It’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, which is an ideal opportunity for me to be entirely grateful for the people in my life who have offered support in all shapes and forms.
When trying to cope with an illness, whatever the condition, a sense of loss of control of one’s self is magnified. Loss of independence, loss of capability, loss of awareness. Suddenly we are thrust into the realms of needing other humans to take over small or large matters, including that of existing. We are not the only species to show consideration and kindness to our fellows, check out Web Ecoists’ blog on Nature’s Wild Nurses for some surprising results.
For humans, though, it appears that our complex natures are either less effective in this area, or perhaps more so, depending on how you look at it, because we can apply a sense of gratitude to support, whilst also inferring guilt and shame. We can be so hard on ourselves for needing support that we rarely seek it. We build walls around ourselves to prevent support from naturally occurring, mistaking it for a sign of weakness. When in reality, the ability to accept and give support shows strength of character and an acute awareness of others.
Let me tell you a short-ish story, one of three that I’ll regale over the coming week, from my adventures running around the country last year, of support, and what it’s also known as.
The County Line Man
It’s day three on the Fierce Mind run across the country and back. It’s nearly 9am, and my friend, Maya, has driven ahead in her van to find the first rendezvous rest point which would be a pub car park off the winding, hilly road. I had covered 84 miles in the first two days, and was now over 10km into day three, having crossed the first county line from Cornwall into Devon, and with the swollen signs of shin splints beginning to take real shape. The hills of Devon and Cornwall are not to be underestimated.
The great thing about being on foot is that a one way street means nothing, if not a blessing. Less traffic. And always knowing precisely which direction the traffic is flowing.
So upwards I travelled (yes that does say 11% incline), knowing no cars would be fast descending upon me. From the county line it’s almost a mile and a half of steep climbing, my route crossing the busy main road which weaves around the hillside to climb more gently. This direct line would take me straight over the top, to the crest, then down the other side. Just a few more of these, and then I’d be through Tavistock and starting the exciting and eerie adventure of crossing Dartmoor for the first time. At this point it hadn’t started raining yet.
At the first busy junction heading up that route the road that I was crossing was extremely busy. Monday morning rush hour. It was a staggered crossroad, with my left and righthand views both trailing away into blind bends, so listening at these sort of junctions was my greatest tool. Once the air was still and quiet, I ran across. I passed a street cleaning lorry which was at the bottom of the next hill climb, but if I’m honest, I didn’t really give it a second glance, I could see the road up ahead was mighty long, and steep, so my gaze just returned to where my feet were going, my ears alert to oncoming vehicles.
Just over the crest, Maya found me, the rendezvous was up ahead. I could almost smell the coffee it was so close. I was starting to limp on the aggravated shin but felt good otherwise. Adrenaline is a funny beast. She flagged me down, there were no pavements nor places to pull in and the road was already beginning to descend for more winding passes. She crawled along as I walked to hear what she was trying to say:
We can’t stop at the car park, they won’t let me park there. The man got really angry with me and told me to leave, even though I told them I was waiting for you to give you some coffee, and to put some ice on your shins. And I told them what you are doing. I also asked them for ice, they said no, they don’t have any ice.
(Let me just say that this is the sanitised version.)
My reply was:
Aren’t they a pub? They don’t have any ice?
This meant no dignified toilet break, the van pee-bucket it was.
Maya shook her head, or maybe shrugged her shoulders, the result was the same. Whoever she had come across was not happy to help in any way. Maya told me to keep heading down the hill, there would be a lay-by further on.
Now, at this point it’s probably right to point out that nobody is required to help and support anybody. Ever. It’s not written in stone, law, or blood, that being a good Samaritan is required of any landlord, housewife or school master. And really, we don’t go around testing people as to which camp they’re comfortable in. It just seemed rather odd that someone would be quite irate when someone asks for help. To park one vehicle in an entirely empty car park at 9am on a Monday morning, with the added prospect of being involved in a world record attempt to boot… Well, you can’t win over everyone. So that is the way it is.
Fortunately, it was the only time in my entire 95 days that I came across someone who didn’t want to help at all. In fact, the resoration of my faith in humanity was really only beginning to reveal itself.
As my friend rightly said, there was a lay-by further down the steep winding hill, albeit a steep lay-by, which was a little funny for my legs to find an angle to rest at. I had no sooner arrived and put my feet up when a vehicle pulled in behind us.
It was the road sweeping lorry.
At once my defences were up, because the response of the landlord had entirely shifted my perspective of this part of the world in a matter of minutes. And now I was ready to have to fight and defend what I was doing here, why we were parked in this spot, yes being on foot does mean I am allowed on the road too. I was chomping at the bit to let off some of the steam that was building up from one negative experience.
