So its apparently Mental Health Day. The idea of this day puzzles me, much like Valentines Day does. Is this the day we all care about mental health issues, and the rest of the year they can get to fuck? It seems a strange message to be sending out. This is the day for caring about people suffering life altering illness, tomorrow can be National Coming Out Day for another set of folk we like to prejudice against, but will patronise for the time being.
Though the WHO are for it, and it seems to help people, so who am I to be Oscar the Grouch about it? Just feels like it should be more 24/7.
I'd like to claim in the ten years since I was diagnosed, and the twenty-one years I've been recognised as suffering from what we'll call depression for short hand reasons, that understanding and tolerance has become universal. I can't, but I'd like to. And even that seems a bit unfair, as it is much better now than it was in my child hood. Or so it seems.
But prejudice, intolerance, and plain stupidity still remain. I mean, I just typed in "is mad" into the Twitter search engine, and came up with hundreds of people using the term mad as an insult. As is schiz, as is paranoid. As does, right at this moment, depressed idiot, and yes, being used as an insult. Thats social media for you. And thats not even taking into account this bloody governments war on the vulnerable.
I've faced prejudice many times over my life. Sometimes admittedly because I'm a lapsed Catholic of Irish descent in Glasgow, which is nearly bingo. The primary school teacher that used to hit my wrist when I was left handed did it partly out of misread Bible beliefs,, but also because I was a bloody slow learner. Dad says I was always a bit special (his words) back then, and he thought I had aspergers or something like that.
When I was sixteen and ill, one teacher told me I had no reason to be depressed as I hadn't lived yet. When I went to the Doctor around the age of nineteen, in one of my many aborted attempts to deal with my issues, she scoffed at the idea of mental health existing, as did a few doctors I had last year. Hell, a friend of mine was told depression is an imaginary illness by a GP when he started having trouble after his DAD died. When I was twenty, a complete stranger on a train, on hearing my then fiancee mention my health problems, said to us that if I was his son, he'd have drowned me in the Clyde.
And I talk from a position of being bloody lucky. People, good people, shelter me from most of the worlds evils. Yet its still seen as socially acceptable for someone to walk up to someone on a busy train and wish them dead because of health issues.
Thats why we need to keep talking about these things. Because that guy on the train will talk to some poor sod who doesn't have a Mandy right there to prevent them doing anything daft. Because forty years ago, we had the same view of fucking cancer, to the point that when John Wayne told his son he had "the big C", his son thought he meant the clap! We've progressed to the point ordinary people can announce they've got that crap disease, and get the love and support they need in a battle which is become more winnable by the decade, but still an arduous one no matter how simple the cancer stage.
Its the same with mental health issues. Its cancer of the mental faculties. It should be spoken about as openly and with as much love and support for its victims as cancer has. Its not some shame you hide in the family attic. Its a bloody killer, we know it is, and to turn a blind eye to the monster demon (Spenser) is to allow to slowly devour people we love and cherish, in the hope they'll snap out of being eaten alive.
Snap out of it. That's another good one. I have met people who genuinely believe anyone with mental health issues is just being weak and needs a damn good kick up the arse. Trouble is, many of these people genuinely believe they are doing the best for the victim. Trouble is, every victim knows at least one.
This isn't just some rare thing either: 25% of the British population are estimated to have some form of mental illness. Certainly, its easier for me to count the people, family, friends and acquaintances I know who don't have any mental health issues.
On the 14th November 2011, I made what many times I feel in retrospect was a bit of an error. I wrote about Depression from a personal stand point. I did it to try and help other people, and believe me, I'm naive enough to have not realised the impression it would leave on other people of me.
It was an error of judgement for two reasons though. First, it mentally puts pressure on yourself, once you've, even accidentally, put yourself out there as someone who speaks for the mentally ill. Now I have to work even harder on my own health, because, having received personal mail from folk saying I'd genuinely made them feel better about themselves, if I was to (forgive me) kill myself now, it would be a kick in the teeth to a hell of a lot of folk I'm meant to have helped.
There isn't any way I could think of to write that sentence without it sounding egotistical. I didn't expect people to come rushing forward thanking me and following my writing for the reasons of one confessionary blog piece. Hell, if I'd known it would do that for me, I wouldn't have written the thing, it was purely to help that nameless other person who stumbled across it at 4am on Google when they're desperate.
The second error is the massive blank I leave in the middle. I became ill, here are my symptoms, I'm still here. It suggests that a man is an island, which is both unfair, and highly dangerous. This is what comes from not intending to set oneself up as a speaker on depression.
But since I've inadvertently taken that mantle, let me say this:
Friends and family.
By god, you need at least one of those.
I was lucky to have both.
There are countless people who, if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here, to do my damndest to try and help folk.
But I should mention some poor maligned folk. I'd bring up Mandy now, but I mean folk who, without their help, I wouldn't even be around to have met her.
Like Iain. He's known me...fourteen years of my life, or there abouts. Poor sod. When I was sixteen (that sounds like a crap 80s synth song start up, doesn't it?) and becoming more acute of health, I took it very well. Brilliantly well. I told everyone I planned to kill myself.
Yeah, when I said I took it well, I kind of lied.
