World Mental Health Day 2016
My thoughts on the effectiveness of day-specific awareness days flickers like a seismograph machine needle at a time of intense activity. I simply cannot make up my mind, so let me share some thoughts to see if sharing can help.
I awoke with a little bit of dread this morning.
Today, in the global social calendar, there is a certain amount of support, words, images, quotes, hashtags, exclamations, stances required in order to show that we are rooting for those who suffer with, live with someone who suffers with, or are on a trajectory towards developing, a mental illness. I can see both the connectedness of this concept, and the rebuking at “putting myself under a microscope because I’m part of the gang”, angle.
Combine these two feelings, and it’s likely that I’m anxious about such an important day and not messing it up: not sharing enough important data; that my messages are somehow watered down and woolly; that it’s just scoffed at because everyone is doing it so it’s not really a trend; it’s viewed as just another jump on the band wagon.
Truth be told, anxiety flares because taking a stand for something casts you in the very spotlight that you absolutely do not want to be caught under. And the closer the concept is to your core, the greater the risk to your psyche.
Originally, today I wanted to write-up an article about this weekend’s trip to Bristol for the Womens Adventure Expo. I admit I had put the #WMHD16 to the back of my thoughts, but the two very much go hand-in-hand. In its second year of existence, this time I attended the Expo post-expedition, having put myself through the mill and then churned out the other end. What happened when I got home was not what I expected; I really had hoped that going through the challenge would have emboldened my mental strength to carry on ‘doing’.
In April of this year I took on the challenge of running the length of Britain twice. Not because I was an ultra-runner, or because I longed to be one, but because I felt I had to do something so big that others would not expect me to succeed, and my sole purpose was to prove those people wrong. Now that wasn’t the only aspect, it was also in conjunction with the fact that I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The initial relief of the diagnosis was then furiously met with the stigma [read discrimination]—both self-imposed and experienced—and that because I had a diagnosable mental illness, I was somehow no longer a reliability; I was expected to fail.
This element was my driving force, and it was powerful enough to see me complete the challenge of almost 1800 miles in 80 out of the 95 days on the road, through sun stroke, shin splints, dehydration, getting lost most days, all plans falling to the way side, hours of solitude, several narrow misses with vans and cars on the pavementless (and pavemented) roads, screaming rages at the roadside, meteorological maelstroms, managing medication (or not), technological disasters, and facing my greatest fear of rejection on a national scale. I had to feel so deeply about this challenge that I was willing to enter the hurt locker for it.
Conquest over, my thoughts lay ahead to completing my admin for the Guinness World Record case file that I now had to submit, and, obviously (in my own head anyway), planning for my next big adventures and continuing to run miles and miles for the #YouVsTheYear campaign that I was a part of. However after less than a few weeks, the well of fire was extinguished. I was left with nothing. No motivation to run, to even look at my case file, to write, to draw, to take photographs. It’s now been three months since I returned home, the same amount of time that I was away, and I feel as though I have not progressed even an inch. I am utterly confused. My medication does not let me just sink into the depression that feels like the anchor around my feet, but it also doesn’t allow me to feel any lift so that my heart can soar once more. I am kept on an increasingly frustrating numb line, a medically induced waking-coma, with flashbacks of an expedition that allows me to feel longing but does not drive me to plough on ahead.
Getting to the Womens Adventure Expo this year, for me, was about trying to understand what else there is to feel when I’ve already proven what had originally set my mind on fire. I managed to speak briefly with Sarah Outen MBE who recounted her 4+ years expedition under her own steam, and with Dr Emma Barrett from Lancaster University who is currently researching that same transition period that I am struggling with. I know that being there was important, but I do not yet know why.
Getting back to my thoughts on today, #WMHD16, it’s clear that one day isn’t enough. We do not have one day of making people aware of the plight of the importance of our physical health. The two go hand-in-hand, mental health even more of an imperative before physical health. So perhaps this is also what jars me about the ‘day of awareness’ concept.
Let’s not make supporting our mental health something we do for a day. Let’s make it a part of our life’s purpose, connected to every decision that we make, and every challenge that we set for ourselves.
This would be closer to the truth.
(Any feedback on how to manage/recover from this transition period would be great, thank you.)