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An Open Letter

Should we censor mental h****h?

A few years ago I wasn’t able to leave my house at all due to severe anxiety and depression, since my recovery and the inception of BTG I’ve spoken at numerous public events about the work the charity is doing to save lives.

99.9% of the time my story is well received.

It’s impactful because it’s scarily relatable both to those who have struggled themselves and those who don’t “get it” yet.

My life was everything it was meant to be, I was “normal”, thriving, winning at life. I’d never struggled with my mental health.

What started as feeling a bit worried and down about things spiralled rapidly out of my control and nearly killed me.

If it happened to me, it could happen to you.

I have to balance the importance of creating awareness of BTG with my own mental health and sanity.

So I just tell my story, it’s my truth and despite the fact I’ve told it hundreds of times, there’s words that still burn my throat like acid and tears regularly stab at the back of my eyes.

Because when you tell a story from memory, you’re asking your brain to go back to that place to retrieve it.

If you ever see / hear me talk, I hope you understand that as I speak to a silent audience about the night I stood on a bridge, my voice might be the only audible sound in the room, but I can still hear the lorries thundering below and feel the rain on my face.

When I talk about Alistair and Faith, I imagine my own family, it physically hurts my chest as I think of my little boy, my mum, every person that’s known and cared about me, and how my story could have ended so differently, just another statistic, a result of a failing healthcare system.

In my story there’s always a part where I joke about not being able to get bread, usually people laugh a little, and in that moment time slows down, I can still feel the crush in my chest as I stand in front of my door, the world spinning, sinking to the floor unable to move, breathe or see, and realising that my own mind was completely broken.

Seconds feel like minutes, so i pause, focus, breathe and as the laughs die down I snap back into the room, moving on to talk about medication and trying to join a gym for the first time.

Talking about it is at best unpleasant and at worst agonising, I re-live some of the most painful and terrifying experiences of my life whilst stood in a room full of strangers.

I’m asking my mind to go back to a place where it was nearly lost. Paying a visit to the parts of my memory where the demons ruled, and hoping they never find a way to follow me back into the present.

I remember after one of the first talks I’d given, someone got in touch to say that me using the word suicide was triggering to them so I should leave it out…

I made a mental note and used “end my life” instead.

Then someone said that talking about the way in which I planned to “end my life” was triggering to them, so I should leave that out too…

So I just skipped that bit.

Then someone else said that me talking about the struggle a parent faces after losing a child to suicide was triggering, so I needed to use different words….

And I realised, that if you hear someone stand up and speak so vulnerably about nearly killing themselves, about losing a friend, about how they’re trying to stop hundreds of people dying, and your first thought is about yourself, that you are triggered by the words used, then you might just be part of the problem.

So let me clarify.

This isn’t about you.

It’s not even about me anymore, telling this story does nothing to help me.

It’s for those people stood at the edge feeling a bit down and worried for the first time, unsure what’s happening in their head and how to take the next step forward.

It’s for every person hanging on the edge, hoping someone is coming pull them up and help them across.

It’s for the people who’ve already fallen.

I could censor my story so much that it won’t be offensive, or upsetting or triggering.

But then it wouldn’t be my story.

My story should be triggering.

Hearing about people suffering and dying should make you feel uneasy in your seat.

Suicide is horrendous for everyone, and I don’t even discuss the gory details of it, the things people are willing to do to get away from the demons in their head.

Trust me when I say, no one finds my words harder to hear than me.

Censoring the things that we find unpleasant doesn’t make them go away.

Mental illness loves isolation, darkness, embarrassment.

We need to shine the light on it, have more unashamed open conversations about its unpleasantries. Give it nowhere to hide.

Going forward I’ll be giving a disclaimer that if any part of my story is uncomfortable listening, complaints and suggestions can me made to the NHS talking therapies service, they’ll respond to enquiries any time between 6 and 12 months.

Or alternatively you can listen, imagine the person talking is someone you care deeply about, sit with every painful unpleasant emotion that it evokes, and then do something.

Make a donation to BTG, raise awareness of the importance of early intervention services, understand what preliminary signs of mental ill health can look like and how to get the right support, lobby your MP for more goverment funding, support crisis helplines, ask your employers to take mental health seriously, start your own charity if you feel so inclined, just use your time and effort to maybe help save someone’s life not censor mine.

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