Reflections Of A Troubled Mind
You may have seen the statistic that mental health illness will affect approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in our lives (1).
Mental health illness is a broad term. It covers an array of issues from very serious psychiatric disorders, to troubling psychological illnesses. Whatever the name attached to the condition, for the sufferer, and for those around them, the impact can be huge. Some instances are triggered by difficult life events, and may be managed during the time, with the sufferer ultimately making a full recovery. Other illnesses remain with the sufferer for life, and might need constant medication and management to enable the sufferer to live as balanced a life as possible.
Many mental health illnesses are very misunderstood. The lack of (obvious) physical manifestations means the illness often remains hidden to the casual observer. Terms linked to mental health are used as throwaway phrases; "you must be crazy to do that", "I'm a bit OCD when it comes to organising things", "she's mental when she's not had enough sleep", "he's a bit bipolar with his moods". You get the idea.
Some people (and organisations) pass judgement on those who suffer with mental health issues. They see them as in some way weak, unable to "snap out of it" or "pull their socks up". A broken bone or sprained joint will clear up in time. With medication and a suitable treatment plan, the patient should return to full health. Although as we age, bones and joints heal less completely than they do when we are younger. Mental health illnesses harm our psychological wellbeing, and can create physical symptoms, but not usually ones which require bandages or plaster casts. The illness can strike the sufferer so low that they cannot get out of bed for days. Yet when they are able to venture out, people think they're better and question why they still 'claim' to be sick.
Mental health at home or in the workplace can be a real challenge to manage. Sometimes the smallest straw can break the proverbial camel's back, and this makes it even more difficult for observers to understand. How can somebody who had perhaps seemed a bit anxious or stressed suddenly plunge into a full mental health breakdown?
Mental health illness is another cause which is very close to my heart. I have experienced it both in myself and in others that I am close to. I had a nervous breakdown when I was nineteen. It was terrifying at the time, and as well as receiving regular medical care, I spent a short while in a specialist hospital being monitored and assessed. The mental and physical symptoms of the breakdown made living very difficult. I was subsequently diagnosed with depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I remained in and out of medical care for the next few years, while putting my energy into my career. I flew high, driven by my need to challenge myself and to be the best that I could be. I reached Director level in a sector which I had aspired to since I was at school. Like Icarus, I almost touched the Sun. Unlike Icarus, I had no Daedalus to warn me of the consequences, although my own mind was pleading with me to hold back. Instead, I plummeted even harder than I had when I was nineteen. My second nervous breakdown hit me in 2013. Not just my career, but my entire life seemed to fold in on itself. Like a piece of complex origami from which I could not escape. I was diagnosed with bipolar ii disorder. I had hit the ground so hard that I had to leave my career in order to focus on staying alive. Thanks to the care of so many health care professionals, and incredible support from my husband, my family, and some very close friends, I am still here. I fight on.
My experiences led me to begin volunteering with Swindon and Gloucestershire Mind, and I was subsequently voted onto the Board of Trustees. Through the charity, I have trained as a Mental Health First Aider. Businesses around the country are increasingly picking up on this valuable training, and placing it on an equal footing to physical first aid. Being equipped to deal with a panic attack is no less important than being able to deal with a nosebleed. I also began volunteering for SMASH, a youth mentoring service which works with young people who need a bit of extra support and guidance in their lives. Offering my time as a mentor was a small way of saying thank you to the health services who have looked after, and continue to look after, my own mental health illnesses. Since becoming a mother, my time is less flexible than before, and I left my role as a mentor. I was instead voted onto the Board of Trustees, a role which means I can continue to offer support and guidance to the charity.
Photography has been a new start for me. Not just as a means of helping to pay the bills, but also as a means of expression. Art in all its forms is a powerful medium, providing therapeutic benefits as well as helping people to articulate things which words sometimes cannot explain.
Reflections of a Trouble Mind is a set of photographs I have created over the last couple of years, which I use to try to explain some of the feelings and circumstances which might be encountered by those experiencing mental health difficulties. A selection of these pictures were chosen for display as part of the first Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival in February 2019.
(1) McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.