Time to Talk Day is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health.
Team Leader Emma South, who works within United Welsh’s Thrive team, reflects on shaking the stigma of mental health and her personal challenge to do the same….
Don’t yawn! Don’t yawn!….. DON’T YAWN!!!
“I’m sorry Emma. Am I boring you?!” Another offended person attempts to joke… Again.
What they see is my dis-interest. My rudeness. What they don’t see is the 16 stone man that’s parked himself in between us (not that I have anything against 16 stone men, but I can only assume that should one sit on a nine stone woman’s chest…. ok 10 stone, it would be a far from comfortable or pretty experience!)
And that’s what it feels like right now. My breath has gone and I know by the building panic in my lungs that it’s going to be a struggle to find it.
I now have two options. Walk around the office with my hands behind my head taking deep slow breaths, looking like a fish out of water gasping for air, gills flapping. Or, yawn continuously until I feel like my breathing has ‘reset’.
From past experience, if I go for the trout look, I draw attention and concerned comments which only lead to me panicking and the breathlessness becoming worse, bending me double and creating all the drama for ‘nothing’….. Nothing?
Queue 78th yawn of the day. Exhausting.
Why am I writing about this? Because David Williams challenged me to write a blog for his most recent workplace idea. I had no clue what to write about. Nothing. I said it’s not a strength of mine. Then days later I find myself facilitating a discussion at an event. The topic: mental health.
I challenge the group to consider why mental health stigma is difficult to shake off. They discuss good practice like recent media events and promotions that get people talking about it. Right ok, I thought. But we are missing something.
We cognitively know that we need to have a more open attitude towards mental health and that it needs to be promoted, but can we really challenge or change stigma if we don’t reflect on and identify our own unhelpful attitudes towards mental health?
Donna’s interest peaks (Donna Howells, Head of HR) and she emphatically joins the conversations enjoying debating points like ‘will we ever know where our core beliefs came from or why we have that attitude towards mental health?’
On reflection I thought, does it matter? Do we need to know? Surely we just need to be brave enough and willing to look it in the eye and say ‘I don’t know why I buy into you, but you’re not helpful and I’m going to change you.’
I try to demonstrate that I’m a reflective person by acknowledging to the group that while as a professional working within mental health, I wholeheartedly believe stigma should be challenged, I know as a person, I would feel more comfortable ringing in sick with a headache or even a hangover than I would saying I was suffering with my mental health. Would you?
What an interesting contradiction. It is at this level of your belief system that stigma really lies and really needs to be challenged, not just in promotions that people can choose to take part in but absorb in limited amounts or not personally reflect on.
I’m a hypocrite really. What I should have had the courage to say was that I suffer with my mental health. But I didn’t for fear of how I would be viewed (there’s the stigma again). Even writing this I wonder who will read it and what will change about their view of me. Stigma. Unhelpful. Again.
It’s ‘only’ anxiety. But I’ve learned that it’s not the illness but the management or mismanagment of the symptoms that are the debilitating part of any illness, not its title. I work with people every day that have much more ‘scary sounding’ illnesses but their management of it means it has no power over them.
My anxiety doesn’t seem to have a pattern or logic. My breath goes at times when I convince myself I’m calm and confident. I have a contradiction between my body and my thoughts and feelings which can be confusing. But it doesn’t impact me like it used to because of one thing – I accept it for what it is now.
It’s 2004 and I’m sat in the medical centre on camp, arguing with a doctor that I clearly have asthma.
It’s 2010 and I’m sat in the community arguing with a doctor that I have asthma.
Denial, created and encouraged by stigma, prevented me from accepting that I had anxiety and therefore managing it, making it really hard to manage for years up until recently.
I would tell myself: ‘I’m confident, I don’t feel anxious.’ Now I’ve learned that the only way I know I’m anxious is by my physiological signs, so I’ve accepted it.
Now, it panics me less and while its still remains and probably always will, I just psychologically give the 16 stone bloke a nod and know that he’ll be gone soon, and carry on with my life and what I enjoy.
So, I suffer with anxiety. If he was personified, it would be this guy pictured.
Maybe if I gave him a nicer face the breathlessness would be a more pleasurable experience? *Searches for Tom Hardy pic*
What beliefs do you have that are unhelpful? Do you have a story that would help challenge stigma?
Don’t want to share it? I dare you….