I’m not brave

“Thank you for talking, you are so brave”

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I talk about my mental health very openly. In fact if you’re reading this blog you may well have seen me give a talk, workshop or presentation or even on television talking about some issue or concept in mental health; usually weaving in some of my own experiences. I probably look like a natural, as though i’ve been an open book my whole life.

All in all it has taken me 19 years to get to this point. I’ve been ill or at least symptomatic since the age of six. It took me eight years to get a diagnosis, another five until I started opening up and another two  until I really made my peace with my experiences.

For the last six years, since the age of 19 I have had the incredible pleasure and honour of being involved with the mental health charity YoungMinds. Before then I was so far in the mental health closet you could saw I was in Narnia. They not only helped me find my voice but helped me to nurture it and form a narrative around my experiences.

The effect has been profound. During my school years I was completely unable to speak in front of groups of people and used to feign sickness for weeks to avoid the annual public speaking contest. The thought alone of standing up there with nothing but a sheet of notes to shield me caused incredible levels of nausea and anxiety leaving me all but paralysed. I certainly never, ever expected to stand in front of hundreds. In fact I doubt my teachers would recognise me now.

At this point I cannot comprehend what my life would have been like without these monumental changes but I do know I would have had a poorer life. I have spoken on record to such diverse organisations and people as the BBC, MTV, Royal Societies, politicians (including a PM) and many more and gained so much by letting go of my fears.

After every talk I give, people approach me. Some will put their hands up during Q&A sessions and speak openly in front of the group, many though will take me to one side after and quietly speak.

Without fail, at every single speech people do two things:

One in Four? More like four in four

1) They open up about their own run-ins with mental ill health.

Sometimes it is their own experience, something they have never disclosed before. Often it is about a friend or family member and they come to me in sadness or desperation. I have developed an uncanny ability to work out, during a talk, who will approach me afterwards.

This has taught me one simple thing; we are all affected by mental health and illness. We talk about the 1 in 4 statistic but that doesn’t sit well for me. We ALL have mental health just like we all have physically health; we sit on different points of the same spectrum. Which suggests to me that mental illness affects 4 in 4 of us..but only 1 in 4 will admit it. And perhaps even that statistic is too high.

2) “You are so brave” I’m not so sure

Secondly, I am told, almost like clockwork that I am “brave”

Now before I start unpicking this one let me say; I get it and I appreciate the sentiment. But it makes me sad.

I think what people see is a very young looking girl (more 15 than 25) standing up and opening up in a really honest way. Yes I am those things but I am much more. I have been standing up and telling my story repeatedly for six years and at this point I feel no fear, no misapprehension about what I do.

I am lucky because I do not need to be brave any more. Just myself.

It is brave to stand up and say something for the first time, to give words to wooly concepts and feelings. It is brave to stand up when you don’t know what the reaction to your words will be.

But what I have learnt, much to my early surprise, is that opening up about mental illness does not automatically mean opening yourself up to criticism and abuse. In fact 99% of the reaction I get is overwhelmingly positive and empathetic. So in fact all I am opening myself up to are compliments and smiles-that suddenly doesn’t seem too brave does it?

I am seen as brave for standing up and speaking when others don’t. And that is a damn shame. If you had my experiences you would see being open is a wonderful gift to be shared. Like I said in my blog about running up against anti-psychiatry Scientologists:

If I won’t stand up, someone who has been ill for a lifetime, used services for a decade and has worked for the NHS and mental health charities, how can I expect anyone else too?

I don’t want to be seen as brave but as a role model. I don’t want to be the only person on a podium or the token service user. I want us to stand up together, regardless of whether we are students, doctors, psychiatrists or siblings and talk.

I know it’s not very British but it shouldn’t be seen as brave either.

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Join me Walking Out of Darkness

Over the years i’ve watched many friends take part in fundraising events like Race For Life. I’ve always been so proud of their achievements and amazed by the scale of the events and the energy that surrounds them.

And yet it has always saddened me that there didn’t seem to be anything on a similar scale specifically for mental health. Sure you can take part in a thousand different types of marathons, triathlons or even do a skydive and support individual charities. I thought maybe wanting an event dedicated to this issue was a case of having eyes bigger than my stomach and being too ambitious and did not hold my breath waiting for one.

So, last year, when I first heard about CLASP charity and their planned Walking Out of Darkness event in London next month I was very intrigued.

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A few weeks ago I had the genuine pleasure to speak to the man who started it all, CLASP CEO Kenny Johnston. Like me, Kenny is very open about his own experience of mental health issues and it was these experiences that led him to setting up CLASP and the CLASP helpline which will launch later this year.

