This post has been in the draft process for just over a week now, I wasn’t sure even how to start it at first. However, with the events of recent days and mental health in the news at home, today seems like the right time for this. The Germanairwings crash will have frightened many in recent days, as expats we are constantly on and off flights and so are our friends and family. Many will have been reminded just how lucky we are to be alive.
However the news reports that have come out have been nothing short of disgusting as Stephanie Boland at The NewStatesman pointed out, “why are the headlines today so insensitive and unhelpful?”, we seem to live in a society where those in the media with the power to influence do so in such a damaging way:
On their way to work this morning, thousands of people who suffer from a disease whose symptoms include feelings of worthlessless and lack of confidence will have passed a headline that implies they oughn’t to be allowed certain jobs. To be fair, you’ve got to hand it to the Mail sub-editors: 16 words is a pretty efficient length in which to kick people while they’re down.
Mental illness is said to affect 1 in 4 people in Britain. In January I found out that a good friend had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in the last few weeks that she is bipolar.
I met this wonderful woman at university and we’ve remained friends ever since. She’s always been bubbly, outgoing, intelligent and strong. She’s a mother of 3 wonderful children. Her two boys are autistic so she’s been through the struggle of getting them diagnosed, home-schooling and finding the right education for them. She worked for many years as a teacher in China and inspired so many young minds. All that time I had no idea she was also coping with mental illness.
Then she put two posts on Facebook that really reached out and touched all her friends. These posts were so inspirational I wanted to share them with you.
Recently recovering in hospital from an episode, she needed to find a way of explaining to the children what was going on. As the boys are autistic it was important to find a way that they could understand easily.
This is not only a great way to explain to her children, but also her friends just what living with bipolar really means. She’s a hard working, intelligent and beautiful woman who happens to also be bipolar.
I’ve been using writing in this blog to communicate with all of you, to share the life I lead and comment at times about the society we live. But writing also has the power to help us heal. These are the words of Louise my bipolar hero:
For some back story, I’m a lit grad and I was sent to China first to teach conversation and later to teach writing skills and with that philosophy – they are partners after all!
Through teaching I learnt to write better and through writing to my students I also learnt about the beauty and significance of Chinese writing.
I asked them, as homework, to write a diary. Nothing spectacular and nothing they didn’t want me to read. I had over 500 students at the time and I would take these diaries home and pour over them once a week. I taught 90% girls – Chinese girls two generations behind us in terms of freedom of speech and learning, but here they were at university. Their stories , their inner feelings filled my heart and my head and I would often sit and cry over their stories. These perfectly prim, beautifully turned out young women that had gone through boundless suffering to get to my classroom. They would never have opened their mouths and told me any of their truths , not in class or when they came to visit my home on campus.
When the end of semester came I asked them to write a review of the course and what they felt helped them the most. Some of them enjoyed the poetry, some loved learning the structure of essays , but most of them said writing the diaries set them free. I asked them if it was hard to write those things down and the response was yes of course, they cried through the process, but the pain lifted.
So, when I became ill, I was still in China at the time, I was put into a psych ward in Guangzhou – in the hospital connected to my university. I was delirious for days and they had tied me to a bed, but when I finally came round I was. Surrounded by my girls, my students. On my bedside table were a stack of books – including Alice in Wonderland and Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy , which was very amusing 🙂 and touching , because English books are so hard to source in China – but the first thing they did was ask if I was ok and then give me a book to write in and a pen. ( they also fetched me watercolours and paper – which came in handy and gathered a crowd)
So, my students became my teachers and they told me to write. That I did – sometimes conscious and sometimes not, there is a zone that we all fall in to . When the command voice got too loud in my head I wrote to him. In big bold letters and when I had flashbacks I wrote them too. So the way I see it, hard as it may be to write about your experiences and how you got to this point, there is a power in those words and they will set you free. At the same time you are writing a story that before now no one has given heed to. People say they listen’, but we all know this to be futile. You can only hold someone’s attention for a matter of minutes before they digress back into their own thoughts. The human condition.
Until not so long ago OUR stories, that of the mentally ill, was a hushed and silent suffering . Now, right here, we have a opportunity to write our own history. Become validated. It’s going to hurt, always does, but please, when you feel you can, start to write it down. X
There is strength in every story and also in numbers. We can and are going to do this!!! “
She also highlighted an on-line writing programme The Avengerz stories project, where people who are struggling to get the care they need can share their stories. The stories will then be brought together to bring awareness and hopefully a change in mental healthcare in the UK.
Another friend of ours recently announced that she was going to be talking at TEDx at the University of Glasgow, I haven’t seen it yet as the video isn’t available but as a result of her doing the talk I found out that Lindy had also been living with mental illness and the stigma that goes with it. Nathan Stillwell wrote:
“her powerful talk titled “Superheroes vs. Stigma”. She explained her battle against depression, even the suicidal thoughts that once passed through her mind, and her subsequent battle against employers who recoiled at the slight whisper of ‘Mental Health Issues’. Irving’s speech, which included the exhilarating reveal of a batman top, had the audience and myself thinking about the stigma of mental health”
I’ve known Lindy for many years now, we’ve danced, joked and laughed together, I went to her wedding. She’s an intelligent, beautiful strong woman who has brought up 2 wonderful children. As a result of the struggle Lindy had with our society she is launching the Superhereos vs. Stigma campaign. Here’s how you can help:
- When the video is released by TEDx to Youtube, share it as much as possible to try and get the SvsS message all around the world.
- On 26th June, wear a Superhero t-shirt and upload a photo on Twitter & the SvsS Fb page with the hashtag #superheroesvsstigma and encourage everyone you know to do the same.
- If you know of any organisations who would be willing to get involved and have all their staff wearing t-shirts on 26th June, send them her way!
- Join her on Facebook
These two women are my mental health heroes. Most of us at some stage of our lives will experience some form of mental illness, we need more people like Louise and Lindy 🙂