A year has passed in what feels like the flap of a hummingbird’s wing since the last Time To Talk day and, just like last year (and I’m sure for many years to come) Time To Change are galvanising not just the nation but the world to get people talking about mental health. Whether you think the focus should shift to acquiring resources to better help those in need or if (like me) you think there are grounds to fight to provide a safe society for people to express their fears, talking about mental health can only be of benefit to everyone concerned.
For last year’s Time To Talk campaign, I wrote about a conversation with my dad that changed my life. Now if you’re familiar with my story, you’ll know how close my dad and I are. I can tell him anything, we can talk through my fears and concerns and we’re always there for each other. One thing I don’t do a lot of is talk about my relationship with my mum. I’m naturally closer to my dad because since the age of 7 and a half I’ve lived with him but this hasn’t stopped me forming a close bond with my mum at the same time. I think we would both be the first to admit that it’s been more fraught and frustrating but as I’ve aged, I’ve come to appreciate her friendship, opinions and her love all the more. Yet the distance, both physical and metaphorical, has birthed an environment where the topic of my mental health isn’t a discussion to be had over the dinner table because she hasn’t been there to witness what it’s like to live with me day in, day out.
The main point of contention with my mother and I is only exacerbated by our joint stubbornness and unwillingness to give in when we feel we are right. It’s not all her fault though, she can’t help being a Northerner (I’m half Northern before you all jump out of your tin baths, throwing your gas lamps at me and cursing at your lack of running hot water!) but they just show love in a different kind of way. Whereas my dad will accept (often not wanting or happy to) what I have to say, when it comes to my mum, she has jumped down my throat with questions in the form of “Why this/that or the other” which never goes down well because how am I expected to explain my feelings if I can’t get to grips with them myself?!
Keeping with the theme of conversations then, I guess it’s not been one conversation that I’ve had with my mum but several over the years since my diagnosis that have helped to shape our relationship. I feel like I need to give you reasons, mum, as to why I behave or think in a certain way, reasons that usually escape me. But as the years pass, I’ve seen your attitudes towards me and my mental illness change, mellow, and I like the fact that I’m not filled with dread when I approach you to talk about it anymore. We’ve been on FaceTime to each other crying and screaming and we’ve been face to face hugging and sobbing, but in a weird kinda way, I’m glad we went through all of that. It’s been nice for me to see you seeing me in a different light. You’ve started to pick up on the subtleties of my condition, noticing the minute visual cues that let you know when I need a helping hand.
Conversations are really important, especially those that you might find hardest at first. I know through personal heartache that leaving something to simmer only allows for the tension and anxiety to fester. When it’s out in the open, and to use the old cliché, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, problems do feel lighter and easier to bear. Talking to my loved ones, being open and honest with them when all I’ve wanted to do is run has been one of the most important, if not the most important step on my road to recovery.
In essence, what I’m trying to say is thank you, mum. Thanks for being persistent and stubborn and not giving up on me. Thank you for your patience and for listening to me, and I mean really listening when I’ve told you how I feel. I know it’s not always been easy and we’re always going to butt heads (again, I blame the Northern blood!) but I love you, mum.
So if you’re living with a mental illness and you’re worried about talking, please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for support, start a conversation and I promise you’ll find hope along the way.