Watch Kenny in this short video:

The walk will be held on July 19th starting at 8pm and there is a 5, 10 and 25 mile route depending on what you feel capable of. Personally, and sadly I will only be able to do the 5 mile walk at most this year. I am attempting, for once in my life, to be mindful of my limitations and practice some self care.

I will be joined by thousands of others including NHS England, the Department of Health, British Transport Police, Charities, Organisations, MPs and celebrities. The event is gathering huge momentum even before it has begun and I strongly recommend you follow on twitter and follow the hashtag #WalkingOutOfDarkness.

Mention me and get a discount!

I hope you will be joining me on the walk. If you do wish to register you can get a £10.00 discount by using the code “Kat10”. All money donated using this code will given to one of my favourite mental health charities, DWED, who do incredible work on a shoestring.

About Diabetics With Eating Disorders (DWED)

DWED supports people with Type 1 Diabetes and Eating Disorders and their carers in numerous ways including online, by phone and face to face. They also provide advocacy support for service users and training for professionals. I have worked with them recently alongside NHS England, myhealthlondon, London Strategic Clinical Networks and the WellHappy App on a project to raise awareness of Type 1 Eating Disorders and improve outcomes.

Week Two: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

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The second week of February, well from the 11th to today, the 17th of February it has been the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Every year i am blown away by the amount of support and awareness raising that goes on during this week, especially by Beat the eating disorders charity.

And this year was no different with both their “Sock it to Eating Disorders” and “Everybody knows somebody” campaigns which both received a lot of high profile support and attention.

Some things i absolutely must mention..

My wonderful friend and London VIR for YoungMinds Amy-Louise posted this inspirational video. Amy-Louise reached out to the online community and asked them to send her their videos and the result is both heartwarming and heart breaking in equal measures.

You can also visit her blog and Youtube channel to see more of the wonderful work that she does.

There were also some amazing blogs this week on YoungMinds website from young people and their families on the themes of Eating Disorders and Recovery. Please remember that all blogs of this nature can be triggering if you are struggling and should be watched only if you are feeling up to it.

And i know this is a bit of a selfish and silly one but i was incredibly excited that i was re-tweeted by Stephen Fry even if it did involve airing his dirty laundry!:

Stephen Fry retweets WellHappy!

Stephen Fry retweets WellHappy!

 

There was also a groundbreaking debate on Eating Disorders held in Parliament on Friday and chaired by Caroline Noakes MP, Head of the APPG on Body Image and a vocal campaigner for change and awareness. I have started talking to her over Twitter and am hoping to meet with her soon.

I will be posting more specifically about this debate in a blog coming soon. Watch this space!

Remember, it’s almost Eating Disorders Awareness Week!

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Tomorrow is the start of the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I have been looking forward to it because i know what an amazing job people like the Beat Ambassadors  taking the stage they have been given to tell us their stories, to show their campaigns, raise awareness and fight some of the terrible misconceptions about these dangerous disorders.

This year the leading UK Eating Disorder charity Beat are asking us to “Sock it to Eating Disorders!” and i know i will be!

To find out how you can get involved check out Beats helpful page here where you can find out more on how to celebrate and raise money for a great cause. You can also talk to other sufferers and carers on their great message boards and even attend events which you can find here.

You can also Follow Beat on Twitter  

As well as these people on Twitter:

Me: I will be tweeting a lot during EDAW13 mostly with my service user hat on here

The big London mental health project i am currently working on which will be tweeting about London Eating Disorder Services, resources and more here :

The absolutely wonderful VIK Project:

And of course  YoungMindsUK

50 Shades of Grey to be used as toilet paper

Back in August i wrote a blog, which you can read here. The blog was about my reactions to the intense press coverage of rape stories; triggered mainly by comments made by male politicians such as Todd Aikin in the US and George Galloway here in the UK.

One of the things that i spoke about was my unease around the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey and in particular how hard i found it to deal with that every morning on my commute the trains were full of people either reading these rape headlines or Shades of Grey. I found it a disturbing juxtaposition.

I am certainly not the only one that draws issue with the book in question and the messages it sends out. Speaking to friends, including several with experiences of domestic violence and refuges, i found plenty of other people that are just as troubled by this.

So it was very interesting to hear that a refuge in England has had a really great idea that doesn’t involve book burning but instead..and wait for this..using 50 Shades of Grey as toilet paper!

Wearside Women in Need have started a campaign; “Fifty Shades of Abuse” and have been asking for donations of the book which will be cut up and used as toilet paper and compost.

50 Shades of Abuse

Read the whole article here: Domestic abuse charity to use 50 Shades of Grey as toilet paper.