I met up with an old friend recently, (lets call her Sally). I hadn’t seen her in years. She’d read my recent article in The Independent – oh yeah I write for The Independent, I’m totally a ‘big deal’ these days 😉 – (if only I got paid for it)!
Anyway, we were chatting and she suddenly said, “I was really surprised to hear about your issues. You always seemed so normal. If I hadn’t have read that article I never would’ve known. You just don’t seem like the type, you’re so happy.” To which I responded jokily, “Well you should’ve been inside my head back then, it was like the apocalypse in there!” She laughed nervously and changed the subject.
It came from a genuine and well meaning place, so I tried not to be offended. But it was a harsh reminder that the battle to educate others about mental health and reduce the stigma is still very much an issue. I seemed ‘normal?’ What did she expect? A blue face, steam coming out of my ears, running around the room screaming? (technically that last one did happen. . . in the privacy of the flat. Poor Dan). The truth is, if you have a mental health condition the last thing you want is for others to notice. We go to great lengths to hide it, which ultimately causes more damage. The Claire back then would smile whilst desperately fighting to contain the monsters. Nobody had a clue what was really going on.
Dear Sally, you didn’t know that I was struggling because I didn’t want you to know, because I was so afraid of what you might think… and given your reaction yesterday it seems that I was right to keep everything hidden. I don’t understand, I supported you when you broke up with Mike and couldn’t function properly for two weeks, so why were my issues any different? Why did you change the subject so abruptly yesterday? Why does my past make you so f**king uncomfortable? (Ok… maybe I was more offended than I thought by her remarks). Sorry about that *deep breath* – I’m calm again now.
In all seriousness I shouldn’t be angry with her, it didn’t come from a place of hate.
In an ideal world I would like emotional well-being to become a solid part of the education system, for both teachers and students. We all remember the sex ed and ‘how to deal with your periods’ classes.. but what about mental health? Maybe a spokesperson from Mind could visit schools once a year and give a seminar, explaining that, “it’s ok if you feel anxious or sad, it doesn’t make you a freak. There are things that we can do about it.” That certainly would’ve changed my life.
It’s true, I am a happy girl/women 🙂 but I also have anxiety… and that’s fine too.
**Sorry about the additional posts at the moment… what did I tell you? I have too much time on my hands. SAVE YOURSELVES!**