Managing My Mental Health by Campaigner, Hope Virgo
Hope Virgo is a complete and utter inspiration. A mental health campaigner, anorexia survivor, author and all-round wonderful human being, I’m truly honoured to share this candid guest post from her on the realities of mental health and how best to manage our minds positively.
Over to Hope.
From the outside and on paper, my life probably looks pretty okay. I have a roof over my head, I have a job I absolutely love and I’m mostly happy. But the thing about mental health is, we all have it and we ALL need to find a way to manage it in the right way.
I know my brain so well. I know my triggers. I know what keeps me well and I know that talking is 100 percent key to a healthy mind! Sometimes, however, working in this space can (ironically) make it harder to talk. Food-wise, I’m in a good place with my recovery but I’ve been struggling with my emotions and often find the pressures of being a mental health campaigner overwhelming.
This last year, saw me report abuse I suffered since the age of 13 so that trauma, along with various personal issues have unsurprisingly affected me. What has been surprising however, was rather than be able to talk about that time openly, I instead shut down and shut up!
I have felt until now that being a mental health campaigner means I couldn’t open up when the bad times were hitting, that I should be reflecting on overcoming my issues but not sharing my present experiences, the bad days. I feared people might stop hiring me if I was candid about being in a dark place so my voice grew quieter. It became a self-perpetuating cycle. I felt bad. I didn’t speak up. I felt worse.
I would look at the other mental health campaigners and convince myself they must have their lives together, that they no longer suffer like I do.
Well I’ve taken a stand. I want to get better at acknowledging the alarm bells which signal I need to talk (and these will be unique to all of you) and I’m not going to self-silence anymore.
Here’s my list of warning signs:
Running: this is something that I love but over the last year, I stopped enjoying it quite as much. I found myself increasingly grouchy on runs and since June have spent most of my runs going over and over things in my head, playing back scenarios and basically destroying my brain in the process.
Mood: this is massive one. For me, it was the fact I should have been able to spot that I was in a bad place. Surely crying a lot on the Tube, or walking out when you feel any sort of negative emotion should be a wake-up call. Not feeling resilient.
Work / Life Balance: well this was just all over the shop and I didn’t really know how to start tackling this. I was convinced that if I worked all the time then that would be positive and then somehow everything else would sort out.
The thing about warning signs is, if we don’t act on them, things are only going to get worse. For me it took losing things in life that really mattered, to actually accept I needed help.
So why is it so hard as a mental health campaigner, when we know the stats, when we know the power of talking, to actually start talking?
After speaking to various individuals over the last few weeks about this, it seems the main issues people face with sharing is that they fear they won’t get booked in for talks, or people won’t think they are well enough to do their job.
This is the stigma faced in regular office jobs and should not be something we all face, in this space. For some reason we find it so hard to talk about what it is like to live day in and day out with a mental illness. We all have mental health and we all sit on that spectrum and it is time we normalised that in all industries!
I decided that it was worth the risk, and if people didn’t book me for talks or events after this then so be it (that’s my stubbornness coming out), but it was crucial.
So many campaigners and people who work in mental health tell me how they are, and then I see on social them having a blast with that mask on and I just want people to feel free to be honest without a pressure to pretend things are OK. To feel free to ask for help and accept support.
That’s what we need to be doing, we need to realise that every single one of us has mental health and we need to manage it.
We need to start embracing the bad times, talking about the here and now, not just the recovery stories. The fact that last week I had a great week, strong positive… but this morning I woke up and felt rubbish. I cried, couldn’t face doing anything and then pulled myself out to a café to try and help my mood.
Spoiler alert: when I shared this (and even on LinkedIn) the response was incredible!
Together we can end this stigma, together we can tackle this fallacy that we have to feel tip top mentally before sharing our struggles. The more we speak up, the more people we will help.
Photo by Hope by Peter Jones.
Hope Virgo is the author of Stand Tall Little Girl and she is also a Mental Health Campaigner and Public Speaker.