July 11, 2012

Paula, a Time to Change bloggerA little while ago, I bumped into an old colleague in our local shop and he asked me what I was doing now. He became very interested when I told him that I was a visual artist and that I had my own studio.

He asked me would I like to come along to a Rotary Club Dinner and give a speech about my artwork. I seized the opportunity to explain that being diagnosed with Bipolar had inadvertently got me into art. I thought he would have ran to the hills, the moment that I mentioned mental health but it had the total opposite effect.

He said that if I was comfortable I should speak about my bipolar too. I was so very nervous but it has been my passion from diagnosis to be open and honest so hopefully others will follow suit.

Seeing all of the individuals on the Time to Change Facebook page spurred me on. I don't feel so alone now as organisations such as Time to Change bring all of our voices together. I had never publicly spoken before but I was given this opportunity and grabbed it...

am I going to get any kind of a response here talking about mental illness?

When I arrived I was really surprised to be the only female in the room. This wobbled me a little as the men in the Rotary Club were advanced in their years. This made me think "am I going to get any kind of a response here talking about mental illness?" I half expected them to tell me to pull up my boot straps & get on with it.

The evening was steeped in formalities such as dinging a brass bell with the Rotarian symbol for its handle to stand for the President Elect. However, the company were warm and welcoming. I chatted with the President Elect over dinner and we had a giggle. Then it was crunch time. The bell was rung again, this time to introduce me to the room as the speaker. I stood up, smiled & began my speech.

 I let the room know I was struggling and asked would anyone like to ask me a questions

Everything was going well. I could feel that I had genuinely captured their interest, to my amazement. It was there about 5 minutes in, I stumbled. Yes folks I went totally blank! I didn't let it stop me though. I let the room know I was struggling and asked would anyone like to ask me a questions.

Letting them know that I understood the subject matter was awkward but the only way to combat that was to discuss it. No question came. Gulp! I then said that I was not uncomfortable speaking about bipolar and the first question came and another and another. I must have answered questions on bipolar for a good half an hour.

I must have been speaking for at least 45 minutes and it wasn't me wittering on, the questions just kept coming

I also talked about Creative Alternatives, the charitable organisation who helped me step back out into the community. From there I spoke about Safe Productions, a not for profit organisation, where I rent a studio and have ongoing support. I had questions asked about both organisations. All in all I must have been speaking for at least 45 minutes and it wasn't me wittering on, the questions just kept coming. They truly wanted to know. They asked about symptoms, medication, side-effects, how my mental health affected my family and friends...

I got a wonderful thank you from the Rotarian's and a round of applause. Then after the formal ending to the dinner a queue formed and I was told that I was one of the best speakers that had ever spoken for the club. I had given them all something to think about. I was told that I was brave. The best thing of all though was individuals opened up to me about members of their families. They wanted to understand. That blew me away.

What do you think about the issues raised in this blog? Share your views with us on Twitter >>

Or pledge to share your experience of mental health today and find out how talking tackles discrimination.


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.