I've been a Time to Change Champion for a number of years now but it's only very recently I have joined with the movement. I would be lying if I told you this involvement has been easy. But I hope, my struggles make things better for others like me who are living with a mental illness.
Why I got involved
I decided around three months ago that I would be involved with Time to Talk Day. I ordered my resources and set myself a plan. At first, I wondered whether I should campaign on social media alone, in my comfort zone. Shut away from the public view. Safe. Away from the staring, sniggering and snide comments that in the past would have kept me just there. I decided to start my campaign online and started sharing Time to Change resources. In time, I started to share more personal posts related to managing my Bipolar disorder and, eventually, shared a short video in where I discuss personal experiences of Psychosis.
I wondered what else I could do to really educate others and make a difference, so decided to organise an event. I knew social media posts were useful but that in order to make a difference I needed to make that social contact. What was stopping me?
Well, when you live in a small town as I do, and are also living with a mental illness, unfortunately people do tend to talk about you for all the wrong reasons. Despite any good you may have done. In earlier days in my recovery I would avoid people as much as possible, Because of my delusional beliefs and the visible distress this caused me it was easier to do this.
Despite all my difficulties, I still searched for meaningful activity and took to litter picking in my local cemetery. On occasion I would brave my local shop, until I overheard someone sniggering about the ‘local nutcase who wanders the cemetery day and night talking to herself’. Encouraging others to come and look. Others have said things like, “there's her who lost the plot” or that I'm under the influence of alcohol or on drugs. I was branded as a thief, having left a charity shop without paying one time, after becoming overwhelmed and distracted at the till. No one told me what had occurred at the time. But everybody talked. Even after I'd paid what I owed weeks later, I found out by mistake. These are only the remarks I know about.
This is why I was apprehensive at first about the social engagement. I am 5 years post-diagnosis, for the past six months my Bipolar Disorder remains in remission. Not all of my social experiences have been bad - these are the worst examples.
Organising my event
Despite this, I set around arranging my event. However, when it came to advertising the event, I found a local community page had disallowed my advert. I publicly decided to ask the question why other organisations and individuals were supported with this, yet mine had been disapproved and discarded. I asked was this because of my mental illness. I used my own personal lived experience of mental health as examples and explained that if nobody talks, we can't ever reduce stigma. Explained how disappointed I felt and why. I was eventually told my advert had been disallowed in error. I don't suppose I will ever know if this was the case but after airing this out, I did repost and advertise my event.
All of these challenges have only made me more determined that my Time to Talk Day would be a success.
I advertised in 3 local resident social media groups. Told people what I was planning by word of mouth and put up posters in my local bus stops and area. I also delivered some posters to our local area mental health unit. Quickly my social media posts caught on. My post, with the help of others, was spreading far and wide. This was such an achievement for me.
Time to Talk Day
When the day arrived I felt sick with nerves and wondered would anyone attend. I put on my Time to Talk t-shirt and set off for my walk into my local nature reserve.
On my way, I stopped and spoke with people I passed and gave out flyers. I told them what I was doing today and why. My Natural Nattering event went off as a success! I had one attendee remember it only takes one conversation to change lives. We chatted and exchanged experiences, before making fun of each other’s conversation starter paper folding skills!
After the event, on my walk home, I spoke to members of the public about why I had been involved with Time to Talk Day. In total, I made contact with around 15 people. I hope that in doing so perhaps just one person’s opinion on mental illness will be changed. The best way for this to happen is for people to see for themselves those who are living with these diagnoses and make their own mind up.
Living with a mental illness can at times be extremely difficult but it can also be extremely rewarding. When you set yourself some goals and achieve them, you feel part of society once more and feel your impact has perhaps made a difference to others like you.