I took part in a Twitter chat recently on the above topic. Thanks to @AnthonyLongbone for encouraging me to join in. Below are some thoughts I shared in advance.
What does mental health mean to me?
- Mental health is the most important part of health. And it is integral to physical health. You can’t look after your body if your mind is in a poorly way.
Mental health is a continuum with optimal wellbeing at one end of the spectrum and mental illness at the other. Some people seem to be able to take good mental health for granted. For others, maintaining our mental health requires almost constant vigilance and care.
Facing up to my tendency to depression has been the most important self-help step I have taken in my life so far. I’m hopeful I won’t ever sink as low as I did in 2013. But I’m not making any assumptions. And I do not plan to judge myself negatively if I do experience another bout either.
Judging myself – or indeed others who experience mental illness – is the least helpful thing any of us can do. Who knows why I or anyone else has this tendency? What does matter is what I do from now on to help myself and allow others to help me. Which includes understanding my own triggers and warning signs.
All serious illnesses require some degree of courage, so that we can face the pain and the treatment required to help us get better. But mental illnesses can be harder to bear than physical illnesses . They mess with your head. They make you believe bad things about yourself and others. They take away your hope and they affect your judgement and even your personality. They make you isolated and afraid. Some people hear the voices of others telling them bad things. In my case, I only hear my own voice. When I am poorly, my internal voice is harsh, judgemental and cruel. It tells me I am worthless and evil. I am still learning how to notice that voice when it starts whispering to me, and how to answer it.
Since I decided to be more open about my own experiences, I have made some extraordinary friends. Our mutual support during rocky moments via social media undoubtedly saves and enhances lives. I love the equality and the loving kindness of these relationships. We all have something to bring.
It’s because of all this that I know how amazing other people who experience mental illness are. How courageous, funny, honest, thoughtful and kind – hearted. And this is how I know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that people who have had such experiences have assets that should be applauded and sought by others. Rather than deficits to be pitied or avoided.
After the chat, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The people who joined in were just amazing. Brave, honest, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and kind. I am in awe of them. They have far more of merit to say than I do.
In conclusion, what mental health means to me is being part of a group of wonderful people like the ones I was talking with tonight. They are helping me to become the best version of myself, which includes being kinder to myself. Through this, I can become kinder to others and do my tiny bit to help them too.
And I’m really grateful to be on that journey.