As I approached the group, I was sweating buckets. Nerves and a speedy fifteen minute walk in the heat was bound to cause trouble. My iPhone had taken me the wrong way and I was late, I HATE being late. According to Apple’s greatest invention The Clapham Common Bandstand is a house opposite the Windmill Hotel (it isn’t).
Three days earlier I spied a tweet from Bryony Gordon, author of the bestselling and frankly f**king awesome book Mad Girl. I devoured it in two days. She runs a group called ‘Mental Health Mates’ and organises events to help other sufferers connect and feel less alone. To further sweeten the deal, Jonny Benjamin was going to be there. His documentary ‘The Stranger on the Bridge’ chronicles his quest to find the man who stopped him from jumping off Waterloo Bridge in 2008. It won the Mind 2015 ‘Making a difference’ award and it couldn’t be more deserving. I wanted to talk to him at the Mind Awards, but bottled it. Surely I couldn’t pass up the opportunity again.
So despite the social anxiety monster screaming at me not to go (seriously it does that sometimes) I decided to attend.
As I spotted the group on the field my heart was pounding and I noticed the familiar signs of a panic attack beginning to emerge. “You’re going to make a fool of yourself you stupid bitch,” “everyone will hate you,” “You’re a pathetic loser.” I felt nauseous and my legs turned to jelly. Every fibre in my body vibrated with rejection. Yet I carried on walking, because I refuse to let it control my life.
Bryony greeted me with a warm hug and promptly offered me a ice pop. She then introduced Jonny like it was the most natural thing in the world. I couldn’t believe that two mental health superstars were so… well normal. Not that I was expecting body guards and a red carpet, but given their profiles I hadn’t expected them to be so hands on and welcoming. It was refreshing and I felt instantly at ease.
To begin with we went round the group and told everyone a bit about ourselves (basically my idea of Hell), but it was different this time. I felt safe and after I admitted that I had social anxiety everyone began to clap and congratulate me for being so brave. I felt really emotional, how could a group of people like this exist?! There was even a cake from Hummingbird Bakery!
The topic then turned to mental health in the gay community, or the lack of it. I was shocked to hear that PACE, a charity that has provided mental health support to LGBT for thirty one years is closing down due to a lack of funding. Jonny spoke passionately about how his struggles to ‘come out’ only added to his desire to commit suicide in 2008.
After the talks we all just hung out and I met some incredibly cool and honest people. One guy told me that his OCD gave him a fear of contracting HIV through any kind of physical contact, even holding hands. Bryony was also very forth coming about her battles with OCD, sprinkled with her infamous humour. She sometimes brings the iron to work just to prove that she hasn’t left it on!
As I left the event I was buzzing… and not just from the prosecco and cake. I’d met some truly inspiring people who are determined to change people’s attitudes towards mental illness.
For more information about Mental Health Mates click here.
As for Bryony… She is one f**king cool crazy chick 😉