January 4, 2012

Time to Change blogger Claire SmithI have a habit of volunteering myself for things, trying something new and taking on a challenge, so when Time to Change asked for people to speak about their experiences in the press, I put myself forward without giving it much thought.

I was following Time to Change on facebook, having been impressed by the television campaigns and felt it had a valuable message to convey. I felt I shared the same ideas about de-stigmatising mental health issues through talking and I was in a good position to contribute as someone who both experiences issues and works in mental health.

When it came to actually stepping forward for a magazine article I will admit I nearly chickened out. It came home to me that I would need to be more open to more people than I had before and suddenly my idea about speaking out made me feel a lot more vulnerable. This felt like a further step towards being more honest about my experiences - but did feel like a bit of a risk. I was worried, I suppose, about who might see it and what they might think and getting the right message across about myself as well as Time to Change. I was also concerned about the impact on the people closest to me, wondering if they would approve.

In the end I decided to put my worries to one side and go ahead. I spoke to some of the key people in my life and found them supportive and encouraging - in fact it helped me to face saying a few things more explicitly than I normally would - owning my history a bit more openly.

My anxieties about the process were unfounded too - Time to Change were tremendously supportive, offering all the help and advice I needed, the journalists seemed genuinely interested in my experiences and in representing them in a fair and positive light. I had a chance to go over the details once the article was written, correcting inaccuracies and ensuring I was happy with the message. The idea of a professional photographer coming to take the images was pretty scary, as I don’t much care for being photographed, but my Mum came along for support. The photographer was friendly so our anxieties and embarrassment were short lived and we had good fun taking pictures at home and in a local park.

I am glad I went ahead with the article - I recognise that I will benefit from being more open with the people who know me, and by opening up about my experiences. Preparing and thinking about the article gave me the chance to look back over the way my issues developed, giving me some clearer insights and helping me to see some patterns I hadn’t noticed before - which is always helpful. However, my main rationale remains my wish to present a positive message about mental health, hoping that people might benefit by reading the article - feeling more able to speak out, or to listen to others.

You can read Claire’s story on pages 16 and 17 of this week’s issue of Woman magazine - on shelves now.

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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.