Updated: Oct 14, 2021
In my first column I talked about my decision to start talking more publicly about my mental health. I described how I shared a post with my close circle of Facebook friends in which I described some of my past experiences of living with bipolar 2 disorder.
I was not sure what to expect. All I knew was that other than a relatively small circle of friends, colleagues, family and health professionals, very few people were aware that I live with a disability that can, at times, have such a significant impact not only on my life, but that of those around me.
I have only recently started using my Facebook account again. I had taken a lengthy break after becoming frustrated by what I sometimes regarded as being a forum of fiction. I looked back at my historic posts and saw a veneer of achievement, celebration and happiness.
There were the pictures of me smiling and full of joy and pride I experienced on my sons' graduations, of me wearing my barrister's wig and gown on the day that I was called to the bar.
"I had never felt able to talk about my mental ill health, and how frightened, isolated and lonely it sometimes makes me feel"
There I was again, red faced but jubilant after completing a half marathon, triathlon or rowing race.
And the pictures of happy families posing with a backdrop of breath-taking Mediterranean sunsets and shimmering blue seas.
But other than the occasional posts in which I talked about blips in my physical health, there was never any indication that anything in my life was less than wonderful.
I had never felt able to talk about my mental ill health, and how frightened, isolated and lonely it sometimes makes me feel, or how it had affected my family and my career. Just the idea made me feel uncomfortable; it was so intimate and made me feel so very vulnerable.
Yet sharing pictures of my pyjama-clad family opening their presents on Christmas day was not?
So, I drafted my post, and with my heart pounding and stomach churning clicked on the ‘post’ button and logged off before I could change my mind and delete the post.
It took some time before I could summon the courage to log back on.
What was I afraid of? Perhaps my biggest fear was there would be no reaction at all, that people would feel so uncomfortable or disinterested that they simply did not respond to my post. Or that people would make comments about me or my mental health that I found hurtful.
But what I did find was probably the largest response I have ever had to a post. My mouth was dry as I read through the comments and saw that the confidence I had in my friends was justified. I felt almost overwhelmingly supported and loved as I read through the messages.
Many people who had never responded to any of my posts in the past had taken the time to thank me for my honesty, courage and bravery. Some of my friends told me that in speaking out, I had helped them feel less alone with their own (and up until now) hidden mental illness.
Their recognition of what it had taken for me to make the post on the one hand made me feel valued and accepted for who I truly am, but on the other reinforced my perception that the real stigma and taboos surrounding mental illness are alive and well, even within the caring professions within which so many of my friends work.
The consensus was that mental health is simply not talked about enough, and that people living with mental ill health are too often judged and defined by their condition. I came away with the message that unless sustained efforts are made to make what might otherwise be invisible, visible, that myths, stereotypes and prejudice will prevail.
Even with the awareness that not all experiences will be – or indeed have been – as positive as this, I felt that my decision to share had been validated. In the face of this ongoing silent denial, friends, families, employers and wider communities will never be given the opportunity to understand the day-to-day experiences of people like me.
So this is why I will continue to write this column. Next time I will talk about what mental illness means to me.
But until then....
*This was first published by Nursing Times on 15th May 2021 (https://www.nursingtimes.net/opinion/i-felt-that-my-decision-to-share-had-been-validated-14-05-2021/) and reproduced here with kind permission.