Mental Health Awareness Week
This last week has been Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. It’s something that I fully support as it gives a real chance for the spotlight to be on the importance of mental health but equally, it’s a shame that it’s necessary. I also struggle a little as a mental health advocate during its course because there are so many triggers out there for me. I sometimes feel that as such an advocate I should be able to watch and listen and read everyone else’s stories and talk about them with others - that’s the whole premise of the week, right? But I can’t. Whilst I can talk about my own story until the cows come home, hearing others’ struggles really affects me and in all honesty I try to avoid the media as much as I can during the week. I think it comes down to the issue of control again - I’m ok with sharing my own story because I know what’s coming and how to handle it but when others talk, I don’t know exactly how I’m going to be triggered and so can’t be prepared for it; I lose that control. Maybe it makes me a poor mental health advocate but I think it’s better for me to manage things so I can cope, rather than becoming so triggered by the Awareness Week that it makes me ill - that really would defeat the object.
Having said that, I have engaged in things myself this week in the hope of increasing awareness. I featured in a special report on the state of mental health care in my locality on our local BBC radio station and wrote a piece on what it is like living with mental illness, which was published on our local county council website. Both received positive feedback.
In addition, I remain busy with other activities on an ongoing basis. Last week I co-delivered anti-stigma training to approximately 30 staff members from two inpatient recovery units. It went very well and afterwards, four separate people came and thanked me for my contribution saying that having someone with lived experience there really added another dimension and helped them understand the kind of things that patients face, which they might not have otherwise realised.
The previous week saw the delivery of our large Personality Disorders co-production event, which I was helping to host, and my talk at the local carers group. I’m pleased to say that both of these went well too, on a professional and personal basis. In fact, someone at the co-production event thought I was actually a professional consultant brought in to give opinions on things. That was quite a compliment!
Although we were acutely short of time at the event, we did manage to get good engagement from the attendees, which will hopefully help with the strategy going forward. Likewise with my talk to the carers group - my presentation led to some interesting questions and discussions and the group really appreciated hearing from the side of someone with the EUPD diagnosis. I feel like all these things are helping raise awareness little by little, regardless of when the national awareness week itself falls.
On a personal level, my emotions have been very up and down at times and I have discovered that I can be just as overwhelmed, if not more so, by positive emotions as I am by the negative ones. In the past couple of weeks, I have experienced real elation several times and quite honestly have had no idea how to handle it. I think because I am beginning to allow myself to acknowledge when things go well, and recognise my own achievements, I am experiencing happiness and contentment more frequently than ever before. The thing is, having EUPD means that I don’t really do plain contentment, it escalates quickly to the more intense emotion of elation just as the negative emotion of discontentment rapidly becomes overwhelming despair. What’s more, because I experience happiness so infrequently, I haven’t developed any coping strategies to deal with it in the way that I have for the overwhelming sadness or anger that I feel more often. This has made it quite hard to bear. I have also noticed that I can become quite impulsive when in this ‘hyper’ phase - a symptom of EUPD that I didn’t think applied to me before.
Obviously feeling positive is, on the whole, a good thing but I guess I have realised that I need to learn how to navigate it safely in the same way as I am doing so with the less positive emotions.
Mental Health Awareness Week might ostensibly be there to help make others aware of the importance of mental health but it has also made me more aware of my own limitations and the need to continually develop ways to stay well myself.