It pushed me to my limits, brought me closer to friends and family, made me look beyond myself and helped me find peace. It’s not peace in perpetuity (how could it be, Obama’s about to be replaced with a massive fart-arse with a clumsy orange finger on the trigger), but at least I’ve found the starting point for a more peaceful journey.
It started with the Mind Media Awards on Monday night. How ironic that I arrived in London an uptight wreck, completely incapable of enjoying the fact that I had been let loose in the big smoke with one of my best friends. I could not relax. At least, I didn’t until some time after the ceremony.
Mind you, the ceremony was awe-inspiring. Freddie Flintoff hosted and I was blown away by his speech. In fact, I was blown away by everyone’s speeches and contributions, so I am going to have to find new descriptors…
Most people in that room had suffered with mental ill health. Some, survivors of trauma and crisis, some, remembering loved ones who had battled hard but were tragically not there to share their own story.
One exceptionally brave presenter took on the very difficult task of speaking about somebody he had lost. He collapsed on stage, totally overcome. It threw me. The very same thing happened to my husband in 2010, in front of an audience of over a thousand. It was the last date of an exhausting and emotionally draining national tour. I wasn’t there when it happened, but seeing this made me realise the impact it must have had. Performers, presenters, artists, never out of the public’s eye, but bravely standing back up again and again and again.
Professor Green – another brave speaker who brought tears to my eyes. What a man. His documentary ‘Suicide and me’ looked in depth at the circumstances surrounding his late father’s death, and Professor Green’s management of that legacy – his own feelings, fears and depression. He cried on TV in front of millions. He couldn’t remember crying before then. He faced it head on. Professor Green won the ‘Making a difference’ award. So well deserved.
I’d say, two of the themes that featured strongly were about the challenges facing men who often lock their feelings away, and post-natal depression.
On the subject of men and mental illness, body dysmorphia was put under the spotlight. It was moving to hear people speaking openly about it and a number of awards were given out to those who highlighted the problem.
Post-natal depression and post-partum psychosis – the latter being something I knew nothing of until EastEnders explored it through the characters of Stacey and Martin was also a hot topic. But how do programmes like EastEnders portray it so sensitively? Not without the help of people who have experienced it themselves – such as Eve Canavan and Kathryn Grant, who won the ‘Speaking Out’ award for their contribution to the programme.
It was one seriously moving ceremony. And it made me realise, that although I have my struggles, many people overcome struggles much, much greater than mine.
Thankfully, I managed to chill out a little after the awards, even stopping to get my picture taken for the next Time to Talk day campaign (I am less than a natural in front of the camera! Think about Chandler trying to smile on Friends) and saying hello to the wonderful Denise Welch – who I am in complete awe of given how much charitable work she does – it’s like she never stops for breath! Wonder woman!
And then, hours later, my anxiety went through the roof. And I spent a fortune getting me and my mate Tom an earlier train back to Newcastle the next morning. He said he didn’t mind, but I know how desperate he was to show his charity shopping, bargain-hunting friend the delights of Fortnums. Another time perhaps (if he can drag me out of the High Street’s Oxfam shop that is).
Back home, the week continued with my anxiety levels dropping slightly, only to be replaced with flat exhaustion. I was off work, spending days on the sofa under a duvet and cuddling my kitten. That’s some seriously good therapy mind.
Then Friday night I was going on a date with my wonderful other half. I can admit now I was DREADING it. I didn’t know why, but I was really not looking forward to it. Cue phantom breaking and gasping every ten seconds on the drive into town, and squeezing his hand so tight as we crossed the bridge towards the City Hall. I was going to see Yusef Islam (or as most know him, Cat Stevens). I left that gig feeling calm, happy and enlightened. I know it’s cheesy, but that man really did make me think.
He shared his journey with the audience, picking out songs of significance that were both comforting and uplifting. I had heard all the songs before. But I had never listened to them. Experiencing a journey like that, through the eyes of someone as poetic as Cat Stevens, was a real treat. Although, when he played Wild World during his encore, my eyes pricked. Because 2016’s politics has pretty much fucked us all. And it’s going to get even wilder over the next few years.
But I think that is what I have learned this week. With the help of Cat Stevens, the contributors to the Mind Media Awards and an excellent counsellor I spoke to on Wednesday, I learnt that you cannot control everything. Anxiety makes you feel as though you have to. But you can’t. I can’t control who is in power, I just need to remember that I did my bit. I can’t control the heavy downpours that make the lawn turn to mush, but I can gather up the leaves and sweep the pavement. I can’t stop us leaving Europe, but I can remain close friends with my Swedish neighbour.And I can’t make mental health problems vanish, but I can learn the best ways to manage them.
Once you let go of that anxious desire to control everything around you, life becomes much more peaceful. I’m learning, and that’s a big leap forward in itself.
You can watch the Mind Media Awards through sponsor, Virgin Money Giving’s Facebook page