Here is a copy of what I presented at LST’s very own ‘Tea and Talk’ Mental Health Awareness Event, please feel free to let me know what you think!
“I can’t focus my eyes, can’t make sense of anything. I feel like I’m walking through a thick, dark fog. My fingertips feel numb and the lump in my throat is as dense and painful as molten lava, made up of all the tears that i’ve been too scared to shed. Even as I type, the words appearing on the screen seem to be completely unconnected to me. My head is swimming, and I just want the world to stop turning. I want something to show for everything that’s going on inside, a sign that not all is well within me. Everything hurts and I can’t see a way out, a way through the haze of pain and exhaustion. I’m so near the edge that I have lurked by for so long, so close to falling and I don’t know if I even want to stop falling. I can feel my heart hammering in my chest, it’s beating so hard that I can hear it. More than anything I want to scream and shout and cry like a child – instead, I paint on my make up and my smile, and pretend that everything is okay.”
Good afternoon everyone. What I just read was written by someone with a mental health diagnosis. We will hear more about this later on.
You may wonder what this afternoon is doing in Fun Week – after all, ‘fun’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of mental illness. I hope, however, that alongside talking about mental health, eating nice cakes and drinking tea – we might have a bit of fun, too.
So, we are going to start of with a traditional style pub quiz…
On your tables are your quiz sheets, and as it says at the top – you need to decide whether the statement is a myth or a fact and circle your answer on the sheet. You have 2 minutes to do this and we’ll discover the winner at the end of the afternoon.
Ready, Steady, Go!
Ok, so let’s go through the answers.
5% of the population suffer from anxiety disorders. FACT.
Everyone with a mental health diagnosis is violent. MYTH. Whilst some sufferers can be violent, those with mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violent crime.
Mental Illness doesn’t affect children. MYTH. One in Five children suffer with mental health problems.
People can recover fully from mental illness. FACT.
There is nothing you can do to help someone with a mental illness. MYTH. A phonecall, a hug, a card, a coffee…as Tesco say “Every Little Helps”.
Christians who have a mental illness just don’t have enough faith. MYTH. Christians get mental illnesses as much as the rest of the population, it is not a lack of faith.
Taking psychiatric medicine is always wrong. MYTH. Psychiatric medicine is as vital for some sufferers as insulin is for diabetics.
Of course, it only lasts for so long. I can only keep the mask up for so long. Everything hurts so intensely and I can’t block it out at the moment, I can barely cry even though I want to scream and cry and rant because everything just hurts so much. I’m trying desperately to cling to God, and I’m doing it – even though prayers seem to be somewhat rant-like. I just fail to understand how he watches me contemplate such dark and horrible acts and, then do them and not stop me. I know it’s my responsibility but I feel so blinded by pain and guilt that I will do anything to ease it or do something which will make me feel like I have been punished enough.
There is no instant “cure” for mental illnesses. Medication can be a part of recovery for some, a life-long thing for others and more of a hindrance than a help for others still. Whatever shape recovery takes, however slow and stumbling, with two steps forward and five back, people need to be supported and loved just as we love and support those recovering from a broken leg.
That extract was written just a few short months after the first I read. Mental illness is scary. I am the first to admit that. It’s not easy to deal with, to confront, to suffer with. Sufferers and their families face (sometimes daily) battles between life and death. For a few weeks last summer I travelled Hertfordshire with Mental Health Chaplains and volunteers, it was disturbing at times, scary, sometimes, funny on occasion; but what struck me above all else was that it was these places full of forgotten, very sick people that Jesus would have been in the midst of. I strongly believe that as a Church, the Body of Christ, we are called to show Jesus to people. Not everyone will be called to drop everything to become a mental health chaplain, but the 1 in 4 statistic means there are plenty of people around who could do with a hug, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. People who may not look as if anything is wrong with them, others who may bear the marks of unemployment, homelessness, self-harm or just being unable to take care of themselves.
So what can we do?
This event is aptly called ‘Tea and Talk’. The first thing is to get talking. To talk to one another about ways we can help, to reach out to those in our churches and communities who we know to be suffering, to pray for those we don’t even know about. To not get caught up in speaking about self-harm and eating disorders as badges of honour, or rites of passage for a certain group of teenagers.
On the cards on your table, some are blank for you to take away and give away – others have the numbers of several charities and organisations that you might find helpful – either for yourself or someone you know.
And so, back to extracts I read. They are written by a girl who had to learn things about life and death quite young in life. A girl who had to grow up fast in some ways and woefully slowly in others. A girl is, (in most ways) quite normal. And who, not so long ago wrote this, final extract:
I have come to terms with the fact that I may have to live under the shadow of a depressive nature or illness for the rest of my days, but as someone who tends towards putting a lot of pressure on myself and relying on getting through my darkest hours with only my strength, I’m going to try (and probably fail sometimes) relying upon God for his unfathomable strength – which, at the end of the day, is all that will sustain me through this storm.
I’d love to say that I’m now fully recovered and that my life is full of flowers and butterflies and things (well, my clothes are!) It is something that is part of my story and the life I lead. It’s a life that I have to continually rely on God to get me through (don’t we all?) What I do know -is that I wouldn’t be so concerned about this stuff if I hadn’t lived it and so, on the good days I am thankful for it!