I encounter three main reactions from people who have read my blog, especially to my candour about my own mental health and some of the detail I have shared about my experiences.
A lot of people stay quiet; they keep their feedback to themselves, whether it be positive or otherwise. They are the “live and let live” people who are probably mostly ambivalent or aren’t that comfortable in engaging further with me and my oft-shared pain or in confronting their own. They sit tight.
There is then the mostly – not always – polite but negative reaction. They are the “don’t wash your dirty linen in public” people, who know that they should be saying positive things about mental health but have two main reasons for not doing. 1) They don’t really believe in what they are reading – they think I should just get on with it, get over it and pull myself together. They are also the “depressed; you should try living my life; you’d then have a reason to be depressed” people. Or the school of thought that says “I don’t let myself get depressed” or even better “why let something like that get you down – just ignore it!”. I love that advice as if the thought had never occurred to me to just not get depressed in the first place. Imagine saying to someone with cancer, why did you get that disease you idiot!
And 2) because they believe that problems like this should not be shared out of embarrassment or shame, or because they don’t want people they know to know. These are the “keeping up with appearances” people for whom what people think about you is more important than what you think about yourself.
Then there is the third main reaction that has made writing the blog more than just the chatharic process that it has undoubtably been. These are the “your blog really spoke to me” people. The “I thought it was just me” folk. The “my wife read your blog and thought I’d written it” fellow travellers. They have heard my stories and the stories of others and felt less alone.
It has been the most humbling experience I’ve ever had to receive so many messages of support, thanks and requests for chat and cuppas to follow up something I’ve written. This reaction has come mostly from people with whom I have only one obvious thing in common; the workplace.
I pompously hoped that my scratchings would resonate with some; especially those who might have experienced, or be in the midst of a experiencing, a wellbeing crisis at work; wrestling to secure and maintain the right work life balance for them.
They are my audience. Alongside myself, that is who I am writing for; who I picture in my mind’s eye when I put pen to paper. But in all honesty I didn’t think I would succeed. I didn’t believe that I would receive so much feedback via LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and in messages and calls. I didn’t realise that by telling my story and sharing something of myself I would help be helping to tell the stories of others. By telling my story it was helping them to speak out.
I was conscious of my personal need to reach out to others when I started to share my story – it was for me part of giving what I was going through a name and not hiding how I felt. It was for me about being honest to myself and others around me. It was a weight off my shoulder when I started to speak out so publicly as someone who had a breakdown; who has depression; who has anxiety; who has attachment disorder; who spends everyday working hard to stay well; who takes anti-depressants alongside therapy and many, many interventions to be the best version of me I can be for myself first and my amazing wife and wonderful daughter.
In one of my recent cuppas with a kind blog reader, who brilliantly, and in spectacularly good humour, told me of how she was once labeled “severe but not psychotic” by a healthcare professional, she captured perfectly how empowering it can be to speak out in this way. She said she read the blog and saw someone who was “really owning it” their story. I loved that. I loved the way she said it. It sounded so strong and confident. It was not how I felt but it was how she felt reading it. That matters.
That conversation – and the many others I’ve been having – has taught me something really powerful; that by telling your story, whether to one person or publicly to many others, you are making it a little easier for them to speak out; helping them feel less alone; helping them find their voice.
For me, it is really my co-tea drinker and the many, many people I have met recently who have travelled their own mental health journeys and spoken out who inspire me every day; they are not just owning their own stories but being incredible role models for others. Day by day; conversation by conversation; story by story; intervention by intervention in meetings; example by example of how to treat others who are struggling and by providing support to colleagues in need; word by word in giving a name to how they are felling, they are putting the stigma of mental health conditions where it belongs. They are part of a movement that is ending the ignorance of mental health conditions in the workplace; they have opened minds and are helping people open their mouths and find their voice.
When you are at work tomorrow, take a minute to think about every interaction you have with your colleagues; is there an opportunity in just one of them for you to give a little of yourself to help others to follow suit. Perhaps it’s time for you to join our movement; to speak out; to speak up; to own your story; to help someone to own theirs. It feels amazing to see how it can help others, dirty linen and all.