Let’s imagine it’s nearing the end of summer 2021, Covid restrictions have finally been lifted, and being incarcerated in our own homes for what seems like an eternity, is nothing more than a distant memory.
The weather is beautiful, the smell of smoke fills the air as almost every neighbouring household sparks up their barbecues. You and your friend are sipping cocktails whilst getting ready together to go meet the rest of the squad. As you stand in the kitchen attempting to request a song on the Alexa, your friend is done getting ready and makes their grand entrance into the room, as they walk in you tell them they look good, their smile beams from one side of the room to the other.
Now, imagine that scenario again, only this time you tell them they look a little frumpy in that outfit, their mood shifts, they become noticeably uncomfortable as they storm off, back upstairs to rip through their wardrobe like a Tasmanian devil, sending clothes flying through the air, leaving the room looking like a textile grenade just went off.
That is the power of words and how quickly they can impact our thoughts, which in turn, will affect our moods. Words can be empowering, they can enlighten us when we feel we’re stuck in the dark, they’ll motivate us when we feel like giving up but they can also tear us down when we feel like we’re on top of the world.
It all hinges on the words we experience and the context in which they are delivered to us. Speaking out makes me feel empowered (if only briefly) as it makes me feel as though I am regaining control of myself, bit by bit. The more I speak out, the better I feel, but that comes with consequences because the more I speak out, the more I become vulnerable to negative comments. Luckily, I’m quite a laid back guy so these comments won’t affect me but I can imagine they might affect others.
Speaking out has been good for me, even the negative comments seem to give me more determination to tell my story. The more I tell my story, the more I am propelled into vulnerability but I seem to thrive off it. Those awkward conversations become less tense with each person I tell and almost become joyful that I’ve lived through my darkest moments. One conversation in particular is ingrained into my memory and I honestly think I’ll always remember it.
A gentleman from an older generation asked me about my troubles and what kind of emotions came along with them. I explained that I’d been suffering from intrusive thoughts and mass panic but couldn’t figure out what I was frightened of, to which he said to me that his generation didn’t believe in mental health issues, they just saw it as weakness. He went on to apologise but I wasn’t offended. He meant no disrespect at all, he is a genuinely nice man but it was an eye-opener for me and a real chance to educate somebody on what it was like for somebody like me to suffer.
He absorbed every word I said and I feel he came out of that conversation a little wiser and no doubt a little more sympathetic than he would have been prior to the conversation we had. Not all negative comments can be used to create a positive outcome though, a lot of negative comments are said without people realising they are negative. My personal favourite is ‘man up’. How on earth do we man up from a silent illness? It’s ludicrous to expect somebody to just accept that they need to man up when they are struggling, I think the concept of masculinity is another obstacle we need to overcome before men become reluctant to speak out more.
‘You just need to snap out of it’ is another damaging statement to make. I’m sure if we could snap out of it, we most likely would have by now. These comments may not be necessary but rather than assume these people are being nasty (because they probably aren’t), we need to educate them on what mental illness is, in order for them to understand. By speaking out, using the power of words, we can and will achieve this.
Relishing in those awkward conversations only made me want to tell my story further and that is how I came to starting the journey with this blog. I could sense there was going to be satisfaction in being heard, whether by fellow sufferers or those that needed educating but I knew if I was going to bare all, I had to wear my heart on my sleeve. Paralleled with the popularity of social media is the dramatic increase in hate crime, particularly online, so I had to be prepared to be ridiculed by trolls and online bullies if I was going to tell my story.
Online trolls are a real problem in today’s society, bringing a once-great nation to its knees and dragging us back to the stone age with their discriminative, neanderthal-like ideologies. I can’t even begin to imagine the strain it must put on the mental health of those that wake up daily to hateful messages because of the colour of their skin or their sexual preferences, some of us may be privileged enough not to see it but it exists and it’s thriving more than ever. It’s shameful that people feel it’s acceptable to discriminate against others, life is hard enough without being made to feel victimised by somebody else for something that shouldn’t be an issue.
I am very proud of the fact that I have friends from all walks of life, friends that have used their words to drag me out of the dirt, their words have inspired me to keep fighting my illness, their words have supported me through the good and the bad times, I couldn’t be more grateful for all of them. Whether they are black, white, gay or straight, they all bear great significance to not only my growth as a person but also my recovery back to mental well-being because without their unconditional support, I would never have found the courage to speak out. Whether negative or positive, words are very powerful, they can pull us down when we least expect it but they can also lift us when we most need it.
Positive words can lift our moods not only for the moment but in some cases, for the rest of the day. Receiving a nice comment is just as effective as being embraced by a loved one – we all love a hug, right? I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day, a lovely girl and no doubt a fantastic mum to her two children. She told me she had been feeling a little drained of late but was stopped in the street by a random stranger and told that she came across as a wonderful mum, this lifted her mood for the rest of the day. This is proof that there really is power in our words.
I first realised the power I had by speaking out when I decided to post a picture on social media, detailing the struggle I had endured over Christmas, I was inundated with messages of love and support which spurred me on to want to help others, which in turn, has seen me exchange experiences with a number of delightful people that I never would have spoken to had I not spoken out about my own troubles. I have found great comfort in exchanging stories with these people and I can only hope I returned the favour to them too.
Although each individual case of mental health may be unique to the relative person, we are all fighting the same fight and that’s what connects us. We can all lift each other up from the pits of despair, just by talking to each other, using the power of words, positively. This will give us the strength to regain control of our own minds as we attempt to put our demons to bed, for good.
Words hold enough power in them to manifest change, once recognised we can use that power as leverage to create a force of good for the people around us. But one voice is not enough, we all need to stand together in unity and make our voices heard. We can educate people of all generations that it really is okay not to be okay. I for one will be teaching my children to be compassionate, to be respectful but most importantly, to be kind.
Mental illness is a silent disease, there are no visible symptoms but we can help people notice by speaking out. As daunting as it seems, it’s also empowering. Mental illness is more common than we realise and it certainly doesn’t make you any less of a person. We are not alone, please don’t suffer in silence.
Let’s break the stigma, together.
The contents of this article are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you have concerns about your wellbeing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent the official policy, position or opinion of Stroud Times.