The Importance Of Listening To People With Mental Health Problems

This Wednesday the 14th of March is a very special day. Why? Because as of the 14th of March 2018 this little blog you are visiting right now will be two years old. That is right folks, as of Wednesday it will be two whole years since the birth of Born Without Marbles, nay not birth, the hatching of this tiny little mental health blog egg that I had been keeping in my oh so sufficient plumage until that moment (and my my do I have a lot of plumage).

How crazy is that? Pretty crazy if you ask me as two years is a really long time…Like a baby can go from a screaming ball of tears to a waddling and talking human creature in that time and I would like to think that my blog has undergone a similar amount of progress.
Now, you are going to have to forgive me in this entry as I fear I am going to sound very much like one of those actresses in a ball gown making a thank you for my Oscar speech and I am well aware that two years of running this blog does not entitle me to any award, but still today I really wanted to thank all of you out there reading this for making this blog what it is and for putting as much effort into reading it as I put into writing it. Indeed, you readers have helped and supported me more than you can ever possibly imagine. “How?” I hear you ask “What have we done?”. Well dear friends, you have done the most important thing that one can do when living with or dealing with someone with mental health problems: you have listened, and I think that this whole listening malarky is a seriously underrated piece of malarky on the scale of all things malarky.

I know people have messaged me in the past, people who may know or care for people with mental health problems and who have asked me what they can do to support them and the answer I want to advocate today is to listen to them. That is it.

I think a lot of people often find that when they have a loved one with mental health problems they want so desperately to fix their problems and unfortunately that is seldom, if ever, possible.
Mental health illnesses and disorders are complex and difficult to understand, intricate beings (which is why I have managed to write about and try and explain them for a whole two years now without really scratching the surface as to their mysteries), and I think that when people see themselves as responsible for curing a loved one it is simply too much responsibility to take hold of. It would be like asking one person to fight a whole army of sword wielding warriors who will need a lot of strategy and weaponry to defeat as apposed to one lone soldier with a mallet (for we all know it is notoriously easier to get hold of a mallet than it is to get hold of a sword…seriously where do they even sell those? Are they available on Amazon? Not that I want a sword of course…I am just seriously curious as to how one would obtain such a thing were one to be in need). If you ever set yourself the challenge of you and you alone curing someone with mental health problems then I think you are setting yourself up to fail.

This doesn’t however mean that when it comes to mental health problems and people who are struggling with them that it is best to do nothing, and that is where this listening thing comes in that I want to thank you all for today.

You see, when you live with mental illnesses, you live with a constant stream of noise and mayhem between your temples and that noise is difficult to deal with. Maybe that noise comes from the barrage of thoughts that come with depression, maybe they are the intrusive thoughts from OCD or an eating disorder, maybe they are audible hallucinations from psychosis or schizophrenia, whatever the condition, whatever the disorder, there is a lot of noise, and keeping quiet about it is a sure fire way of making that noise louder.
If people don’t speak about the noise, the noise tends to build up, louder and louder until all “real” sounds are drowned out by the cacophony and therefore it is important to have an outlet, a place to talk about and release a bit of that noise, not necessarily because that will make it all go away but because it will slightly lessen the burden that staying silent will weigh you down with.
That is where listening comes in. When you simply listen to a person with mental health problems, when you allow them to be heard, you are helping them more than you could ever know because you are sharing in that noise and therefore are giving it a little less power. I think when a lot of people think about going to see a therapist they assume that they will have these big elaborate contraptions designed to zap the mental illness away or physically remove it by some grand operation when really that is not what therapists do. There are no magical contraptions (unfortunately) and there are no magical zappers (also unfortunately), instead therapists listen, they hear and take on some of the noise because when you speak out loud about something it loses power. That is why in Harry Potter everyone is so scared of Voldemort, they don’t speak his name and by keeping it locked up in their minds as this big scary word they increase the fear. As Hermione wisely once said, “fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself”, and that is exactly how I feel about mental illnesses. When we fear them and keep quiet about them, we give them more power to control us, we give them authority as some big terrifying thing never to be spoken about and alright, I admit it, they are terrifying, but unless we talk about them and get them out into the real world, they cannot be tackled. If everyone were to keep their illnesses inside of their heads then they would be kept in a place where nobody else could reach them but by talking about them, they become tangible, they become part of our world and thus are something that can be dealt with.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that talking about a mental illness is going to cure it instantly, if ever, as I know very well myself that after a lot of talking and a lot of therapy, things are still pretty terrible (hey, I am nothing if not honest), but as terrible as they are, at least I have an outlet to get them out of my head both in therapy and on my blog. I have people who listen to me and hear all the pain it is hard to speak out about and if you have been a reader of this blog from the beginning, last week, or even if this is your first ever entry (welcome!) you have been a part of that and you have helped.

