Throughout October, for Australian Mental Health Month, 2019, I will be over-sharing!
Culturally, mental health issues are most often associated with dysfunction, deficit, problems and what’s wrong. If I told you that I’ve personally used my depression and social anxiety to learn about the opposite of ‘what’s wrong with me’, would that be confusing? Given how we see these things, would it be perplexing to hear that I’ve used these experiences to learn about how I function as a person, what my needs are as a human, and how I work best as an individual?
From the age of 14 onwards I began to embrace the concepts of depression, anxiety and social anxiety to understand my experiences and myself. Embracing them in a big mental, emotional and intellectual hug, I’ve used the concepts to keep developing as a person. In sharing my learnings about myself, I’m hoping to show how an individual can do things in their own way, according to their own needs and self. It would be my greatest delight if other people gained a greater appreciation and understanding of their own subjective selves from my words about me.
It will be anti-instructional, anti-rule, anti-epiphany, anti-‘should’. More of a hotel buffet from which readers can select the flavours that their own needs have taste for. What I will try to bring to my musings, though, are some angles that I have found helpful in understanding my own mental health that I see receive less focus in everyday discussion and in the media.
Themes I’ll Focus On:
- Understanding myself and my individuality
- My personal responsibility and agency which includes developing my ability to know my own needs, meet them and seek support from others when I need it.
- Purpose, meaning, connection, relationships
- Continual learning and development
- Internal experience and processes: feelings and thoughts and how they all work together to influence my behaviour and vice versa.
- Taking abstract concepts or terms and describing what this may be like in someone’s (my own) subjective experience.
I will use my differences and abnormality:
- My privileges in life
- My love of complexity and learning
- My curiosity and endless desire to understand things
- My balance in intellectual and emotional abilities that help me to keep learning from life.
- My extreme pragmatism and need for honesty, sincerity and to understand how things are rather than wish for what isn’t or make people who they’re not.
- My interests, life and work experience
How I will try to write:
- I’ll focus on describing as opposed to jargon, labels, cliched terms, abstract concepts
- I’ll focus on balancing the difficulties with the possibilities rather than an imbalanced focus on the barriers, or a hyper-positive focus that ignores the difficulties.
- I’ll focus on understanding, sense-making and exploration of multiple possibilities, rather than criticism, judgement, blaming or fatalism.
- I’ll focus on self-reflection and claiming my own role and impact along with the impact of things beyond my control.
- I’ll focus on the mental processes of noticing, observing and reflecting, as opposed to opinion-forming, stating what’s right or wrong or what ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t be (simple terms for these processes are ‘mindfulness’ or ‘the first step in the scientific method’).
- I might make you think about how you think. Thinking can be a hazard when I do manage to express myself clearly. So wear a hard hat on your brain if you want to be safe from thinking, or take a gamble on me rambling incoherently.
- It will be unpolished. There will be spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, long-winded sentences and I may actually ramble incoherently. This is also an exercise in developing my own writing, which is inherently an exercise in imperfection.
- I might draw attention to my literary devices, because language and how we use it is powerful. Bringing consciousness to the psychological manipulation in my choices is my version of a public awareness campaign about the effects of how we speak to ourselves and to each other. For our collective wellbeing I want everyone to be clever about how their own minds work, including the impact of language on ourselves.
Writing about mental health is a serious responsibility. I will present any ‘facts’ with reliable sources. I’ll attempt to clearly distinguish my personal experience and perceptions from what is known and understood beyond my subjective opinion. I am only an expert in myself, and I want to write in a way that makes that clear.
Owing to my perpetual need to understand people, I have a lot of tolerance and acceptance for a very, very, very broad range of human behaviour. However, despite understanding why it happens, presenting opinions as facts or making statements of truth about things that aren’t or cannot be known presses on my ‘irresponsibility button’. I will not let myself contribute to the arrogant misinformation that persists, especially on the internet.
A guiding principle for me is that I believe we no longer live in a world where our understanding of things needs to rely solely on untested philosophies, beliefs and opinions. For most of the history of humanity I do believe this was in fact our only option for understanding people and the world. For most of life, this remains true, and all we have is our philosophies, our values and arguments in line with those values. What I’m saying right now is an example of a personal philosophy. However, where the information, research and evidence exists, we have unprecedented access to it. Therefore, it seems to me that our own choices in seeking that information are one limiting factor in exploring other possibilities. Other possibilities that might work better for our own and others’ wellbeing, therefore worth the brief discomfort of facing our own ignorance.
Finally, I will be following these guidelines on writing about mental health:
Australian contacts for those seeking help:
- WayAhead’s Mental Health Information Service: 1300 794 991 (9am – 5pm, Monday Friday) for advice and support.
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC) Information and Clinical Consultation Line: (02) 9912 3851
- For all emergencies call 000
- MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
- Domestic Violence line – 1800 656 463
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence counselling service: 1800Respect – 1800 737 732
- Alcohol & Drug Info Services (ADIS) – 1800 422 599