By Ben Russell, Lived Experience Group member for Equally Well UK
[Trigger warning: suicide and self harm]
It's a strange gig being ‘mentally ill’. And I don't mean actually being mentally ill, but being ‘mentally ill’. Being a part of a community of people that, for some strange reason, have minds and brains that are trying to kill them. The voice hearers who're told to hurt themselves, the depressives for whom no amount of medication can make the sun shine again, the delusional who think the government are poisoning their food so they don't eat.
Quite often we are the ‘underbelly’ of society. The bag ladies, the dude you see wrapped in a sheet chanting to himself in the underpass at two in the morning, the rough sleepers passing cider around at Christmas for warmth. But we also serve your coffee, mow your lawn, do your accounts, deliver your milk, nod at you in the morning as we walk for the train. We are your mothers, your brothers, your sisters and your sons. We are everywhere. We are the 1 in 4.
we also serve your coffee, mow your lawn, do your accounts, deliver your milk, nod at you in the morning as we walk for the train
A secret society that meet when we're admitted to hospital when things get rough, that queue at the local depot clinic to get our meds so that we can function, that attend therapy together to make sense of our afflictions. 'Why does this happen?' 'What, you hear voices, too? What do they say? Are they nice?' 'So you're still depressed? What meds are you on?'
But shared experiences unite people. And the mad-man in the underpass becomes Simon, and he's wicked at scrabble and makes a mean cup of tea. Vicki, who harms herself, was abused, but she's on the mend and is studying to be a neurologist. We might not always be right in the head, but we are united by our shared experiences. We may fall over, but we get back up. We may struggle but we always strive.
We might not always be right in the head but we are united by our shared experiences. We may fall over but we get back up
Except. Except. Except...Not always. There're the tales of those that didn't make it. Of Steve, who ‘couldn't handle the pressure’… Of Dave, who got fed up of seeing things... You notice them most when they're gone. One less person to share a joke with in therapy, one less understanding shoulder to lean on when you can't stand on your own. Shared experiences unite us.
So I think of Lisa. Troubled? Yes, yes, yes. And struggling. I met her in hospital when I was particularly bad, but then we all were, all crazy in different ways, all in the same boat. In it together. United in the common cause of getting better. All Lisa wanted to do was find her son, to make sure he was alright, to mother him. In the grips of her pain all she thought about was her love for someone else. But life is not a fairy tale and you don't always meet your prince or ride off into the sunset. Lisa, I'm sorry your strength failed you when you needed it most. Sorry that someone full of so much love needed to make the choice you made. I hope you're at peace now.
You're not on your own. The first step is the hardest one to take, but you, all of you that struggle in some way, are worth it. You're not on your own.
If you're reading this, and you're affected in anyway by stress or depression, if you think you've got no one to talk to, if something is getting you down, if life seems insurmountable. Talk to someone. It doesn't have to be a friend. The Samaritans are there 24/7. Whatever you do don't bottle it up. You're not on your own. The first step is the hardest one to take, but you, all of you that struggle in some way, are worth it. You're not on your own. We are the 1 in 4 and we are everywhere.
If you're struggling and would like to talk to someone, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123