This post has been brewing for a while, since Mental Health Awareness Week back in April. At the time I felt super grateful that so many people were talking about something which has been taboo for so long, but I was also aware of some rather grumpy and curmudgeonly feelings arising. And by ‘grumpy and curmudgeonly’ I mean not just angry-shouting at the telly, but also a sense of alienation from the helpful hints and heroic stories and hugging Royals. And then I felt a bit rubbish for not being happier that mental health was getting so much positive focus.
It took a while to unpick what was bothering me so much, but I finally sussed that I was pissed off by two things. The first one was the seeming invisibility of people living with Serious Mental Illness from the Mental Health Awareness Week reportage. Anxiety and depression are statistically the most widely experienced mental health conditions, so it’s inevitable that they receive the most attention, but I was unprepared for the ferocity of my emotions when I realised that people living with Bipolar Disorder – as I do – and Schizophrenia weren’t part of these stories.
It’s made me realise that mental health privilege is most definitely a thing, and I’m currently giving myself a crash course in privilege and intersectionality so I can come back to this topic with the right knowledge to distil the discomfort I felt into something that adds more than just a list of gripes to the conversation.
The other thing that bothered me was that holy trifecta of mental wellbeing: meditation, exercise and having a conversation. Now, curmudgeonly as I am, I’m not daft, and I know that all these things can absolutely help keep you mentally well, and can mitigate symptoms if you’re not; I’ve tried them all, and can attest to this. But they’re not a cure, and there are all kinds of reasons (and yes, some of these are privilege-related) why mindfulness and going for a run and having a bloody conversation just aren’t accessible or achievable for people living with serious or chronic mental illness.
When I was experiencing Peak Curmudgeon (a state which often features when I’m in the full throes of a Bipolar Mixed Episode) the flippant advice to try one of these things made me rage a little, and cry sometimes, too, because the idea of such small and seemingly easy things having an effect on an illness as complex and tricksy as Bipolar seemed ridiculous.
Thankfully – today, at least – rationality and humility are back in play, so I’ve decided to commit to doing exercise and meditation every day for a month and measure the effect it has on my mental health. I think the ‘have a conversation’ is covered by my social media activity; I decided against initiating random chats with strangers because, ‘Hi! I’m Emma and I live with Bipolar!’ just smacks of awkwardness to me. I would have started this challenge last week, but a necessary part of the process was faffing around on my laptop making charts to record my data so I can proceed in a quasi-scientific manner and also make use of ALL the felt pens.
I’ll report back on my progress in a weekly blog post, but I will update daily on Instagram (which by default and via an IFTTT process I can’t undo also updates Twitter, too). The hashtag is #mhboostchallenge. I’m aware that the name is a bit naff, but I’m also aware that if I gave in to my procrastinatory tendencies when trying to give things pithy and snappy titles I’d never actually get anything done. I could easily have wasted a day agonising over which font to choose, but I need to be picky about where I spend my energy and spoons, so the naff name stays for now.
I am not especially looking forward to this challenge, by the way. I did a personality quiz last week while researching mental health and wellbeing Android apps for a future post, and my type is apparently ‘The Rebel’, which means as soon as I sense rules and boundaries I reject them. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s going to be an interesting month, and hopefully an enlightening one too, so LET’s DO THIS!Read More