I'm a singer. Often when people find this out they say "oh, I wish I could sing" and I say "everybody can sing". They never believe me. Recently, I've realised there's a second part to that sentence. The whole sentence is "everybody can sing, but not everybody is brave enough". I mentioned this to a friend at work, whose response was "that's a bit of judgement, isn't it?". This made me sad. I didn't know how to explain that bravery is hard. Bravery is really really hard. So, I decided I would figure out how to explain it.
I work in an IT department. Most of the team are men under 45. Do you know the leading cause of death in men under 45? It's suicide. Nobody really knows why because nobody wants to talk about it. I'm not saying men can't talk about their feelings, men can talk about their feelings. I know, because they talk to me about their feelings. Even Prince Harry now talks about his feelings. So, I decided to stand up in front of the team and talk about mental health - my own mental health - in the hope that they would know it's ok to talk.
Men holding in their feelings scares me as much as smoking scares some people. Trying to fit into lives that are wrong for them, pretending to be someone they're not, feeling like they have to provide and protect and stay on their white horse. To me, that's as sure a road to breakdowns, alcoholism and suicide as smoking is to cancer.
At work, I don't want people to think I'm brave, I want them to think I'm somehow magically fearless. I'm not, though, not by magic. I ran a little survey: I asked people for a word they would use to describe me. Judging by the reactions, the initial word was "terrifying", but their second words were: breezy; colourful; thoughtful; chirpy; fun; talkative; cool; bubbly; light; funny; outgoing; zany; kooky; independent; creative; energetic; cute; confident; passionate; sunny. That's great, that's what people are supposed to think. I've worked pretty hard to give the impression that I'm all those things. I am all those things really, but it's taken me a long time to let myself be comfortable with them.
The three words no one used were: depression; anxiety; anorexia. Those are just three of the many words that make a whole Allison. I wanted to demonstrate that we never know what people are hiding. I also wanted to explain how I manage my own mental health so well that I feel totally relaxed about discussing it.
Part 2 coming soon :)