Tomorrow, 1st February, is Time to Talk day, and I’m taking part. I’m running a free event at the RSA at 6pm with Kenny Mamarella D’Cruz, who runs MenSpeak and we’re delighted to be able to welcome Sue Baker, the head of Time to Change to set the scene for an evening of storytelling and discussion. It will be a great night and you can book your free tickets here.
A few years ago I could never have imagined myself doing such an event. I could speak about my story when I was in my comfort zone to other people who I knew had a mental health diagnosis. Being open about my condition in a forum of strangers terrified me, and it wasn’t because of the fear of public speaking, though that was bad enough. No, it was because of a crippling sense of shame. Shame is a disabler. It covers and taints everything you do. Now that I look back on it, I realise that my shame about my mental health condition was more disabling than the mental health condition itself. It is hard to believe that I let myself be held back in the way that I did.
I remember vividly the moment that I realised I had got over my sense of shame or self stigma. I was in a hall a couple of doors down from my house with my son, surrounded by mums and children, soft play and painting, talking quite naturally to Vicky, a complete stranger who also lived a few doors away from me, and I was introducing myself to her as someone with a mental health diagnosis, and telling her the story of the sacrifices and difficulties that my husband and I had had on our way to starting a family as a result of my diagnosis. She was sympathetic and not at all put off, and I realised as I talked to her, and felt quite easy and natural in doing so, that I was no longer expecting her to shun me the next time she saw me – or I wasn’t worried if she did – and that from her reaction I saw no signs of rejection. A couple of days after that I went to a talk on the impact of the Time to Change campaign by Claire Henderson of the IOP who was involved in an evaluation of its impact back in 2011 – and had another revelation. Claire unpacked that there are seven different types of stigma and discrimination. Half of them are what other people do to us, half of them we do to ourselves. I realised that in my conversation with Vicky, I had demonstrated to myself that I had got over my self stigma. I started to wonder if I could help others do the same.
That is part of the origin of where Mental Snapp came from, wanting to help people tell their stories and document a journey of self discovery – and recovery from self stigma. Mental Snapp is a way to actively manage your mental health by telling your story in private video diaries. We have come a long way since those roots and are now on the App Store and Google Play, free to download and try. Mental Snapp is a way for you to reconnect with yourself. Private video diaries are just the start of a journey to do with self acceptance, learning about yourself and increasing your sense of confidence. Because if we don’t do that, mental health can truly be a crippling disability. But if we do, we are liberated.
And that is what the evening is about tomorrow night. It’s to do with sharing stories, and there will be an opportunity for the audience to share their stories and check in with their feelings. It’s also about the impact of sharing stories, not just on the audience, but on the story teller. I’m looking forward to hearing Sue Baker’s thoughts, not only on the amazing work that the Time to Change champions have done, but also her personal journey of what sharing her story has done for her. And Kenny’s work with helping to unlock mens stories in his MenSpeak groups. I’ll be showing a film and sharing the impact on me of making that film, and how sharing my story has helped me.
Come along if you want to share your mental health story – or if like me for so long, you are in the shadows on the edge of the light and wondering whether to drop your shame and share your story, or just stop yourself being held back by your mental health. It’s hard enough on your mental health to have a mental health condition – time to drop the complications of shame and self stigma. It’s Time To Change. Come and join us.