A few people have asked me why I deliver talks about my experience with mental illness, especially when its clear I become emotional whilst delivering them. I have also been asked how I was able to do the talks whilst still ‘going through it’….’surely you can’t have been that bad’. Yes, someone actually said that!
Initially I started talking about my experience because I wanted to try to turn a huge negative in my life into something that could help someone else. I made a decision very early on following my diagnoses with PTSD to try to talk about my experience in order to help others have the confidence to also open up without shame or stigma. I know for a fact that others I worked alongside had already been suffering in silence and some will no doubt struggle in the future. My med board was in Sept 14 and I delivered my first talk in Oct 14. I was diagnosed with PTSD in Aug 12 and spent those 2 years to struggling in and out of work, trying to make sense of what was happening inside my head. My life was spiralling downwards and I had no control over what was happening to me or anyone around me. I lost people who meant something to me by pushing them away but didn’t realise until it was too late. I lost my sanctuary that was my home, a fiance who couldn’t handle the change in me, some friends who haven’t really bothered with me since my diagnosis and also lost a career I had worked hard to achieve for most of my life.
I was asked if I was interested in delivering a talk about my experiences and I decided that I would go for it because it would serve a number of purposes:
1. It got me out of the house although this required some major planning logistically because I was having panic attacks and had to also avoid triggers.
2. Talking about my experiences would help desensitise things for me.
3. Showing that there is no shame in speaking out about having PTSD and everything that comes along with the diagnosis.
I have just been plotting all the talks I have been asked to deliver throughout this coming year and my mind wandered back to when I first delivered a talk. It was for Purple Tie Promotions and I was due to speak at the Union Jack Club. I was so scared for many reasons. I hadn’t been out for such a long time but I was about to venture out again and it took a lot of planning. Every minute of the trip had to be planned out in order to ensure I got there without a hitch. Any detour from the journey plan would have really caused problems with my already hightened anxiety levels. Thankfully it all went without a problem but I was so totally washed out and it took at least a couple of days to recover. My mind was alert to everything and just never shut off throughout the whole time. The talk itself was a whirlwind of emotions but I got through it. When I got home I decided there and then to continue talking about my experience and I am still doing them today.
In Dec 14 I was asked to tell my story on live TV. I was really apprehensive at first but then I thought about why I stood in front of people talking and decided I would do because it would help raise wider awareness of PTSD and mental health in general. I did the interview and spoke openly and honestly about my symptoms . It was quite embarrassing telling people that at the age of 43 I was wetting the bed, having nightmares and cowering in corners. It was sadly a true reflection of a not so pleasant illness. I have undertaken a few more media interviews via TV, radio or newspapers. I haven’t taken payment for any of these interviews because that’s not what it’s about. It’s more important to be able to have a platform available in which to raise awareness of mental illness. When I deliver talks I don’t charge a fee but I do accept donations to Behind The Mask Foundation which I feel is important. I have a busy diary for talks this year as well as other events planned to help raise awareness of mental illness and how it not only impacts the individual but also those around them. If you feel you have the strength to admit you are struggling with a mental illness then I urge you to be open about it. It really does help you because it releases emotions but it also helps others going through their own battle, frightened to open up for fear of rebuke. Mental health is real and it is vital to keep it as healthy as possible. Talking helps – FACT.