I took part in Diaries of a Broken Mind, a programme which aired last night on BBC3 about young people’s mental health.
All contributors were asked to film a first initial ‘interview’ with themselves centred round some key questions. A select few were then chosen to film other aspects of their life too, and tell their story in more depth.
I featured as one of the ‘chorus’ members of the programme, meaning I wasn’t a ‘main character’, but had little snippets shown of my initial interview.
The reason I wanted to take part was to show a different side to mental illness. I wanted the public to see the reality of recovery. People assume that because you’re no longer in the really dark place you were once stuck in, that your life can go back to normal again.
That wasn’t the case for me. I felt like my life had been totally stripped bare and I was rebuilding myself again. I no longer had the hobbies I once loved, the friends I once visited, or the social skills or confidence to go out and get them again. I felt completely awkward and lost, like my mind and body had forgotten what living ‘normally’ was like.
I wanted to show that the effect mental illness has on your life is huge
I wanted to show that the effect that a mental illness has on your life is huge, even after the most severe of your symptoms have passed. I can function day to day now, but that doesn’t mean that my experiences don’t creep up on me sometimes and feel paralysing. There’s a huge difference between ‘medical’ or ‘clinical’ recovery and ‘personal’ recovery; the journey that you go through to accepting your illness and the life you have formed around it.
After seeing my initial interview, the programme directors got in contact and praised me on how well I’d done, but said they had decided they had enough stories from other people and so were not going to ask me to do any more filming. They explained that my story was quite different to others, and it didn’t necessarily fit as well with the rest of the participants as I was at a different stage in my illness.
I think I was a little taken aback by this at first, and felt quite dubious about what the programme would be focusing on. When I first got involved in the project, the title was ‘Minds Like Ours’, and I only found out a week ago that the name had changed. I objected quite strongly to the new title. My mind isn’t ‘broken’!
I expected to see dramatised, disturbing, and extreme images
When I tuned in last night with apprehension, I expected to see dramatised, disturbing, and extreme images that were simply feeding public desire for a popcorn-inducing freak show. I was wrong. Whilst they didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of mental illness, I was so impressed that they didn’t include anything too triggering or damaging. They showed the highs, the lows, and most importantly, they were showing young people as young people, not as patients or diagnoses.
Even at their ‘worst’, each character was so beautiful, articulate, lovely and intelligent. I’m proud to have been involved in something alongside such inspirational people. They deserved the amount of time and attention that their stories received because each and every one of them did it justice. I know that I would not have found the strength to have taken part in the programme when I was at my lowest. It is much easier to talk once you’ve come through mental illness than to articulate how it feels to be in its claws.
Seeing myself on camera allowed me to empathise with my story
So what did my few minutes of stardom do for me? A lot, actually. I’m so used to reciting my story to various medical professionals that it’s easy to completely disconnect from its meaning. But seeing myself on camera allowed me to empathise with my story and almost forgive myself for everything that’s happened. Hearing my voice say “I often don’t feel worthy of people’s affection or of people’s love” really made me stop and consider just how cruel and self-stigmatising I’ve been.
Before and after the programme, I had the most supportive messages from friends, and I truly feel that I played a small part in something amazing. Most touchingly of all was the out of the blue text from my mum (whom I had no idea was watching) as soon as the programme had finished. Just a few words that meant the world to me; ‘You are worthy. I hope you can believe it’.