Sharing the Tough Stuff
In many ways this post is a continuation of this one, in which I reflected on how far I've come in four years. If you don't like reflective pieces you probably won't like my blog very much at the moment, but I'm weeks away from leaving the place I've called home since August 2013 and it inspires a lot of reflecting.
In that post I shared a moment in which I was asked what the most surprising part of the work I do with REACH is, to which I replied that it's when I shared the hardest and worst parts of me that I gained the most respect. This Wednesday I was thrilled to receive the Al Khayr award for Senior Leader because of what I've done to bring awareness to mental health in the NYUAD community. I was so shocked that I didn't hear most of what they said when they announced it, but two things stuck out to me from what they said:
1) The main reason I was being given it was because of the I've shared so much about my own experience to help others.
2) And I quote: "if we know her like we think we know her then she'll write about this on her blog"
So really I had to! (Although let's face it, I probably would have anyway, in fact I – and everyone else in the room – laughed a lot at that because we all know it to be true).
The thing about the former, though, is that it's not scary for me to share the hard parts, so I've never really felt like I deserve this praise. Talking about the panic attack I had last night feels like a natural part of my Friday morning, not least because my close friends were the heroes who sat with me whilst I couldn't breathe and it just became a fact of the night. (Funny story about that: I was watching a robot love story created by an artist I had interviewed the day before, and I was feeling so emotional about all the goodbyes I had to say that the adrenaline just hit me. So yeah, a robot love story triggered a panic attack, thanks for that Kid Koala.)
I know not everyone feels this way. For other people sharing their mental health experiences is terrifying, and they're the people who deserve the real credit. Bravery is doing something that scares you, and these conversations don't scare me anymore so there's no courage involved. Once upon a time there was – I used to feel the need to pretend like everything was okay, even when it very clearly wasn't – but the more I've shared the less scary it becomes. Sometimes I wonder whether people will think I'm attention seeking or whether I'll scare off potential romances, but then I remember that if they don't get it that's not my problem. I have had boys find me too much, and I get it. I'm a hell of a lot of emotion and that brings with it the good and the bad. Sometimes it makes me sad, but if they can't handle all that I am do I really want to be with them?
So what is the point of this post? I just want to show people that we can talk about the topics without being ashamed. This is nothing revolutionary, I know, but every voice that adds to the conversation is another voice telling people it's okay to get help and who knows what a difference that might make.
I know mental health is an extremely personal journey and that there are a lot of people who don't feel able to chat about their own experiences, but if you want to and can I urge you to use your voice. It's only by sharing our experiences that we'll help others feel better about their own. Panic attacks happen, and they've become an annoying part of my life. Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy them and it generally kills my night, plus it places a stress on my friends who get me through it. But I'm not going to apologise for that, because it's a part of me. It's a part of me as much as my love of vanilla lattes and Disney songs in Spanish. Maybe one day that will change, but for the moment that's who I am and the people in my life love and respect me for that. And you know what? That feels awesome.