“I want some help with a friend of mine because she has mental health problems and you have your own lived experience of mental health issues.”
The whispers of the past pick holes inside me as the conversation continues and I despair, as I listen to my friend’s story, that another person, somewhere out there, has to go through this stuff.
“Does she have a good relationship with her GP? Does she do the basics right? The eating, sleeping and exercising bit? Does she have any drug issues with alcohol or other drugs? What is her support network like? Are her family and friends close? Does she have a job, money coming in? Does she live alone or with people?
Has she had any trauma in her life? Sexual, psychological or physical abuse? Does she have a spiritual life at all? Does she have any dreams? Because if she doesn’t, she will die one way or another. How are her studies going?”
The whispers of the past are now echoing louder and louder. Despair begins to shade my gut’s memory. The whispers grow louder.
“No, she doesn’t have problems with alcohol or other drugs. Yes, she does have a good relationship with her GP. Trauma? There was something that was brought up by candle light one dinner last week-but I don’t know the details. She’s intelligent, the world’s at her feet.”
My gut and my mind make a pact: we can help, and we can share what we know. We go down our list, we offer suggestions, and we begin to make sense of our experience. But lived experience of something is always hard to dry clean completely out of your skin because of learned self-stigma and a society which says you are always going to be ill.
“I have had many mental health ‘recoveries'”, I say, “but have got ill again. Right now I am in a good patch but it might not last. Recovery is not linear and there will be detours, holidays, stormy rain fronts and palm beaches. But that is life and the life we must lead.”
Richard Anderson is a writer who works in caregiving and support work roles in the health sector, and is studying counselling part-time. In his other life he worked in the supermarket industry for 10 years before realising that working in health care should be his focus.