Now, I had a bit of a reputation for exaggeration. And a bit is putting it mildly. So I half expected people to treat it with as much seriousness as my claims of having an endorsement from Douglas Adams. Only, some didn't. Iain for one went to my house headmaster, and explained in great detail all that had been going on. Which got the school involved. He's told me to my face since - he had to do it as he was absolutely worried I was "going to fucking die" - and I respect him the hell for it. At the time, I was a bit like "Why are people talking about me? Fuck off world!" because when you are a teenager, you are not the most mature person in the world anyway, without needing depression to screw things up. But Iain spoke to Phil Crampsey, who spoke to mum and Fr Porter, and then doctors were spoken to, and things went from there. Its a bit of a daze, really. There's a few folk who went to see Mr Crampsey, I didn't know they all cared so much. Iain and I have spent many a night since then in the company of a fine bar, discussing the ins and outs of mental health, and politics, and music.
Without Iain, I'd be dead.
Then there's Emma. Ah god, the blethers we'd have for ages about anything under the sun. Soon after diagnosis, I had a very short term relationship which broke up. I don't blame my ex, it just wasn't a healthy environment for love really, but it did kind of mess me up a bit. Right on cue was Emma, with Monty Python videos. "Watch this, it'll make you feel better." She is a wonderful calming influence on folk. Well, me at least. I have trouble expressing in words how important shes been to my life, a bit like a sort of older sister I never had, with just that little bit more experience and maturity to guide me in the right direction. She and her social circle (hi her now husband Drew! hi Rachael! etc) did a lot for me in Summer 2004, when I had a minor breakdown, by forcing me out of the house to meet them in the Bon Accord for the pub quiz, which I recall we always did terribly at. Even now, when she knows I'm in safe hands, she'll keep in touch when shes worried about my mental health, like last year when the terrible Gary Speed tragedy went down.
Without Emma, I'd be dead.
You can see why those two were first on the wedding invitation list.
Poor old Andrew Reid. So put upon. He had to deal with the stigma of being my "best friend" at school. If I was Edge, he was Christian (hell, Christian IS him, wrestling fans), if I were Morecambe, he was Wise. You know, the better one, but less flashy. The one who had to put up with my mood swings years before they were diagnosed, who saw my mental collapse in S5 up close, and who had to deal with my public outbursts as damage control. He's also the first person to bring up my memory issues to my face, when he twigged certain terrible behaviour of mine wasn't deliberate and I had no idea what was going on. In lieu of a trusted doctor, Andrew would play the role of pyschologist trying to take through mental health issues on the phone or in school.
Without him, I'd be dead.
Without Louise and our mutual mental health sufferers looking after each arrangement throughout early uni, well, I'd be dead too.
Then came Shimmy. I call him Shim, because I can't pronounce Seumas. Its my lisp, you see. Its stuck anyway, even his girlfriend calls him Shim, and I've never even properly met her! What can I say about Shim? A man who will stay up to 5am, drunk as a glass of water, to watch The Good, The Bad and the Ugly with you to cheer you up after a panic attack. A guy who'll share a flat with you - poor sod. A guy who once woke up at 4am when I knocked on his door after having a fall out with friends and going into woe is me mode. What the hell was I thinking? But Shim was there. And without him, well you know.
There are times when I've been a complete shithead to all of them. Even to Mandy, my biggest supporter and strongest defender. Its very kind of them all, that we can have meet ups and live together (in the case of my wife) without them going "Remember when you did this shit thing and that shit thing". No violence, but depression is a very insular thing, and it makes your actions bloody selfish at times. And knowing doesn't prevent, it just makes one self aware after the fact.
Everyone needs friends. A guy I know I used to speak to a lot. He had depression, and would speak to me as "he had no friends." I didn't believe that but he seemed genuine. I spoke to him of his interests and when he spoke about wanting to do theatre type stuff, I said go for it. About two years ago, we'd speak every day, as I seemed to be one of the few folk who would listen. Now, he's got a social circle, a strong social circle, and he rarely speaks to me now... because he doesn't need me. He's got the friends that keep him strong. And I'm glad for him. I'm far happier he's got that social circle than he needs me to talk to constantly because there's no one else there who'll listen.
Which is where I turn my attention back to that nameless other. I mean you, reading this. We may have met, or spoken online, or might even be complete strangers. Theres a one in four chance you have depression or similar, and a decent chance from that its severe. The need of a strong support group in overcoming mental health is vitally important. If you don't feel you have one, you can always create one. You don't even need to take that first step out of the door - I know, the first step out the door is hard. Just ask GSFWC, who've been waiting four years for me to return to their meetings. Twitter can even be a first step. I've lost count of the number of like minded sufferers who've helped me with kind words as much as I've tried to help them.
Help is what the whole games about. And is why I write these things. If they help one person, then it was worth it. If I had the chance to help that one person, and chose not to, well, I could never live with myself.
So this is Mental Health Awareness Day.
You know what tomorrow is? Mental Health Awareness Day.
So is the day after tomorrow. And the day after that.
Every day is Awareness Day, as we stay aware of those around us who suffer, who might feel just that little bit better for a smile and kind word. For us, who know we are not alone. For those in the world who haven't learnt to be aware yet, that they might become so in the future.
Your friends are there for you, you have many folk who are there for you. Hell, even the Bible is there for you, with the Beatitudes and the like.
We need to remain aware till society catches up.
As inferred above, I'll write on mental health again on the 20th December, a date which holds relevance which will be revealed at the time. And that blog will be about Suicide, well, history and prevention. Trigger warning in advance!