Over the past couple of years, I have agreed to become a “champion” for the Time to Change programme, both as an individual and, more recently, through work.
Champion seems to be a word that’s used regularly when someone volunteers to promote almost any cause. I don’t see myself as a “champion”, an ambassador (or any other similar word); I simply feel that I am at a stage in my life where I am both willing and able to share my own experiences in the hope that I might perhaps strike a chord—and that someone somewhere may gain some strength from the realisation that talking and/or asking for help can lead to the kind of understanding and self-awareness which can result in daily struggles becoming just that little bit more manageable.
Just over a week ago therefore, as part of an organisational action plan to raise mental health awareness (and in the lead-up to World Mental Health Day), I invited my colleagues to sit down and ask me whatever questions they felt were appropriate to gain some insight into the reality of the effects of a long-term (albeit thankfully mild) condition.
I hope that doesn’t sound self-indulgent, because that absolutely wasn’t the intention. Even now, I find it incredibly difficult to talk openly about my feelings; I may no longer be ashamed that I have a form of depression, but the embarrassment of honest revelation still remains. I arranged the event because I know how hard it can be to start a meaningful conversation about mental health in whatever form; and offering myself as some sort of catalyst was more important than any personal discomfort at revealing aspects of the man that so few ever get to see.
I was worried no one would turn up (I can only eat so much cake…), but ultimately delighted that so many people came along for some/part or all of the hour. I had prepared a few notes… ironic given that I was talking about my own situation; and I was conscious that even though I’d known most of those in the room for quite some time, the sense of embarrassment was such that it was hard to look people in the eye.
The questions came, and I answered them as truthfully as I could. There seemed to be a genuine interest, as well as a level of empathy that never crossed the line into sympathy; but what was truly special (and totally unexpected) was that a couple of my colleagues felt able to not only comment on my experiences, but found the strength and courage to mention circumstances altogether more personal.
Afterwards, I will admit to feeling drained, but really happy that such an atmosphere or spirit of openness had been generated; and I will therefore close this “blogette” with a sincere thank you to those who took time out of their day to attend, take part… and eat the cake!