May 13th will represent the beginning of Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. This is a week especially important to me and my personal journey with mental health. That's because like many I've experienced high levels of anxiety and depression through my teens and into my twenties.
Thankfully, the last several years have brought some much-needed attention to mental health in the UK and that's partly thanks to Mental Health Awareness Week. Whilst talking about mental health used to be stigmatised in a big way, slowly, the layers are starting to be peeled off.
The guy who couldn't summon the courage to go to class because he was so anxious is now finding his feet in school and making friends. The girl who used to look at herself in the mirror with disgust is now finding healthier role models to look up to.
However, not everyone finds the support they need. More importantly, not everyone finds it easy to make the change and find the energy to overcome how they're feeling.
Whilst I support Mental Health Awareness week, it is vital to remember that this subject needs to become something we are talking about on a constant basis. Occasions on the calendar can shine light onto difficult subjects but what happens when they're over?
What happens to those who feel as if they're falling apart from the inside out? Whilst Mental Health Awareness Week may sound as if it only supports those who are suffering, we cannot forget that we all have mental health.
The lady who works in her high paid office job and feels confident can one day become shaken from the pressure and fall into depression. We are all able to crumble when things get difficult in our lives. There will always be challenges.
It wasn't until I reached my mid-twenties that I really noticed this happening around me. When I was a child it was like I was shielded from adults having nervous breakdowns or parents experiencing anxiety. Either that or I never noticed it. It truly felt as if adults had it together and I was just an emotional child.
In my twenties, I started to notice people that I thought were very confident start to struggle with anxiety and depression. It became very apparent to me that no one was immune from falling down from time to time.
Whilst this made me feel less alone with my own personal struggles and less 'weird', it also made me realise that this was going to be something that I'd have to manage throughout my life. If I could overcome the worst of my anxiety and depression, I'd still have to be conscious of the fact it could happen again.
Just like my physical body, I'd have to take good care of my mind and my perspective. I'd have to learn, feed myself good things and grow as a person.
Learning to understand and manage our emotions is not easy, simply because as humans we are incredibly complicated and have a steady stream of conflicting emotions.
Making The Conversation Normal
Mental Health Awareness Week is only the beginning. With new generations coming through and experiencing the same difficult emotional situations as those before them, it is especially up to those more experienced generations to keep the conversation afloat.
We all have a responsibility to keep mental health as part of the everyday conversation. It's vital we allow it to naturally become 'normal'. It is imperative we do this because those who do not talk are the ones who suffer the most.
Unfortunately, I have seen those I know and those who appear in the public eye take their own lives. From my view, keeping quiet seems to play a big factor in suicide. Those who seem perfectly fine on the outside can suddenly be gone.
Whilst suicide is an extreme example of poor mental health, it is the last leg on a long journey of feeling worthless. By talking to each other throughout the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, we can chip away at this isolation on a constant basis.
Talking must become normal. Talking about how you truly feel must become as normal as talking about what show you're currently watching on Netflix. And this can only be done by consistency.
If I had never opened up to my family, I would have never been able to deal with the anxiety I felt at seventeen. If I had never talked about the depression I felt at twenty-five I don't know where I would be right now. Both occasions were uncomfortable, but they were the first step. They were the first hurdle to starting to feel a little better.
Mental health disorders can come at any time of the year. They can come from chemical imbalances in the brain or they can be brought on by how we live our lives which is why we all need to be conscious we talk.
I used to feel as if talking about how I felt would make me seem strange to others as if I was broken and they'd need to spend their time 'fixing' me.
However, I eventually realised that I was only a human being with flaws and couldn't do everything on my own. We are creatures that need a community to survive. Communication is built into our DNA. We thrive as a species when we work together so I urge you to keep talking and don't feel ashamed.
Remember you are only human, not a robot.
Now I’d like to tell you how talking about how I was feeling really helped me because I want this post to really give you something, whether it’s something you can action or even if it’s just some inspiration.
I am by no means perfect these days but it is my perspective that has changed.
When I was a shy, anxious seventeen-year-old, I decided that I’d tell my mother how I felt. I was nervous, scared and afraid of what she would think of me. To be honest, I didn’t even know that there was a name for how I’d been feeling.
I just knew I hadn’t felt ‘right’ for a long time.
I eventually summoned the courage and it felt like I’d ripped a plaster off that had been on my soul since I was nine-years-old.
To my surprise, she was understanding, welcoming and comforting. She herself had experienced the same anxiety that I was experiencing. I vividly remember it being like the weight of the world had come off my shoulders.
I hadn’t been able to breathe for so many years and now it was like fresh air was filling my lungs.
My journey from there was a long one, but in time, my confidence grew the more I opened up to people and the more I shared my story.
Talking was the first step – getting it out in the open and allowing it to become normal, not something I was suppressing.
After talking to so many people openly, I started learning. The more I learnt about my emotions and how my behaviour influenced them, the freer I felt.
It was like trying to figure out a difficult maths equation for a long time and then finally cracking it.
The more I learnt, the more I accepted how I’d been feeling. With this came a sense of power, as if I’d made myself ‘bigger’ than the thing that once leant over me with it’s frightening size.
I realised that I was not ‘weird’ but instead I was part of a larger group of people that all had various degrees of anxiety and worry. I decided to commit myself to further learning and the sense of power kept growing.
I now continue to talk about mental health in my writing which is like releasing a pressured valve every once in a while.
We are not born with all the answers - we must take the responsibility onto ourselves to learn. From that we get power.
I was not locked in a box of anxiety, I could break free from it. In fact, I could be or feel anything I wanted to if I really tried. We are all just bundles of potential that are capable of almost anything. The actions that I took led me to be able to breathe again.
If I had never of talked, everyone would have gone on thinking I was okay and I know I would have continued to suffer.
Let Mental Health Awareness Week be the first step for you if you've never spoken out before about how you truly feel. Let it become normal for you to discuss with those around you what's happening inside your head.
This has become so important and useful for me personally.
Mental Health Awareness Week is just the beginning and more importantly, it is an opportunity.
I wish you all the success in the world going forward,
Sean Clarke is a mental health blogger. He has suffered with generalised anxiety disorder and depression in the past and now aims to give real honest advice to those who are suffering themselves. Changing perspectives and discussing emotions are at the core of his writing.
He writes at https://www.projectenergise.com/blog