Headspace #11

Last week’s post (read it here) was about how leaving University and trying to get on with life can affect your mental health. There’s is rightly a lot of focus on mental health for students at University – it’s a life changing time full of both opportunities and challenges. But if there’s one thing I hope these blogs are achieving it’s showing that everybody can be affected by mental health. Today’s post shows a different perspective, and is from a friend who works at a University. I’d like to thank them for sharing their experience. This blog contains a reference to self harm and suicide.

Just before you read this – there are now only 8 days until my hair comes off for a local mental health charity. If you enjoy the blog please consider donating a few pounds to help me look silly and support a great charity

Don’t worry; it’s me, not you…

I live on the edge of two very different views of mental health. In one, is me. I’m an anxious type with a history of self-harm. On the other, my partner suffers from depression and attempted suicide a while back.  Neither of us have ever told anyone about this event.

What we share is greater than our many differences. We are both damaged goods, thrown out by school bullies. We have in common parenting that emphasised academic achievement over wellbeing. We are linked by invisible learning difficulties. We have been equally hurt by the gender constructs that prevail in our society.  We are joined by a crippling shame that we are who we are. We are also linked by the apparent invisibility of it all. We’re both considered to be confident and outspoken, if a little anti-social. Few, even our family, seem to recognise that we are both horribly shy.

One of the wonderful things about this space that Antony has created is that it has enabled me to learn a little more about the impact of the things that I assume and do on others who are quietly battling their own demons. I hope, therefore, that this can help others to perhaps be a little more aware that all may not be what it seems here, either.

I sit here chewing the inside of my lip. It nearly always has at least one wound hidden by skin, sometimes there are more. You see, writing this is making me anxious. Just thinking about this, trying to articulate myself has led my pulse to elevate and my hands to tremble. And yes, to chew my lip. My mother once called me out on this – she mocked me and did an impression of this ridiculous looking person constantly grinding away. She didn’t mean to be hurtful, she didn’t realise that it isn’t a choice. But I have never forgotten it, and of course I now worry that I look silly much of the time.

Another thing that people often say about me is that I am very confident. Concurrently, I might be considered rude by those I don’t know as I struggle with eye contact. Talking to new people, or entering a group situation, makes me want to hide in a dark corner somewhere. I avoid at all costs. Those same individuals would be shocked by me at home, I’m a passive pussy cat. You see, it’s all an act. A coping strategy. When I went for CBT (wonderful, by the way) the therapist initially asked me if I had ever been assessed for autism. A few sessions in she changed her mind – I became ‘less autistic’ as I relaxed. Not everything is as it first seems – get to know me, show me that I can trust you and you might just be surprised.

One final example: if I seem distracted, I’m probably worrying. This is undoubtedly worse since my partner’s suicide attempt. If I can’t contact him, I can be overcome by crippling worry. Sometimes I just have to leave and try to find him, to check he’s OK. I’m not trying to be rude, I promise. But I’m no good to you if I can’t think about anything other than whether he is alive or if I can back in time to stop bad things happening. Hopefully one will fade in time; my point is that people have all sorts of stuff going on that they might not feel able to share.

It really is me, not you.

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