My blog has always been a place for personal reflection. This post is no exception, but comes with a very clear trigger warning: if you are struggling with your mental health at the moment, you might not want to read on.
This weekend I presented my first RAFAC mental health awareness and resilience course of 2020 to ten adult volunteers in Kent.
For me (and, yes, as an instructor I know I am biased) the course is one of the most important of all of those available within our organisation.
Young people are under an immense amount of pressure and face many different individual risk factors, and I believe that as volunteers working with young people it is important we understand those risks, the effects they can have and what we can do to help support our cadets.
But this article isn’t about the course, and I have no desire to betray either the contents of the course or the confidences of those who participate. Instead, this article is about me: my own personal reflection.
My interest in mental health started in earnest when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 23. Since then, I have become a Time to Change Champion, completed a foundation course in mental health awareness and qualified as a youth mental health first aider, in addition to qualifying as an instructor on the RAFAC course. I mention this at the start of every mental health course and session I present so that I can reassure participants they are in safe hands. I also make clear I am happy to answer any question they ask about my own experiences to help them increase their understanding of the subject matter at hand.
In addition to understanding mental health problems, it’s also important to think about resilience, coping strategies for when times are tough. That is something I have always struggled with.
There are, of course, unhelpful coping strategies, many of which I am guilty of in some form or another. Conversely, a strong support network can be immensely helpful, and yet whilst I have a supportive network, it isn’t always readily available.
At the age of 30, as is common, most of my friends work (some in roles with awkward shifts), have other interests which take up a large portion of their time and have settled down with partners and children. Meanwhile, I am divorced and find myself on my own at home two or three nights per week, as well as every weekend I am not out on RAFAC duty.
This evening when I came home from my course, I ordered a takeaway, laid on the sofa to watch whatever came up on my recommendations and ended up bursting into tears halfway through a Derren Brown programme. I spent the rest of the evening silently playing on my phone and trying desperately not to bawl my eyes out again.
I don’t know why I was crying. I suspect it was simply emotional exhaustion. Working five days and spending the sixth preparing for a course you deliver on the seventh can have that effect, I guess.
On Thursday I was speaking to a good friend of mine who has spent the best part of 30 years on her own. Now in her early fifties she has recently found a partner who has moved in with her. She says it has made a world of difference, being able to go home and have someone to talk to if she’s had a rough day, and I am genuinely happy for her. But it is a stark reminder of what I’m missing.
Good mental health starts at home, and if your home life is lonely and miserable, you’re off to a losing start before you even step outside the door. Add to that the debt, despair and diagnosed mental illness, and some days it feels like a miracle I’m still here at all.
But then I ask myself two questions: firstly, what are the chances I would even find someone who was interested in me, and secondly, if such a person is out there, where would I find them? I go to work, I go to cadets and occasionally volunteer my time elsewhere. Besides that, though, I have almost no social life of note and almost no possibilities of meeting that special someone. Sure, there’s online dating, but that didn’t exactly work out well last time.
And even if there were someone out there interested in me, there’s then the third and final problem: I am, distressingly, in love with someone. Someone who has precisely zero interest in me. But because of my feelings for them, I very rarely find myself noticing anyone else. It would take someone very special indeed to turn my head while I continue to feel this way.
Until then I seem destined to spend my free time alone, with nothing but my thoughts for company.
And in the meantime I’ll of course continue to try to make the world a better place for everyone else struggling with their mental health, while grudgingly accepting there is no easy way to fix my own.