The Battles You Know Nothing About

I was inspired to write this post after the #TimetoTalk day run by Time to Change last Friday. For those who don’t know, #TimetoTalk is a mental health awareness day, encouraging anyone with experiences of mental illness to talk. It got me thinking a lot about my own journey in sharing my story; the pros and the cons.

There have been a few articles coming out recently with parts of my story; I’ve been featured in the Times Educational Supplement as well as the Southern Health Journal and The Daily Echo. I’ve been surprised by the range of emotions this has brought out; some positive, others less so.

I think that it is important to share your story. It helps build understanding and compassion, and I think it has the potential to provide a lot of support for others who may be struggling. We all have our walls up, presenting the most perfect image of ourselves that we can over social media, and yet we still fall for it when we look around us.

It’s never been easier to form wildly unrealistic comparisons when it looks like everyone else has got it together. And when we do this, we put a negative spin on our perception of the world. In my opinion, it’s this that leads to resentment, judgements, and intolerances.

By sharing the truth of our struggles, our vulnerabilities, our darkest feelings and weakest thoughts, we can inspire compassion and empathy. It reminds me of that expression: everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. What if we did know a little about those battles? Wouldn’t that make it just that bit easier to fulfil the command issued at the end of that quote - to be kind, always?

Creating a narrative from what has happened in your life helps to bring clarity. It helps you understand how you became you.

Sarah Curtis, another service user I’ve been privileged to work with, agrees. “I had written myself off, but just the process of sharing my experience, let alone the contribution itself, has given me confidence,” she told me. “I want to show people that you can have a mental health problem, you can be on the autistic spectrum, you can have a facial difference - and you can still make a valuable contribution to society.

Sarah’s resilience is an inspiration to me, particularly as she’s the first to acknowledge that sharing her story hasn’t always been easy for her. She recalled a blog post she wrote about a project she was involved in with the Trust: “I totally underestimated how exposed it would actually make me feel. I talked about my experience of being detained under the Mental Health Act, and when I realised that was in the public domain I felt extremely ashamed and embarrassed.

I can relate to Sarah’s experiences here. Sharing my story has been worthwhile in many ways, but there’s no denying that there’s a sense of exposure and vulnerability that accompanies it. The more open I’ve been, the more I’ve felt this way.

I spent years of my life trying to hide, to be as small as possible. As a child and teenager, standing out was just about the worst thing I could think of - it always ended badly. I constantly felt ashamed of who I was, a burden to my family. My sense of self-worth was closely tied to the public front I developed.

Being as honest as I have been in the public domain causes all those feelings to resurface. I’ve recently started a new job, making new friendships that I want to last, and sharing my stories can make me feel as though those things are threatened.

If people know the real me, the truth of what goes on inside my head, will they still want to be around me? To be my friend, my colleague, my employer?

What about those who know me in a completely different context to work? I’ve always felt safer within the Trust - after all, my entire role there is related to the experiences I’ve had. But there are people who don’t know what I’ve been through, what I continue to go through. For example, basketball is a passion of mine, and I’m active in the basketball world as a referee and coach. How will that community perceive me, now that they know more about me?

Those feelings are there, but I think Sarah put it well when she spoke about her own feelings of shame: “I’m not even sure why [I felt it], as being sectioned is nothing to be ashamed of, and the more people share their stories, and the more it’s discussed, the more understanding will develop.

In other words, as confusing and scary as those feelings of exposure can be, it’s worth it for what sharing my story can achieve. I’ve been overwhelmed by messages I’ve received from the headteacher of my old school and parents of children experiencing bullying. And I’m fortunate to have been given positive feedback from people in comments and messages to tell me that I might have something to be proud of, as much as I find it difficult to let that sit with me.

Sarah shares in my sense of pride in that respect. “Writing that first blog post for Southern Health has made me feel proud to share my story as I have received so many positive comments from what I wrote. I’ve been shown genuine kindness and understanding, which has reinforced in my mind that writing and publishing the post was the ‘right’ thing to do.

She also commented about the impact that sharing her story has had on her own mental health. It’s true that writing down some of the things I’ve been through has given me a reason to reflect on it with new eyes - to allow me to be my own inspiration! Sarah told me that when she was writing about her experiences, she came to realise that “the thoughts weren’t all negative. I was able to reflect on the context and remember that, although I wouldn’t have admitted to it at the time, being placed on a Section Two was in some ways a relief, as it put the brakes on a situation that was spiraling out of control".

Sharing my story has made me feel proud I have got that level of insight and there’s scope for drawing on that knowledge for any future mental health crisis.

Quite honestly, I’m awed by Sarah’s ability to draw lessons from her past. I find her an absolute inspiration, and I’m so grateful that she took the time to talk to me and allowed me to share her thoughts in this post. Creating a narrative from what has happened in your life helps to bring clarity. It helps you understand how you became you.

Sarah’s words have inspired me, and ultimately, that’s what I hope sharing my experiences will achieve for others.

If I can speak to just one person, help one individual see that they’re not alone, inspire one parent or one teacher to notice the child who hides, then it’s worth it.


Twitter: @NathanClifford

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Nathan. A really interesting read. As for what the basketball community thinks, I believe they respect you more for being so open and honest, I certainly do! I also believe that basketball is the light at the end of your dark tunnel. It projects your real personality and ability to do something well and communicate with others. Keep it up! Tim

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