Sorry I haven't blogged in a while - I've had a rocky few months. However, last month I moved house, returned to work and went away to London for the weekend (all in one week, take THAT anxiety!)
I had the most inspirational, amazing, emotional, exhausting weekend with Time to Change. I was going to use one adjective there, but it wouldn't quite cover it I'm afraid!
Early this year I applied to be a Time to Change Young Champion. It was a bit of a shot in the dark for me, I didn't expect to get accepted but I thought I would try anyway. I'd seen what the previous cohort of Young Champions had achieved over their time and I was so inspired to make change.
In case you didn't know - Time to Change is a UK charity, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, created specifically to target mental health stigma and discrimination.
When I received my email to say I'd been accepted I was full of conflicting thoughts and emotions. As I'd never expected to be accepted, I'd never mentally prepared myself for what would happen if I was. (I know this sounds like a terrible attitude.) My first thoughts were - I'm not doing it. Instant anxiety forced my mind to try and protect me. But I left it a few days, spoke to some people and built up some bravery. I put the anxious thoughts to the back of my mind and told myself I'd know how to deal with it when it came around.
After an already overwhelming week, I returned home after work on the Thursday night and had a good, damn cry. I was so anxious and scared, but nothing was going to stop me going. So the next day after; a car journey, a 4 hour train, 2 undergrounds and a 10 minute walk I made it to the hotel - I did it!
I'm not going to talk about everything that happened because I'll be here all day typing else (although I still feel like I might be), but I'm going to talk about some key parts and also my favourite bits. But first up - we met Joss. And, can I say how amazing she is! She instantly put the room at ease and was a very friendly face for each and every one of us. So just a massive thank you to Joss for being so fab'.
Throughout the weekend there were emotional parts, serious parts and fun parts. One of the fun things we did was inspired by Lloyd's Bank's award-winning mental health advert - watch it below!
So our game was basically the same as this. We were each given a mental illness or disorder on a sticky note, stuck it to our foreheads and had to guess what it was. But(!), only using stigmatising language. This exercise was to show even to ourselves that we hold stigmatising language for mental health conditions and that there's always progress to be made. Nobody is perfect and we can all slip up with stigmatising language. The best thing we can do for ourselves and others around us, is to correct the language and move on.
An insightful talk that I enjoyed was from Jodie Goodacre (Check out her Blog and Twitter!) Jodie spoke about social media and the importance of protecting ourself. This is something I get so caught up in. The lack of mental health services in the UK is no secret, and this leads vulnerable people seeking help & advice elsewhere. Being a friendly face within the mental health community can definitely attract those that need help. But - we're not qualified to provide this help nor can we realistically handle the pressure of helping everybody and their aunt on the internet because we also struggle with our mental health.
This was hugely important to me as I've often felt really bad for ignoring messages from people, or not even accepting them, because I just don't know how to respond. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I can't keep handing out pieces of myself to strangers in need of support. A great piece of 'advice' from Jodie, that originally came from Joss, is simply that "you're just not that important."
It sounds harsh at first, but it's not. Nobody is important enough to be the sole support system of a person. It's far too much responsibility and becomes toxic very quickly. It is not selfish to take a step back from those who begin to affect your mental health.
The key thing that I've now learnt to do in this situation is signpost. Meaning, point them in the right direction. Be it their GP, the crisis team, The Samaritans or any of the other great organisations and help that is available out there. Take note of this yourself. It's important to support your friends and loved ones, but it's important they get the real help they need. So, even if you think you're helping by giving them advice, you may be obstructing them from seeking real help. Be a friendly face, but always signpost.
The highlight of the weekend for me was the talk from Jonny Benjamin.
Jonny is a British mental health campaigner, author and vlogger. In 2014 he launched a campaign called 'Find Mike' with Rethink Mental Illness, in an attempt to find the man that stopped him from taking his own life in 2008, and he did find Mike! (He was actually called Neil..) Since then he has fiercely campaigned for mental health, and brought out both a documentary and book titled 'Stranger on the Bridge'.
Jonny's talk was so inspiring, and it felt so personal. He began by telling us his story, how he was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and how this affected his life. He spoke about his 'Find Mike' campaign and played the video of him finding Mike (Neil..), which was super emotional. You can watch it here! He spoke of hospital admissions, relapse & recovery, and I wish I could put into words the way it made me feel hearing his words. I would honestly love to inspire somebody, the way he did for me.
During day 2 we got together in our regional groups and met our coordinators and peer leaders. This was lovely to just sit down in a more intimate environment and see the people I will hopefully be seeing more of in the next 18 months. We discussed what training we would be interested in, as well as asking any questions.
I was due to attend training this weekend in London for testimony training, but unfortunately I chose not to go in order to protect my mental health. I had a bad weekend last week and needed to take this weekend to rest up and relax. The best thing about this is Joss and the team are so understanding when we feel we cannot attend training or any event. They genuinely care about our wellbeing and made this very clear on the training weekend. This was so heartwarming to know.
I would love to attend testimony training some time in the future, but for now this was the right decision. I'm actually interested in most of the training they provide including filmmaking and more! I'm also really interested in doing talks, specifically in the work environment due to the struggles I've had in the past from a previous employer.
Time to Change are very open to any ideas for campaigns, events etc. (local or bigger) that may help tackle stigma and discrimination. So, if you have any ideas you think would be good I'd absolutely love to hear them.
I'm super excited for the next 18 months with Time to Change and I can't wait to tell you all about it!