It’s Sunday evening and Mental Health Awareness week starts tomorrow.
Watch out for the bunting, the posters, the merch, events, interviews and tanned celebs repeating a one liner platitude.
I won’t be joining in the ‘celebrations’ as I am not buying into the hype.
I have grown this cynical(I call myself ‘cinacal’) from simple observation over two decades spent in London raising two daughters on my own. I have struggled with my mental health throughout, seeking help non stop and not getting it. I’ve been bullied and intimidated many times by those with more power, who smelt the blood of vulnerability in the sight of an isolated foreign woman, little girls in tow. From headteachers to neighbours, it seems that everyone could have a go at it, as if I’d been walking around with a sign saying ‘ pick on us please’. Of course I wasn’t but my sensitivity was picked up as defencelessness and a green light for anyone to snipe at us. So much so that I became a recluse and instructed the girls to pick up books when children would not play with them. I think we were seen as a strange family, a bizarre sight on Kentish Town road, always on our own, holding our heads high and our hearts on our sleeves. Looking back at it, we were like an accident waiting to happen in what looked like a dog-eat-dog world of playground politics and populist Britons, open mouthed with disbelief, watching us approach with our strange aura, a multilingual mystery, a cultural mish mash of bohemian freedom, spirituality, our obsession with self-improvement through education and our indomitable hope which seemed to drive some mad with muted rage. In this context, I’ve kept us safe-(ish) in the sense that we’re still alive today, that we’re in relatively good health but at what price? I have undoubtedly become aware of the impact of living such a life has had on my health: mental and physical. I can only guess at how my daughters have also been impacted from seeing their sole carer always alone, regularly distraught and despairing. My amend to them has been to seek help with all my strength, not leaving a single stone unturned to aim for a better life for me but especially for them.
I have seen professionals dangerously uneducated in human kindness and lacking empathy express ‘concern’ around my mental health. What that meant really was that unless I would tone my symptoms down and stop asking for help, my children would be seen as potentially ‘at risk’ from living with a mother so open about her mental health struggles. It is no surprise that I have had to go to pieces quietly from the discomfort of my cluttered living room until my youngest had reached her 18th birthday before I could talk about these struggles openly. The shame society has tried to tar me with does not belong to me but to a heartless society which says one thing and does another.
Aside from waking up with so much pain crystallised in my body from the compounded anxiety, hypervigilance and responsibility for raising my daughters alone in the past 23 years, I am waking up as if from a coma, realising that I may never feel safe in the UK. This lockdown, we’ve seen it all again, my ‘otherness’ has ruffled feathers and disturbed those on our housing estate who clap for the NHS, call frontline workers ‘heroes’ and put nice little rainbows on their windows on the one hand whilst organising wild parties, sending me texts calling me deranged for wanting some peace and quiet sometimes, ganging up on me to intimidate and ostracise us. This lockdown has shown me what I already knew so well without having seen it with my eyes but strongly felt with my heart: It’s those who think there’s nothing wrong with them that one needs to watch out for. I won’t be celebrating what I already know: Mental health awareness is weak in the UK.