reason for not being able to go to work, it only serves to alienate us more than we already are.

It makes us feel different. And alone.

Raising awareness of mental illness and therefore quashing the stigma is not to be underestimated.

 

One of the initiatives of SANE is The Black Dog Campaign.

I absolutely love the ethos of this campaign. It’s inspired!

When I hear depression referred to as The Black Dog it always makes me think of Winston Churchill. Churchill of course famously referred to his dark times as his Black Dog.

What a great example he was of how mental illness can affect anyone. Even Prime Ministers are not immune!

No one could accuse him of moping around and simply needing to pull his socks up. He was running the bloody country!

SANE’s Black Dog Campaign works at reducing this draconian stigma, and at encouraging people to seek help rather than suffer in silence.

Imposing Black Dog sculptures stand on a plinth featuring details of SANEline and other sources of help.

They tour business foyers, parks and shopping centres.

What excites me greatly though, is that they’re being placed in schools and universities.

How good is that?

As someone who suffered with mental illness from a very young age, to have had this sort of pointer towards direct help and support as a child or a young adult, would have been life changing. I don’t say that lightly.

I didn’t seek help until my late teens as I had no idea there was treatment for my epic mood swings. I thought they were just part of my character. Or rather, a flaw in my character.

My early diagnosis was in fact for depression. It took until I was thirty five to get an accurate diagnosis.

At the age of nineteen when I first plucked up the courage to seek medical help, my GP did her best, especially given how long ago this was and that the treatment of mental health has developed greatly over the past twenty years.

But, Prozac and the suggestion that I may like to join a running club didn’t quite cut it. I needed specialist help.

I felt alone, weird, and isolated.

SANE recognise this feeling of isolation and have set up various initiatives to bring people together. To share their experiences and to interact with others who may be going through something similar.

 

There’s a Support Forum on the website with various different ‘rooms’. It’s a space for mutual support and a good platform for all things mental health. Even if you just want to have a good old rant about how pissed off you are with your illness, you can be sure someone else will share your frustration.

We all need a good rant from time to time, myself included, as you’ll see in a recent blog I wrote. An angry blog!

I believe support should be grabbed, or even bagged until needed, whenever it comes your way.

What I’ve found over the past couple of months through blogging, Twitter and Instagram, is that all of these outlets provide a beautiful support network. I had no idea this existed!

I appreciate I’m a bit of a dinosaur and that many of you will have been embracing these platforms for years, but as a newbie, the thing that’s really struck me is that in reaching out and sharing, you need never be alone.

Whilst finding this sort of support doesn’t cure your illness, it can be an enormous comfort when you feel you have nowhere to turn.

When I’m in the depth of a dark depressive low, talking to anyone or sharing what I’m feeling is just a non starter. Communicating online though, is sometimes possible.

 

I guess it’s a personal thing, but for me, tweeting a couple of comments about what I’m going through at that point in time, and getting genuine and heartfelt responses from people who understand, can really help.

In line with this, in the sense of recognising the relevance of online, or ‘non-talking’ support, SANE have a service called Textcare.

We can often feel lonely and isolated at particular times of the day or week. For many people, night time or weekends are particularly vulnerable.

For me, it tends to be the middle of the morning. I’m generally on my own, I’ve dropped MK at school, Handsome Doc is at work, I’ve got plenty of things to do, but the prospect of the day ahead seems overwhelming.

Textcare provides help at a regular time when you personally feel lonely or isolated. Or when other support is not available.

You will be sent a text relevant to your personal needs at these specific times.

Sometimes that simple message is enough to remind you that you are not alone.

Again, I’m not suggesting it’s a cure. But it can help.

 

At other times, you do need to hear a voice.

SANEline is an out of hours helpline. T. 0300 304 7000

The staff and volunteers all have knowledge in mental health and are there from 4.30pm to 10.30pm every single day of the year.

They deal with all forms of mental illness, from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders, self-harm, psychosis and suicide.

Once again, had I known that there was support like this out there when I was single handedly trying to survive my illness for so many years, life could have been far different.

Nobody is alone. However much our mental illness can try to cut us off from the real world, we mustn’t let it.

Each and every one of us has had to develop an incredible strength and resilience to battle our illness on a daily basis.

We are stronger together. We are in this together. And by reaching out to ask for support when we’re lost and frightened, we can win our fight together.

Be well. x

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