So what do I want to get across today as we approach the two year anniversary of Born Without Marbles? Simply this: That if you want to help someone with mental health problems, the first and best thing you can do is to listen to them, and if you have been listening to me for years or just today, then I want to thank you for hearing and taking on my noise. Trust me I do not know where I would be without all of you wonderful people out there listening and supporting me and I want you to know how much I appreciate, and how much all people with mental health problems appreciate it when people listen, when they are heard and when others are there to share in the noise. From the bottom of my heart and from my head to my toes, today, my message is thank you for being there. You do more than you know, and more than I can ever thank you for in a mere blog post. I hope you all know that I am also here to hear all of you struggling out there and share in any of your noise as well.

So happy second birthday Born Without Marbles and to all readers and mental health sufferers alike, remember to keep talking and to keep listening, for doing so is one tiny tactic we can use to tackle the mental health demon army.

Take care everyone, and thank you x

Anniversary

Why We Need To Keep Talking About Mental Health

Tomorrow is a very special day for this blog that you are oh so kindly reading in this moment (cheers for that), for tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Born Without Marbles being “a thing” on the internet as opposed to an idea in my head that I was too scared to carry out.
That means that I have been harping on about mental health, whether you have liked it or not, for an entire year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there wondering why on earth I am still waffling on about illnesses that the majority of the population are well aware of by now.
Ok the general public may have misconceived ideas and perceptions as to what an illness may really be like, but everyone has a rough idea these days as to what things like OCD and Anorexia actually are, so why am I still talking about these things and why do I plan on continuing to talk about these things for the foreseeable future? Newton isn’t still harping on about the time that apple fell on his head (partly because Gravity is old news that doesn’t own the headlines these days and partly because he died in 1726 which somewhat limits his abilities to “harp on”), so why do I keep talking about what it is like to be mentally ill when the existence of mental illnesses is no longer breaking news. Well friends, whether you have been here from the beginning or whether this is your first experience of Born Without Marbles (Welcome. Please excuse the penguins I have left lying around in each post. They are kind of important), today I am going to answer that question and tell you why, even after a year of weekly waffling, I still feel that we all need to keep talking about mental health.

Of course there are all the obvious things like the fact that the more we talk about mental illness, the more research there will be and in turn the more likely we are to find a cure. To explain why I personally have such a passion for the subject however, I need to take you back to 2003, and, more specifically, eleven year old Katie (to set the scene I looked exactly the same as I do now only shorter).
As the name of this blog suggests, I can see that I have shown signs of mental illness from the moment I was born, but it was in 2003 that things really began to become a problem, that I became afraid and ashamed for the first time of the thoughts going on in my head. It was the first time that I didn’t feel normal, and feared that I was different from everyone else.

Every day at school I would watch other pupils in awe. I would see them eating school dinners, opening doors and shaking hands with each other as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and I would wonder how on earth they did it all. For some reason when I tried to open a door, I would find myself frozen in fear, unable to touch the handle as if someone was holding my arms behind my back. When I was in the queue for school dinners, my head was screaming at me to run away because I wasn’t allowed to eat, and no matter how hard I tried to concentrate in lessons about ox bow lakes, all I could see in my mind were images of terrible things happening to all the people I loved, and hear threats that the only way to stop those things happening was to repeat some kind of ritual. This would have been rubbish enough, but the worst bit was that I had no idea what this meant or why this was happening. I thought long and hard, trying to come up with an explanation but the whole thing made very little sense to me. What was so scary about the germs on a door handle when I had evidence all around me showing that nothing bad was happening to people “contaminated” with them? Why couldn’t I go to lunch, even on pasta days? Logically I knew that I loved pasta (pasta is flipping awesome), so why did the idea of eating a steaming bowlful topped with as much cheese as I could get away with before a disapproving dinner lady grasped my cheddar filled palm, scare me so much?
These things went on for months, and I said nothing to anyone because I was too afraid. Maybe mental health wasn’t as widely discussed in 2003 or maybe I was just unaware of what mental illnesses were, but I had never heard of anyone experiencing these things so I kept silent and hoped they would go away. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Of all the awkward situations I found myself in however, there is one in particular that sticks in my mind and one that continues to motivate me and my dedication to this blog today.

