Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Stigma Smashing Potion

Earlier this week I was talking to some people I think of as fairly broad minded. I mentioned a mental health issue because it was relevant to the conversation, and something remarkable happened; there was a sharp intake of breath. It shocked me. Safely ensconced in the bubble of my network of likeminded (in oh so many more ways than one!) people, I forgot the "us and them" mentality of the man or woman on the street; the dichotomy of "we are well, happy and safe - they are mentally ill and dangerous" which fab mental health awareness campaign Only Us wants to dismantle.

There is also something of a hierarchy of mental illness, with depression and anxiety the "acceptable" bottom (the common cold of mental illness, I like to call them) and hearing voices and unusual thoughts and beliefs at the "unacceptable, dangerous" top.

As someone who has rather run the gauntlet of mental health and come out both stronger and more cynical about society's opinions on the matter, I stitched the phrase "Being your authentic self is a revolutionary act" for this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion. But it's not just about blowing my own trumpet; I really believe that anyone being their authentic self is revolutionary. How often in our day to day lives, when asked how we are by a colleague or acquaintance, respond "Fine, thanks", when we are anything but? Or indeed, when we are brimming over with joy.

It's almost as if emotion itself is to be policed, and if it tips too far over into negative or positive, it too is "unacceptable".

I had a conversation with a friend the other week in which we both agreed that learning to accept the fact that we were emotional people was probably a good thing. Better to be emotional and irrational than a scary robot!

This fear of emotion is of course also sexist; the centuries-old binary of man/woman = rational/emotional. This leads to internalised misogyny which I know I myself am guilty of.

I was afforded a professional opportunity to be my authentic self last week, and I was a little shocked when good came from it. But thinking about it, people warm to people who are palpably human; who have perceived "flaws" and are honest about who they are.

To accompany the stitched words, inside the potion bottle I added cut up phrases from the "Wellness and Recovery Plan" I was given by a mental health practitioner when recovering from a period of serious illness. This plan was never mentioned again, and reading it back, the idea that a bubble bath can stop you sliding into paranoia and psychosis is slightly laughable. But the intentions are good, and so I picked a few phrases which seemed pertinent to include; "Ambitions and dreams", "When things are breaking down", and "What I am like when I am well".

The potion is entitled "Stigma Smashing Potion", which is just what I intend to do.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

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