I am pleased that I was honest with my employers about taking some time off. I have been increasingly stressed over the last few weeks for personal and professional reasons, and entering a danger zone. I woke up on Monday flat out, fed up and unable to get in the car and drive around the M25 to Brighton.
It seems easier to tweet for mental health awareness and an end to stigma, than to end stigma in your own head. I pondered for some time whether I should push myself to go, lie that I had a cold, or find some other wriggling way out of the truth. I am still worried about colleagues’ views of me – whether they see my propensity for anxiety and depression as a weakness, whether they think it signifies some lack of leadership quality and whether they will go unnecessarily hard/soft on me.
And if I am worried – someone who has got a fair way in his professional career and has many privileges – I can only imagine what goes through a 23 year old’s mind who may not have the same professional foundations. Or if I was black.
My organisation has responded well. My colleagues have been concerned and encouraging – telling me that nipping this in the bud is a good thing. Even suggesting that I take the whole week off. Would you or your organisation do that? I hope so.
Meanwhile, I have been working on accepting the state of mind, and with it the gnawing worry that I am going to have a more serious and scary relapse. I have managed to shelve some of the guilt about doing nothing and told my ‘should’ demons to fuck off. Mostly successfully. Being in nature, walking, writing, being quiet, receiving messages of support and friendliness, napping with the cat on my lap… means I am getting there.
I have also taken some ‘positive’ thinkers to task. I find that ‘acceptance’, ‘gentleness’ and ‘quiet intention’ with yourself, others and the world, is the only route back to a space where you can be more resilient. Most people who advocate being positive do not understand the hard work that must go into psycho-physiological re-wiring and are ignorant of the effects of trauma and socio-economic forces.
Trying to be happy has never worked in my life and serves up even more guilt. Of course it would be nice to get there, but actually I am OK wallowing for a bit.
I’m a good hippo in the mud, and can even dredge some poetry from there. And yes, we need to carry on doing stuff in the hope that the feelings come back – but don’t give me that shiny ‘happy’ nonsense. Contentment will do. And it will come. Slowly.
It is convenient for a society and for individuals in positions of privilege to advocate for individuals to change their heads. It means they don’t have to think about their own demons and can project onto others.
Mental health awareness at a societal level needs to be mirrored in relationships. This can only happen by 'awareness' shifting into understanding and acceptance and through small bold behaviour changes and personal interactions.
So, I hope that the next time you are bordering on entering your fear-field of mental health problems, that you ask for what you need and get the right support.
© 2017 David Gilbert