If asked what is significant about the month of May, it’s likely that you will conjure up images of long bank holiday weekends, visits to the beach, the release of the latest superhero blockbuster, evenings that seem to go on forever, and a warm glow inside that comes with the heralding of summer. However, May also signals another event, one that many people are unaware of. From 16th-22nd May it is Mental Health Awareness Week, a 7 day programme of events and information from the Mental Health Foundation, tasked with raising awareness and getting people talking. Check out this link for more information.
I must confess that I was ignorant of this project, despite the fact that the first Mental Health Awareness Week was 16 years ago. From doing a bit of research I’ve discovered that each year focuses on a different aspect of mental health, and this year it will place relationships in the spotlight. According to the website, “healthy and supportive relationships reduce the risk of mental ill-health. This Mental Health Awareness Week we are celebrating the connections, the relationships, the people in our lives that add to our wellbeing and protect and sustain our mental health. From family and friends, to colleagues and neighbours; taking notice of those connections that make you feel safe and supported.”
I recognise that I’ve concentrated on relationships, and also the idea of loneliness, in previous blogs, but its such a relevant and crucial facet of the illness, that I feel it can’t be examined too many times. As you can see from above, its just just romantic relationships, but also that of friends and colleagues, and also the wider community of mental illness sufferers. Relationships are the most important thing in our lives, and without them, we would not survive. Over 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, and I don’t think it’s a huge leap to state that loneliness is a major contributing factor. I’ve never considered ending my life, but I would certainly say that my lowest moments have been when I have felt isolated, unloved or alone, whether literally alone, or alone on the inside and feeling disconnected from those around me.
If I take the last 7 days, which contain the usual peaks and troughs of my mood, the best moments are when I have been around friends and colleagues (which happen to be one and the same thing). Simple pursuits such as making someone laugh gives me a huge boost internally, which I predict is as a result of creating that connection with another human being, and perceiving that you can have a positive impact on them. The correlation between mood and the presence of other people cannot be a coincidence. The problem however, is that when a downward spiral begins, all you want is to shut yourself away from everyone, and its too exhausting to socialise or be in the presence of the very people that make you happy. How unfair is it that the one thing that will make you content, is the one thing you can’t have when feeling depressed? It feels like the illness is laughing at you, knowing full well that its stopping you from having the one thing you need. This cruel contradiction is a source of great frustration and despondency, that consequently can only lead to further feelings of hopelessness and regret.
As this article proposes, and as I touched upon earlier, loneliness is not just the product of finding oneself physically alone or isolated. Mark Rowland advocates that “many of us have experienced loneliness in the context of a busy office or lively party. It is about quality of relationships, not just quantity. And we now know that loneliness has significant implications for our mental health.” I can regularly feel detached or withdrawn when sat at my desk, on the tube, out for drinks, or at a party. For me personally the physical loneliness isn’t the most prevalent adversity, by virtue of the fact that I’ve never been a big socialiser, and cherish the quiet life and my own company. For me it’s the internal loneliness which is gut wrenching, and which drains me of all hope, motivation and strength. When you are feeling desolate and hopeless, seeing something as simple as friends laughing, a couple kissing, or a family playing in the park can spark such strong emotions within, and such a deep yearning to have what they possess, and to feel like you belong, that it can be as infuriating as it is melancholic.
More than ever I crave that one strong connection, that person who I can love and who can love me in return for who I am, as I feel that only then can I truly be happy. It recent months it has felt closer than it ever has been, but my negative disposition always feeds the notion of being ‘too good to be true’. One consideration that I have attempted to heed, but yet which still challenges me and holds me back, is the concept of loving oneself. I have always had little or no confidence in myself, and how others view me, and at times I have felt worthless and unlovable. However it has slowly begun to dawn on me that the only way to find love elsewhere is to first love who you are, as how can you expect someone else to love you if you are unable to? Whilst it’s a challenge, and I’m not close to embracing the philosophy fully as yet, I’m always mindful of Patricia Fry’s following words, which I will finish with:
“An intimate relationship does not banish loneliness. Only when we are comfortable with who we are can we truly function independently in a healthy way, can we truly function within a relationship. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship: it takes two wholes.”