November 27, 2013

HeleneSome people suffer from debilitating anxiety, others have a fear of buttons and some can’t get out of bed in the morning. Some people are straight, some are gay and others have no preference whatsoever. Some people have blue eyes, some people have brown eyes and some have one of each. Some people see the similarities in each other, some only see the differences and others are blinded by ignorance. There are things individually we can’t control but collectively, bit by bit, we can make a difference. The secret? Just start talking.

Let’s talk!

Earlier this year I was on a management training course and we got onto the topic of Wellbeing. I talked openly to the room about my Bipolar and ways in which I look after myself nowadays. I thought nothing of it but was incredibly moved by the number of people who came up to me during the break to thank me and tell me how brave I was. Individually they told me of their own stories with depression, collectively their message was the same. Let’s talk!

I have not always been this confident, but now I won’t hesitate to mention my mental health issues

I have not always been this confident but now I won’t hesitate to mention my mental health issues if relevant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I introduce myself with “Hi I’m Helene and I’m Bipolar. Ta da.” Jazz hands. That would definitely fall under the chapter of life about how to alienate people. However, if it is in context then I will mention the B-word. 90% of the time people’s responses are the same as if I told them about what I had for dinner last night. There will always be those who feel uncomfortable, and whatever their reason for feeling that way they have the right to do so, just as I have the right to talk about my illness out in the open. So, how did I get to this point? The simple answer is, it took time.

How did I get to this point?

Write about your illness , while it doesn’t define you it can’t and shouldn't be ignored. Journaling is amazing. Put pen to paper and let it all come out. Anger, sadness, frustrations and everything else that you want to say but verbally can't find the words. Write it as a letter you’ll never send and feel the relief as the words pour out. Give it a try. Warning: if you choose to draft an email just remember not to press send, unless you’re ready to do so. We've all been there. Erm, haven’t we?!

Blog about it. If like me, you fancy writing your own blog then give it a whirl. Take your time. Write it for yourself at first and then when you’re ready start to share. Anonymity isn’t a crime, your words can still be out there even if your name isn't.

Speak to one person , anyone but just be open and honest. Maybe it’s your best friend, maybe your mum or brother, a teacher or work colleague, maybe the person for you is a complete stranger. The important thing is that you are able to be honest, whether it is just a case of saying "Hi I’m Helene and I’m Bipolar.” or more. I want to say speak to someone who you feel comfortable talking to about it but the truth is that in all likelihood you won’t feel comfortable talking about it for a while, no matter how much you trust them. Talking is hard but it’s worth it so keep going.

Speak to a group . A girls’ night in? A lads’ night out? Why not bring it up at the family dinner table? “Happy Christmas. This year I bring the gift of courage.” Well, maybe give some thought first to your timing. Once those nearest and dearest to you know then maybe think about becoming a Time to Change Champion. The more you talk the easier it becomes. Why shouldn’t the topic of mental health be as common-place as “Did you see EastEnders last night?”

When I told my dad, I had pre-planned it for weeks, only for him to turn around and tell me that he didn’t believe in mental health problems. After the initial sting of his comments I took a breath and told myself he wasn’t ready to hear it. I was right and within a few months he’d researched it in his own time and was ready to resume the conversation. Be prepared, even if the time is right for you to talk it may not be for others to listen.

The whole world is listening, and waiting for your story

Do you want to know the really amazing thing? The whole world is listening, and waiting for your story. How often do you hear “A friend of a friend said…” or, “Well, this bloke I know, his sister…” or, “I was talking to the man at the bus stop and he was telling me…”. Start talking and people will not only listen but they will pass it on. So, when you are ready start writing, have that conversation and let’s make a difference today, together.

Becoming a Time to Change Champion gives me the opportunity to speak out confidently about my own experiences

I am so grateful to all those whose words have helped me that I now want to give something back. Becoming a Time to Change Champion gives me that opportunity, to be able to speak out confidently about my own experiences and to contribute towards changing people's perception of mental health. I consider it a privilege to be given the chance to be involved in such inspiring work, particularly as I know it will make a difference.

What are Time to Change Champions?

Time to Change Champions are people with lived experience of mental health problems (including carers) who campaign to end mental health discrimination in their communities.

Sign up to become a Time to Change Champion and raise awareness by speaking out about your experiences at events and anti-stigma projects.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.