, September 21, 2016

When more and more people recognise the determination, and guts, it takes to live and thrive with mental health problems, then we'll know times really have changed.

One of the great things about social media is having an unexpected, online chat at stupid o'clock at night, with a friend who lives many miles away.

The conversation turned to my early stage breast cancer diagnosis. “You're so brave,” my old friend wrote on Facebook messenger.

I've heard this several times, since my diagnosis earlier this year. It, and variations on that theme.

It started me thinking about the number of times someone has said this when my bipolar was giving me grief, or when my anxiety was so sky high it was practically in nodding distance of Mars. Or when I was so deeply depressed, suicide seemed not just a viable option, but the only one.

It was an easy comparison, because no one's ever said it. No one has ever told me I was brave because I was dealing with mania, or through-the-roof anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

And yet, there are few things braver in this world than to get out of bed when there seems no point. To stay out of bed. To stay alive, when there really seems no reason. (There is a point; there always is, but seeing it when you're in the depths of despair is like looking for a black cat, at midnight, in an area with no street lights, when you've just lost your torch.)

You can't get much braver than doing your absolute level best to stay alive, to keep going, when every single cell in your body is seemingly screaming at you to stop, to give up, to quit.

These feelings are not helped by being told – by friends, family, and, yes, mental health care providers – to “just get on with it”, when my mental health takes a dive.

One of these days, the message to “just get on with things” is going to be served up with a generous side portion of “and I know that takes real guts”.

It's brave to keep going, when you want to stop. It takes even more courage, even more guts, to start doing things again, once we've come to a stop. Even braver, in my experience, than dealing with day surgery, or radiotherapy, or endless hospital appointments.

One of these days, I'll get one of those side portions. One day, more and more people struggling with mental health problems will be told how brave we are when we carry on living. When we carry on, carrying on.

When that happens – when more and more people recognise the determination, and guts, it takes to live and indeed thrive with mental health problems – we'll know times really have changed.

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