“It” happened at the end of a music lesson. Now, in my school, music was taught in a separate building to all others, ditto art, drama, and DT who all had their own individual buildings (something tells me the staff members of the more creative subjects did not get on well…this explanation of the separate buildings certainly correlates with the time I saw the head of drama pelting the art teacher’s studio with water balloons anyway…)

On the day in which our story occurred, our class had been taken to a room on the top floor of the music building where there were a lot of computers and keyboards set up for us to spend a few hours learning how to play the theme tune from Titanic (a vital part to any eleven year old’s education). Then, the lesson ended and we were dismissed, a fact that meant we were going to have to leave the room and therefore, someone was going to have to open the door. Usually I was very good at avoiding such a responsibility, and at the end of every lesson I would fumble around with my bag until someone else had done the job so that I could scoot on after them without touching anything. This technique worked perfectly for every lesson, but today, for some reason, the teacher wanted us to lead out in single file from the nearest computer to the door. I think maybe someone had been messing about with a keyboard, playing Celine Dion’s soundtrack with a little too much gusto, so in the exit of the classroom, the teacher wanted to establish some serious authority. I felt sick. I was at the computer nearest the door. I was to be the first to leave, I was to lead my fellow students to freedom. I was to open the door. When I saw that it was a push door then, I was thrilled. Happily I nudged the door with my foot and led my classmates out, but the relief was short lived as I realised we were headed for another door, a pull one with a handle…AND AN EXIT CODE KEYPAD.
I thought about pausing in the corridor to let someone overtake but the corridor was too narrow, it was single file, there was no escape, and as I walked down the stair case to the door I genuinely felt like I was walking to the gallows. This was it. I was going to have to touch a door handle, and it was going to be the end of the world. When I reached the door I stopped. The time had come to raise my hand, but I couldn’t move. Instead, I just found myself stuck, panic building as the queue of students eager to go home started forming behind me. Luckily everyone was talking about the day too much to notice my embarrassing situation at first, but after a few minutes of standing in a line waiting, understandably, people started wondering what the hell was going on, and from the back of the line I heard a voice ask perfectly reasonably “is there something wrong with the door?” From then it went silent and all I could hear was the response in my head of “no actually, there is nothing wrong with the door, there is something wrong with me and I have no idea what it is”.

Eventually, after what felt like 34 years, the person behind me became impatient, reached around and opened the door, and from there I ran sobbing to the medical centre with shame, fear and embarrassment. I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, I had to hide, so I decided to take refuge in the sanitarium. When the nurse asked me what was wrong, I lied and told her that I had a tummy ache. I spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa with a hot wheat bag watching episodes of the Simpsons, feeling more alone than I knew it was possible to feel. There were hundreds of other pupils in the school, but for some reason I was different, I couldn’t open doors or eat meals like they appeared to, and there was nobody, least of all me, who understood why.

It is for that Katie sitting on that sofa with that smelly hot wheat bag that I started this blog, and it is for all the smelly hot wheat bag holding people out there pretending to be fine, pretending to have tummy aches to cover up the fact they are terrified of their own minds and too scared to speak out for fear that other people won’t believe them, that I write this blog. Had I heard about mental health problems sooner, maybe I would have asked for support sooner, but what I would have found more helpful than any of the symptoms listed in the millions of health care packs, would have been the knowledge that there was at least someone out there who struggled with the same things, who let me know I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason that, no matter how much awareness there is about the existence of mental illnesses, I will keep talking about my experiences with mental health problems in public spaces. This isn’t a blog to just give information, in my eyes, this blog is a friend, both to me, to the readers and to anyone out there who comments to say that they can relate to my problems and thus remind me once again that none of us are alone.

So happy birthday Born Without Marbles, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support anyone reading this has ever provided. Here’s to another year, another 52 weeks of my ramblings, another 365 days of friendship.

Take care everyone x

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