When I was given this title for a blog post my mind went into freefall. I hovered over the years of struggle with my mental health, floating above many glowing lights of the people who have helped me survive and thrive. Some were like blazing beacons – the therapist who stuck with me for years, the care co-ordinator who always had my back. Others were no more than faint glimmers – the woman who looked at my bandaged arms and instead of judging my self-injury, told me the story of her niece who did the same, full of helpless compassion for both of us, or the nurse who sat and prayed with me through a night of horror.
I looked more closely at these fainter, wavering lights. I wanted to write about someone doing a small thing which made a large difference, the sort of thing many of us could do. Mental health services have been a mixed bag for me, from the most excellent of care to the downright abusive. But most people don’t work within mental health services. Yet we all have chances presented to us where we can pass on a little light.
My mind finally settled on my 17 year old self. This was before anyone told me that I was depressed, or that I had an eating disorder, or that self-injury was a thing other people did. But these things were all becoming an increasing part of my life. I felt very alone with my troubles, though I had good friends who knew some of it. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I could barely give it my attention as my attention was all given over to others who seemed to need it more. I was half way through my A levels and they were overwhelming too. I spent a lot of nights crying because I didn’t really know what was happening to me except that life hurt. As it happens, there was quite a lot happening, but I was too far from myself to understand.
One afternoon in a French lecture we were paired up in the language lab with a story we had to discuss en Francais. Nicole, a co-student and I, aware that our lecturer, Josi, had left the room, allowed our discussion to lose focus – still in French because we were not allowed to speak English in class. I can no longer recall the exact conversation but I know it involved suicide. Josi returned to the room and the lecture continued, but she asked me to stay behind at the end. We had forgotten that she needn’t be in the room to listen in to our work in the lab.
In English for once, she tried to get me to talk about how I was. Bereft of the cloak of French, I struggled. I was not good at talking about myself. Myself was a big cavern of the unknown. Josi talked to me about seeing a counsellor and went on to arrange it for me. Behind the scenes she also talked to my tutor and other lecturers, who were ready to support me when I fell very behind in my work due to the depression. She didn’t again try to talk to me about my situation. She simply got on with doing things to ease it.
This began my journey in counselling, which eventually led me into mental health services. It also made it possible for me to pass my A levels with good grades and get to university (despite having to learn 1000 years of Russian history during my revision period as I’d missed all the lectures on it!). Prompted by Josi, my lecturers worked with me to ease my workload.
Josi probably spent no more than an hour putting all this in motion. She may well not remember doing so all these years later. But because of her action my life changed, both in terms of dealing with my mental health, and in getting to university which I loved.
So, if you are reading this, Josi, thank you.
Photo by Natalia Figueredo