My name is Bryony, and I am mental. Mad. A fruit-loop. Whatever else you want to throw at me – I don’t care, because my head’s thrown me much worse. I have OCD and over the years have also suffered from depression, bulimia and drug dependency. Most of this I did completely alone, just like everyone else who suffers from mental illness – because mental illness lies to you by making you feel like a freak.
Only through writing extensively about mental health have I realised that actually, it’s completely normal to feel weird. One in four of us will experience mental illness this year. That means four in four of us know someone who will. And yet very few people feel able to talk about it, because we are British and we must pull ourselves together and have a stiff upper lip. Well: bollocks to that, I say. Let it all out. Make a song and dance out of your depression – because only by screaming and shouting are people in positions of power unable to ignore us.
It was from this thought that Mental Health Mates was born. Back in January I was in a terrible funk because I had just spent several months writing a memoir of my mental health, and who knew that writing about mental illness might make you… Well, mentally ill. So there I was, out in the park trying to run away my OCD, listening to a Jarvis Cocker documentary about Carson McCullers, an author who wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and whose relatively short life was dogged by depression an alcoholism. There was some archive audio of her saying: ‘everyone is part of a We except me’. Her words stopped me in my tracks. “No!” I thought. “No, you were wrong! You belonged to a We, but you just didn’t know it!” So I went home and decided to find that We.
I posted on Twitter, suggesting a regular meet-up for people with mental health issues, where they could walk and talk without fear of judgement. I put a date and a place: Valentine’s Day, at the Lido café in Hyde Park. I thought I had gone properly mad as I left home that cold, wet Sunday morning. Then 20 people turned up, and we’ve been adding new members ever since.
My dream is that lots of Mental Health Mates groups will spring up all over the country – if you’d like to set one up in your area, or just ask me more about how things work, do email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you soon I hope – but if for whatever reason you can’t make any of the meet-ups, please do share your stories of mental health here (anonymously if you want). I know that writing things down has been immensely helpful for me, because when you have words for what you are going through, that thing has less power over you. I also hope that reading other people’s stories will help you realise that you are not alone. Because you aren’t. Remember: you are part of the We, and having met a fair few of them, I can tell you now that the We are pretty awesome.
Next meet up
We try to get together regularly and have a new group forming in Leeds as well as our original London group. All events can be found on our meet up page. If you would like to set up a meeting in your local area, please use the contact page.
There are many organisations available who can offer support and advice on living with mental health issues. Have a look at our support page to see some of them or visit www.mind.org.uk.
Share your stories
Sometimes it helps to share your stories. And sometimes it helps to read other people’s stories. Visit the stories page to do both and find your We. You are not alone.