Ghastly, I know. What can I say, other than bipolar disorder is akin to feeling life intensely or nothing at all, with the occasional bout of numbness or blandness in the middle. At least, that’s my experience. How does this translate? It means feeling passion more deeply, feeling sadness as despair, feeling irritation as a volcano ready to erupt with righteous babble oozing like lava. Hot and contemptuous. OK, so it’s not always like this. There’s also the shock into silence and back-pedalling into the cave, creating the walls to survive the ferocity of mankind out there because you’re completely unworthy, sort of reaction.
But once certain buttons were pressed, yes, this was the case for me and this was my fight response. Might it be an idea to treat every person you come across as if they have bipolar disorder? Well, maybe. People might be more considerate with their words with each other, rather than chuck away sentiments of the moment. But then, this is planet Earth and I’m only checking in for a split-second. What does it matter what I think?
No. In fact what happened was this gentleman got out of his cabin, hailed us down, and told me he’d spotted my jacket and wondered what it was all about. No sooner had I strung the words mental + health into an audible utterance, his right hand was deep in his pocket, and he scooped out what he had in there. He held up his hand, started to count out some coins, then stopped. He took my hand, held it up, turned over the entire contents of his own hand to me, and said:
We all need mental health.
In that one instant I could see the contrast of humanity.
Of love in one of its most simplest forms.
What do we want?
Support. We all need support, in whatever form we can take. Even the hardiest soul needs the compassion of other humans to prevent them losing their humanity. So can we say that support is another way of expressing love?
Love, it doesn’t have to be the gushy, slushy, sloppy kisses kind. It can be as simple as compassion, listening, being there, giving without being asked, paying attention, not expecting in return because we’re all fighting our own fights.
When do we want it?
If you think back to when you most needed support, wouldn’t it have been at about the time the proverbial excrement hit the fan? Just after would do, or even better would be before to help steady the shock.
In any case, we would all appreciate support at some point, and we would all feel a sense of fulfilment from giving that support too. That’s the beauty of support: it works both ways.
The magic is also that support has so many shapes, forms, words, colours, ideas, that we sometimes limit what it means to a most basic abstract form: doing something for someone, which actually limits our use of it! Yet, doing is itself a word of infinite capabilities. This is where we get to flex our creative muscles, there is so much that can be done!
What could you do to support someone?
What support could you most do with?
Hark, we’re already in the 21st century
Did you know that peer-to-peer support can be in place before someone reaches a crisis? That’s pretty much a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mentality, and yet we haven’t yet mastered this method in our schools, workplaces, colleges, institutions. We’ve started to, there are initiatives in place, but it’s slowly dragging its feet because we still haven’t broken out of treating matters of the mind with any urgency. So for a while yet we will probably still await the crisis point before intervening.
The good news is we all have a story to share that may be the lynchpin for someone else’s enlightenment. We all have a way of expressing how to support, and how to receive that support effectively, so the opportunities for making a change to our model of compassionate interaction is infinite!
If you could do one thing each day to strengthen your awareness of the matters of mind, the health of your mind, would you do it?
- Could it be as simple as reading one blog per day, such as this Fierce Mind blog, or my personal blog at Yvie Johnson?
- Listening to one video per day, such as this epic take on the world’s view of mental health stuff through the medium of comical Kaneing—aka Russel Kane?
- Going to one support group per month to hear the stories of folk who are coping, or not coping, with their condition and the world they live where they feel that they don’t belong?
- Investing in Me-time?
- Re-connecting with nature to remind yourself that you are as much a part of this world as the ashes of long-lost loved one, the bees puking up honey, the clouds that form tornadoes, the feathers of songbirds, the whales diving deep, and the lava that erupts from volcanoes? We are all here, in this together, but we can get lost in our own bubble of me.
It’s important to remember that you are not in this alone. You are never alone. If there’s one thing I have learnt from first-hand experience having covered thousands of miles without knowing who would be out there to help me, was that people care, people will help you, if they don’t then you’ve come across the same sort as the landlord who wouldn’t help me. But round the corner will be the road sweeper, ready to give you everything he has. There are always more compassionate people on this planet than there are idiots.
Can I say
ignorant imbeciles? I want to. But my mother and my daughters, my behaviour and moral compass, might tell me off. And as my mother would say:
You have to see the good in everyone.
She’s right, of course, and that means that there is good inside you too. After all, everyone is fighting their own battle, and your goodness may be just what someone else needs one day, to survive a bit longer. Be ready for them.