The other morning, I felt an overwhelming urge to read back through my original installment of my My War column , and the follow-up addendum article I did back in October last year. I suppose I wanted to find out if I still felt the same way about what I’d had to say as I did back then.
Looking back on what I’d written, I still feel that they are pretty honest pieces of writing. I’d also say that although I feel like I’m in a much better place than I’ve been in years, mentally speaking. Also, I still feel like I’ve got a lot to say on this subject. As I mentioned in the previous articles, depression, anxiety (and I assume any other form of mental illness) don’t just go away; there is no permanent solution. If we are very lucky, they are just fleeting occurrences. Trying to look at this shit more realistically, it seems like they are likely to rear their ugly heads during periods of prolonged stress in our lives. Almost as if these conditions are provoked into renewed bursts of activity when we are the least well equipped to deal with them.
I think the best we can hope for is to be able to identify the manifestations of these problematic illnesses as they occur, and to be able to try and manage them through a combination of medication and by talking about them, whether this is with family, friends or a counselor (or a combination of one or more). Obviously (or maybe not, depending on your stance or level of awareness), it might not always be as simple as this. Societally speaking, I’ve been taught (or indoctrinated by some form of cultural osmosis) that as a white working class male from Northern England, that I should not discuss things like feelings and mental health if I don’t want to be judged as some kind of sissy or non-heterosexual. I’m pretty sure harmful cultural attitudes such as these are not just limited to Northern England.
Right now, I’m rapidly approaching 40 years old (as I wrote this, I was 100 days off), and about to become a father for the first time (that’s now approximately 2 weeks away). These things are realistically speaking going to give me a whole host of new things to worry about. Not least of which is the worry that my son may develop mental health issues of a similar nature as he matures. From a ‘factual’ standpoint, there’s no real concrete evidence either way as to whether or not mental health issues are hereditary. Without wanting to go delving too deep, it seems commonsense to me that our genetic makeup must in some way dictate our predisposition to manifesting these illnesses.
Recently I spoke to a relative (who shall remain anonymous for the purpose of this article) who had read my previous My War piece, and confided in me that they had faced similar issues throughout adolescence and adult life. They were of the opinion that such problems were rife in the family history, and that three or four generations back, someone in the direct family line had been committed to an asylum and died there of ‘melancholy and Lyme disease’. Cheering thought, right?
So armed with this knowledge, my own experiences and my suppositions (which I admit are not based on actual science), I can only hope that in the event that my son does exhibit such problems that I can offer a good level of support and advice to him. He’ll certainly not be raised with a negative attitude towards mental health issues or to expressing emotions. Given that there is a growing trend for famous people speaking out about mental health in the UK, I can only hope that this kind of awareness raising can have a wide cultural impact and embed its way into the public consciousness. Surely, that can’t be a bad thing, right?
Obviously I do have an opinion on these celebrity spokesmen and women, though. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, it can’t be a bad thing. At the most basic level, it goes to show that mental health issues can be considered as something of a ‘great leveler’, in that they can affect absolutely anyone, regardless of background. Maybe then it’s not so strange that it seems to add some credence to the old adage that money can’t buy happiness…
However (and perhaps I’m just being a right little shit here), on some levels I find it impossible to empathise with people that have been born into a ton of money. Case in point being Prince Harry and his recent mental health related foray into the public consciousness. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’d never for a single second so much as dream of criticising him (or anyone else for that matter) for losing a parent (or other close family member), along with the associated baggage such an appalling loss brings with it. The real kicker here is that the vast majority of people that go through something like that do not have a virtually limitless supply of money and security to fall back on and help prop them up. Money can’t buy happiness or change the fundamental truths of our time down here on this shitty old mud-ball, but it can certainly remove other major areas of strain from your existence. For example keeping a roof over your head with bills paid or removing the necessity for grinding through the soul-destroying, spirit-crushing job you’ve got to attend in order to slightly pretend you even fucking exist. Who, asides from those fucking Made in Chelsea reality TV plums, is meant to be able to identify with Prince Harry for fucks sake?
Please bear with me. Probably I’m just foregrounding other areas of my personal neuroses here, but it just makes no sense to me. There’s no level of spiritual connect between me and my societal betters. I freely admit that I can (and do) wind myself up to the point that I’m quaking with visceral rage over the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in this world.
I think what I’m trying to say is that awareness raising through celebrities is all well and good, but your everyday Joe or Jennifer Bloggs (a.k.a. John or Jane Doe for the Americans) needs to be given a platform in the public eye. Normal relatable people of a standard average background need to be heard from as publicly as possible. They are the ones that best represent the vast bulk of the population. To mind they are therefore the ones that are best suited to speaking out on our behalf as they best understand how mental health issues are exacerbated by the struggles and problems of day to day life and how they often become bound together. Otherwise, where is the common ground?
It galls me to be sat here in the grip of a self-induced tension headache just as a result of writing this. Maybe in some strange way this sheds light on the perception of ‘wellness’ in general, or just in relation to my own experience, even if I’ve come across as some kind of aggro lunatic in order to do so.
I only pray that this life turns out to be easier for my son than it has been for me.