Monday, 28 November 2011

We Need To Talk About Stan

If there's one thing I like, it's a routine. I don't mean a dance routine - although I like it when 'Diversity' chuck the little kid with the mad hair around, I can't lie - I mean a routine which makes my life have a bit of a structure to it. My main routine comes in the morning. Upon waking, I stretch my arm up to my bookcase and grab my phone. With bleary eyes, I first check my emails, then I load up my Twitter app and scroll through the tweets that I've missed whilst slumbering. After I've caught up on the news, it's downstairs for a cup of tea (milk, no sugar - I'm sweet enough) and some toast (usually only with butter on but if I'm feeling daring then Bovril) before I head to the bathroom. I can't shower in silence, so it's either talkSPORT if I'm in a "talky" mood or Classic Gold if I'm in a music mood. After that, I....

Sorry. Not interesting, is it? I don't find it fascinating either, but I'm telling you about my morning routine for two reasons - firstly, the Twitter catchup alerted me to Stan Collymore's fascinating and emotive tweet this morning, and secondly because a counsellor once stressed to me the importance of a strong and basic morning routine. I saw a counsellor - and last year attended group therapy - because since 2008 I've had an on/off battle with mental illness. I did write about this subject once on here, only to delete the post a short time later. In an unlikely turn of events, Stan Collymore has inspired me to tackle it again.

He's a funny fellow is our Stanley Victor. I don't agree with everything he says, and some of his actions in the past have been inexcusable (even if I might cheekily add that if any woman needed a slap, it was Ulrika) but his frank honesty in documenting his depression scored many points with me. "Attention seeking" some people have claimed, but they're wrong - they're wrong because being in a similar position (albeit nowhere near as extreme) I know how hard it is to talk about these things truthfully and directly. I also believe that exposure of and awareness about mental health is a very important thing. The stigma is still there, and it's still large.

(At this moment, I need to break off the blog to tell you that everything you just read, I wrote on Saturday evening. It is now Sunday evening, and the tragic, awful death of Gary Speed is very much on my mind. What caused Speed to do what he did? At this moment, we don't know, so whilst the depression aspect is rumoured, it is only that - a rumour. I'm going to focus this blog on Stan Collymore, but whilst I don't mention him, Gary Speed is not far from my mind)

I don't know why I began to feel anxious, but I know when it started. 2008 was a tough, life changing year for me, and one I haven't forgotten easily. Since then, I've been battling Anxiety. It isn't much fun. At times - the worst times - its been crippling. You over-analyse everything, to the extent that a walk down to the local shop is an ordeal, a long car journey is dreaded. Right now, I'm coping okay. I've educated myself about Anxiety, a tactic Lance Armstrong felt was helpful when he had cancer and one I was determined to employ. Owning books, using websites and talking to professionals has really helped. It's given me insight, an understanding about the illness, and also defence mechanisms which I can use. It's still a battle, and I wonder whether it can fully be beaten, but I'm in a lot better shape than I was about 18 months ago.

There might be some people who know me quite well who feel shocked reading this. They didn't know. I haven't told them. Partly that's because I don't want to make a fuss, partly it's because I don't want friends or family to treat me like I'm mad or somehow a different person, but mainly because talking about mental health is fucking difficult. Many times I've stood outside the office door of a lecturer at university. I can see they're in, and I'm going to go in and talk to them, but I never open the door. Maybe one day.

How does it feel? Perhaps it's best if I tell you how it doesn't feel. How it doesn't feel is what Stan Collymore and many others are going through right at this moment. I will link Stan's tweet for those who haven't read it at the bottom of this blog entry. It is sobering stuff, and thankfully an experience which - touch wood - I'm a million miles away from. Sleeping for 18 hours? Not seeing sunlight for a week? Going to the bathroom a difficult experience? I can't even begin to imagine any of that. Anxiety is closely linked with Depression - both mental health issues, medication for Anxiety comes in the form of anti-depressants, and I notice Stan mentions how initially he felt anxious - but I find it as difficult to see the world through the eyes of a manic depressive as you do.

I mention the word "stigma" a few times, and there is still an ignorance over mental illness, but how do you change that? What is it going to take? Who will it take to stand up in the public eye and make perceptions change? I'm currently looking at a list of people who suffered with Depression. It's a "Who's Who" of famous people - a long list of fabulously talented, clever, funny, smart and good people. Buzz Aldrin, Woody Allen, William Blake, Frank Bruno, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, John Kirwan, Hugh Laurie, David Foster Wallace and SO MANY more. These people aren't weak and they aren't failures. Fancy telling Neil Lennon to "man up"?

Yet I don't have the answers. I don't know how the mental health stigma will ever be eradicated. I wish I did. What I do know however is this - awareness helps. Exposure helps. Whilst my experiences are nothing compared to Stan Collymore's and others, his honesty made me write this blog post. And whilst it's sprawling and not the most polished piece of writing I've ever slammed down, it might just be the one I'm most proud of.