I read an interesting article in The Guardian this week which was talking about how the stigma around mental health has been reduced to the point where it would seem that we all have mental health issues now, citing the fact that grief is now classed as a mental health issue, rather than being an acceptable reaction to an awful event.
I've functioned for 13 years now as someone who has had a nervous breakdown, but is able to be mostly pretty highly functional. I have benefitted from the reduced stigma around mental health in that I've recently had an exhibtion around my anxiety illustrations. These pictures were never supposed to be seen in public as they were always about me processing my struggles, and giving a visual voice to them. But, now I've gone public with them, I'm pleased that I made the choice to share them. I've heard from people that they've helped to express to others how they feel, and that they have helped universalise the experience of anxiety struggles. I am also pleased that they are an authentic reflection of how I've been feeling, as they were never meant to have an audience, and as a result they aren't platitidinous memes.
On the surface I don't 'present' as someone who struggles with their mental health and so I sometimes get asked about how I'm able to do things such as giving public talks. When asked this recently I made light of it, saying that public talks were fine, but dealing with a busy Tesco could reduce me to tears. I have spent years putting on a public front to cover my struggles. The leg shakes, the rictus to my face, the palpitations, the inability to walk and talk properly. It's become second nature to hide my anxiety, or utilise coping mechanisms to deal with it. However, there are times when the misfiring of my brain becomes very public, and one of those happened the other night, when my son and partner witnessed my very loud screaming and accompanying extreme fear after I'd had a couple of night terrors and had woken up screaming and petrified. A stark reminder to me that my mental health struggles are serious and how important art is to me to help me deal with them.