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See Change

This morning, See Change launched its Make A Ripple radio campaign. The campaign sees 22 real people tell (part of) their real stories. These awareness-raising ads were recorded and produced without scripts and without music or intros by the wonderful, generous, inspiring Evelyn McClafferty.

I was honoured when I was asked to be part of the campaign, which aims to raise awareness and smash the stigma surrounding mental ill health in Ireland. I was delighted when I was asked to speak at the launch. This is what I had to say:

“I became involved with this campaign because I believe that the more people speak out about their mental health, the more people will speak out about their mental health.

The stigma attached to mental ill-health allows ill-informed people to continue to say ill-informed, unkind, untrue, unhelpful things about mental ill-health. The only way to exorcise stigma is to educate it out of people. The only way to do that is to challenge it. The only way to do that is to speak out and refuse to be silent. To tell the truth.

My truth is that I have post traumatic stress disorder. I have PTSD because I was sexually abused from the time I was two until I was an adult.  The people who brutalised my body also traumatised my mind. How could they not? Body and mind are two halves of the same whole; they are indivisible and inextricably linked. Yet, discussing physical health is so much more ‘acceptable’ than discussing mental health.

I have a condition – a disorder – that is incurable. There is no cure for PTSD – there is no pill that will take the edge off it. When I was hospitalised two years ago, the consultant psychiatrist I was under told me as much. ‘Medicine can’t help you,’ he told me candidly. ‘We cannot help you here.’

He was right, the best I can do is be grateful for the fact that it’s not as bad as it was. Because, truly, it has been awful. There were days, many days, when my first thought upon waking was ‘Oh no! I’ve woken up again.’ There were days – years, in fact, where I retreated so far inside myself that I wasn’t sure I could ever be found.

PTSD meant I lost the ability to recognise my own instinct – let alone follow it. As you can imagine, that got me into some hairy situations. PTSD has seen me suicidal, believing that I truly was the worst person on the face of the planet; believing that the world, including my children – especially my children – would be better off without me.

PTSD left me terrified of the world and everyone in it. It left me believing the worst of myself. It saw me acting in ways that were not in my own best interests.

My symptoms were compounded by my attempts to conceal them from the world of “normal” people. (Yeah right! Who’s normal? Hands up here, all the normal people!) The relief I found when I stopped doing that was phenomenal. Suddenly, the energy that I’d been spending on concealing how I was, on playing the game, was freed up. I felt lighter – I felt like myself, even though it wasn’t easy. Especially not in the beginning.

It meant staying away from people who fed my negative views of myself., and who had a vested interest in keeping me stuck. It meant being honest when people asked me how I was. I’m not always ‘grand’! Sometimes I’m only ‘okay’. Sometimes I’m pretty low. Sometimes I’m barely hanging on. But I accept that.

My mental health is part of who I am, but it does not define me any more than having green eyes or unfashionably large feet or tattoos define me. I’m not stigmatized because of my eyes, or my feet or even my tattoos. So I no longer accept stigmatization because I have PTSD.

I’m not naive enough to think that my rejection of it will erase stigmatization. It won’t be wiped out at the end of this campaign fortnight. I know it’a a long journey and we’re just setting off. I know that people will still talk. I know people will still be unkind. I know some people will still call me cracked. But that’s okay, because every time someone calls me ‘cracked’, I remember what Groucho Marks had to say on the subject:

‘Blessed are the cracked,’ he said, ‘because they let in the light.’

So I thank God for all the cracked people. Long may we continue to let in the light. Long may we continue to shine.’  “

The stigma attached to mental ill-health can compound the difficulty of the initial problem.  Speak out about mental health, get help for mental illness the same way you would for physical illness. Don’t suffer in silence.

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