I am travelling back from Edinburgh to London after a three days away for work. I don’t often blog on the go, so this is a new experience for me. Nevertheless I’m tired and grumpy and missing my boys. I’m totally in a snark, even though the trip in many ways feels like a success, (I very much enjoyed the work over the last couple of days and think it was almost worth the distance travelled and time away from family).
The grumpiness comes in part from the glorious indignity(?) undignity(?) dearth-of-dignity (?) that is being a lactating woman with nothing (and no-one) to lactate into. I came armed with my weary old breast pump but the lid cracked. So I was left with a ballooning bosom, or a train toilet. Nice choice.
But it isn’t just the whole maintaining breastfeeding supply in an East Coast Line bog which leaves me struggling to express myself. I’m once again torn. Part of me thinks I really must write something in support of World Mental Health Day. I’m just not entirely sure how to do it or what to write: I find I’m just not in the mood. Not in the mood to be mental, or not mental. Not in the mood to discuss or analyse or share or over share. Not tempted to work out whether I’m tired, or upset, or depressed, or just a little bit meh because I have a headache and I’m on a train and I just had to MILK MYSELF over a toilet bowl.
I know I should do it though, not because I have a narcissistic sense that the world, charities who do amazing work for mental health in the UK (like @MindCharity), or anyone really * really * needs me to, but because actually some readers have contacted me over the last few months. I’ve never mentioned it because I couldn’t think how, but perhaps today is the day. I’ve had a few emails from readers, some I know, some whom I have never met, who have talked about their own depression (postnatal and otherwise). Who have read my stories and felt moved to confide in me, to share this blog and space as a dialogue in which, in the half-light of cyberspace they could be open without being exposed. The correspondence was electronic, but the bravery, and relief at briefly unburdening, was clear.
Today people everywhere are tweeting and discussing, dedicating funds and campaigning publicly, talking all over the internet and the media about mental health and the importance of access to help and the ending of stigma and discrimination.
I applaud this. In my own experience I had mostly marvellous care. But I do know about the hesitating looks and the clear palpable difficulties some people have with understanding or responding to mental health issues and crisis points, and can only imagine how hard it is to function when surrounded by people who find helping, understanding, or responding to a friend, parent, child, employee with a mental health issue hard, for whatever reason.
But I want to reiterate something I mused on a while back, which is that I understand the stigma has to be beaten out, publicly overturned and renounced. And I understand the need for public discussion with no cowing to stigma, and the need to talk about depression and anxiety and all the rest in the same way as we talk about a broken wrist or cancer. And I know, especially as people who have read my blog have written and said reading my experiences has helped them, that it is a fight which must continue.
But I am still not in the mood today. I am not in the mood to explore or confess (and it feels like a confession, though it shouldn’t of course). I, someone who has discussed in a (partially) public space the experience of being completely crackers, have a lot of sympathy for those not quite able to say anything. After all mental health is intensely private. I found when it went wrong, when my mental health teetered and trembled and collapsed, that one of the biggest shocks (and perhaps the most profoundly distressing elements, after the research I read about how a parent with mental health issues may affect their children) was the sense that this crumbling and dissociation, this misaligning and confusion of me was public. I was completely and utterly humiliated by that idea. And still am, I realise, shocked to burning cheeks and nausea even as my train pulls in to London.
I won’t delete this post to save my blushes, but I will say today, that I am supporting and will support all initiatives I find which are working towards a place where mental health is viewed without prejudice. And I have applied to Mind to become a Mind Campaigner, to help as much as I can in what I see as a policy fight I have a duty to engage in. Not least as having been that weary soldier with mud and blood on my boots and a referral letter to my local START team I am mindful of the help you need. And I owe something to those at the front, now that I’m just a little way back from the face to face fighting. Because I don’t think the tension of the skirmish ever leaves, even if you’re closer to the role of an older general; experienced and observing and offering (pitiful) help from behind the lines. But I am also offering a shout out to and a shhhh for those who for whatever reason don’t want to talk about it just now: whether because they’re are frightened, embarrassed, shocked, confused or just not in the bloody mood.