I’m a mental health advocate, I’m someone who lives with mental health conditions, I’m living with anxiety, I’m living with depression. These are facts of my everyday life. I experience my conditions in some form or another every day. It’s tiring, it’s really tiring, and there are some days that I just want to curl up in my bed, cry and sleep all day. There are days where I feel able to tackle absolutely anything, but even those days can be tiring. I love being an advocate, I love being able to wear my mental health openly and talk about it. I love that I can help make a difference and that people can see what mental ill-health really looks like and that there are people out there that will support them – but it is tiring.
One of the things I do as an advocate is talking publicly about my mental health, this means discussing very openly my conditions, the way they impact my day to day life and how I experience things. This could mean telling people how parties make me so anxious that I need to mentally prepare myself for at least a week, have action plans for if I have a panic attack, or maybe about how hard it is for me to make phone calls. When I talk about my mental health it makes my condition visible. I both like and dislike this. I like that it means that people are hearing about mental ill-health, and how talking about it contributes to reducing the stigma. I don’t like that it might be the only thing some people know about me… but honestly that doesn’t bother me too much. I know they know that there’s more to me, and that when they meet and chat to me the conversation is probably going to jump to something like elections – and that they’ll quickly realise I’m just a big nerd.
Something that does worry me sometimes is that I might be the only person they know who talks publicly about these things. But that’s more a reason for me to keep going. I want others to feel confident in talking about their mental health, and to be real with topics such as mental ill-health. If doing what I do can help a single person in reaching out for support, then I’m satisfied. A bigger hope though, is that by doing what I do, others are able to talk about mental health in order to create a healthier conversation around it.
The fact is though, sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m having a really bad day. Those days are the days that I’m not able to do what I love doing. Sometimes, having talked so much about it all I feel a little raw – emotionally exhausted. As much practice as I have, it’s still something that takes energy to do, and I only have so many spoons. Sometimes I’m just having a bad mental health day, maybe something has happened that has made me feel more anxious than usual, maybe I’m just having a low day. Having these days is absolutely valid, and anyone who experiences them should always make sure that they’re looking after themselves and practicing self-care.
Those days can be rough. As I’m so visible with my mental health, it often means my bad days are also visible. It’s not always a bad thing because it’s not all sunshine and roses, but it is something that I have to be mindful of. Some days I have to be able to say, “Hey, I’m not doing too well today. Can I talk to you about it tomorrow?” That’s a completely reasonable request, I need to look after myself to make sure I’m doing the best for others too. It is something that I’ll struggle with sometimes though. I want to be able to talk about it all, and I don’t like seeing it as a barrier, because it’s not. But I have to look out for my own health as well.
This isn’t meant to dissuade people talking about their mental health, or talking to me about the topic, quite the opposite. It’s about making sure that you’re looking after yourself when you do. Because we do need to talk about it, but we also need to be talking about it in a healthy way. There’s no shame in not being ready to talk about it. You can always have a private word with a friend, or with someone else you trust. There are different ways of being brave about your mental health, and there are different ways of being an advocate for better mental health.
I love what I do, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.
I hope to encourage more people to talk about mental ill health and to be advocates in their community. I hope to break down any barriers that we face and to remove the stigma attached to mental ill-health.
To keep doing that, I have to make sure I’m looking after myself and being mentally healthy when I do so.
Words by Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson is the Co-Officer of the Guild Access Department and a ,ember of the headspace Youth National Reference Group