We’re in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Week and once again I am heartbroken by the statistics but greatly encouraged as the conversation grows louder.

So, when Bipolar UK reached out to me to put pen to paper, instead of writing specifically about my own experience, I wanted to share with you what I have learnt from others over the years and especially since being diagnosed myself with bipolar disorder in the last twelve months.

I’m sure many of you who are reading this are familiar with the ritual of either sitting on the edge of your bed or sofa staring blankly into nothingness for gawd knows how long for no reason whatsoever. It’s not until maybe the next day when it dawns on you that your brain simply pushed you into a kind of paralysis. Yep, I like to call this the “Kill Bill” syndrome. I hit this head space and all I can do is channel my inner Uma Thurman and just go ‘wiggle your big toe’! I’m hoping that at least one of the following lessons will be the wiggle you need to get up off the bed or sofa…

  1. Mental health doesn’t look like what you expect it to look like.

I get the impression that most people would consider the different types of mental illness and imagine that they would manifest themselves in a particular way. Adhering to stereotypes and certain behavioural traits. I think it's important for us to remember that humans (and maybe more so us Brits) are very good at building a facade to act as our coping mechanism. That being said, over the last year I have met some of the wittiest, most outgoing, articulate individuals ever. I’m aware that this isn’t ground breaking stuff exactly but more of a reminder. A reminder to carers to take a moment, to watch, listen and consider what that person is going through, regardless of whether you're sitting in a pub, in a meeting or opposite them on the tube. But also a reminder to those living with the condition that no matter how busy your head might be, people aren’t seeing it on the outside.

  1. Being mentally unwell is no different to any other type of ‘unwell'.

I once heard someone say; 'I take one tablet all through the year except in the Summer when I take two; anti-depressant and antihistamine... I see no difference between the two'. It’s no secret that more now than ever you have to look after your mental health as much as your physical health. Pretty obvious really when it's there in black and white. I've had a love hate relationship with medication over the years. I always felt that the need for medication was a sign of failure to solve the imbalance by more natural means. A ridiculous theory really considering there would be no hesitation if the issue was gastroenteritis or diabetes. Perhaps giving it a new label, such as “pro-optimists”, might assist with the understanding.

  1. #BeBodyKind

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on body image. Our relationship with food and mental health go hand in hand. I’ve learnt that many people, including myself, use food as a coping mechanism… Personally, when growing up, I felt it was the only thing over which I had control.

We live in a world where our perception of body image is determined by such criteria as the angle of the photograph and by how many ‘likes’ we receive. It is all smoke and mirrors and filter, filter, filter. Remember, our bodies do a hell of a lot for us and that in itself is beautiful regardless of what filter you use.

  1. Mental illness lies to you.

'Your Mental health lies to you, it tells you you're alone, it tells you you're a freak and frankly, it's bullshit.' - something I once heard the ever charming, Bryony Gordon say and possibly the biggest lesson I have taken away. It’s like dating a partner that you don’t trust. Imagine dating ‘anxiety’ – it is bullshit and you can do better, and you deserve better.

 

  1. It’s a superpower.

For all the nonsense it puts us through I will always truly believe there is a superpower within our illnesses and I especially feel this with bipolar. You only have to Google to see so many extraordinary people and what they’ve achieved. A superpower we all possess is the strength to live with a mental illness and to come out the other side every time. To be that strong is a superpower – so just think about that and never forget it.

So with that all in mind, I’ve said it once (that’s a lie, I say it all the time), and I’ll say it again; it’s crippling, it’s exhausting and it can be embarrassing but it is not failure in our strength and character as a human. It’s taken me years to accept that way of thinking but creating awareness in the way that we are this week and education for both sufferers and those who support them is making it a little less crippling, exhausting and embarrassing.

To those of you who are living with the condition, I’m not going to force you up off your bed or sofa. All I’m going to ask you to do is to ‘wiggle your big toe’.

April
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