Meet Me in Winter
Posted Thursday 8 December 2011
There’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and it’s this:
If you could do just one thing to change the world, what would it be?
I’m a mother of two, a musician, a writer. I’m good at making chocolate brownies and hugging my friends, bad at getting accounts done and remembering to water houseplants. Oh and I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Throughout my life I have experienced huge, recurring mood swings.
For me, the highs are generally manageable. They make me creative and ambitious, if irritated that the world doesn’t turn faster. During them I feel connected, as though I understand how everything works, what people are thinking, what life’s all about. It may not be true, but it feels great...
However, afterwards, when I’m exhausted from not sleeping, from working crazy hours and listening to my favourite song on repeat all night, things change. I become depressed and withdraw from the world. Suddenly it’s impossible to hear or see things clearly any more. I imagine I know what people are saying, thinking, doing - but my interpretation is always negative. I can’t connect with them to find out the truth. And I can’t ask for the hugs I’d normally be quick to offer.
At those times I genuinely believe that everyone around me is perfect. They seem perfect. Their lives look perfect. It’s just me who’s wrong. My head fills with critical, belittling voices. Everything is my fault. It’s excruciating. I punish myself mentally and physically in the hope that if I can show the world I’m sorry enough, everything will stop hurting. It doesn’t work.
These episodes scare me so much that I struggle even to describe them. For years I thought that if anyone knew, they would take my children away. So I tried to make sure they didn’t know.
But after becoming so ill that I ended up on a psychiatric ward last year, I decided it was time to change things. And being honest with everyone seemed a good way to start.
So I spoke out.
What I discovered was that not only did people accept and support me, but many understood exactly what I was talking about. Some had mental health diagnoses themselves, but the vast majority hadn’t. And yet almost everyone I spoke to knew what it meant to feel isolated, inadequate, afraid. Not one saw themselves as perfect. Many feared the consequences of being honest, just as I had, but were enormously relieved to talk once they knew it was safe.
If only I had understood during my unhappiest times that I wasn’t alone in feeling these things, it would have made a difference. Not a miracle cure, but a help. Others said the same thing.
So my small way of changing the world is to bring people together and make their voices heard, through music and the sharing of stories. Right now, I’m running a project called Meet Me in Winter. Thousands of people all around the world are getting involved and helping us to raise money for Mind.
Being open about her diagnosis inspired her to start the Meet Me in Winter project.
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