Or: Why talking about Mental Health doesn’t always mean talking about mental health.
For those who weren’t aware, my last short story wasn’t entirely a work of fiction. In fact, with a few minor changes, it is almost exactly the account of a recurring nightmare I used to have. Rather than being ‘inspired by my depression’, it was a direct account of it.
You can imagine, then, that posting it would be something of a anxiety-inducing moment for me. Those people I shared the post with beforehand all commented on how big a step it was to post something so raw.
The funny thing is it didn’t really feel like that to me. I’ve spent hours — days, even — agonising over whether to post some of my blogs. The idea of exposing myself and my depression in over 4,000 words was a decision I spent months deliberating. Even a relatively benign piece about the connection between physical and mental illness was something I sat on for days.
But with The dream; the nightmare, the only thing worrying me was making sure the I did the retelling justice.
Why didn’t sharing such an intimate part of my psyche feel as invasive this time? Maybe I’m just feeling better about it now, and more able to talk? Perhaps.
More likely, I think, is that treating the nightmare as a story gave me the distance I needed to be slightly more objective about it. As I said, the important part for me was describing the dream in the right way. The drafting wasn’t about expressing my thoughts or feelings on a subject. In a way, that expression had already happened.
What that meant was that when I was writing the story, I didn’t have a point to make or soapbox I felt the need to stand on. I wasn’t getting in my own way trying to figure out how best to articulate some deep concept, or do justice to an entire diagnosis. In fact, I was almost consciously ignoring that side of it.
I was just a guy trying to write a story.
This story just happened to be true.
We all know that we should talk more about our mental health. But sometimes it’s easy to escalate that in our heads to be this big thing. For some, talking about mental health means first putting on our ‘I’m going to talk about mental health now’ hats. Then we take the hats off and go back to ‘normal’ conversations. We compartmentalise mental health as this thing that we have to give ourselves permission to talk about.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware that it was a deeply personal part of me that I was exposing. But writing TD;TN was one of the first times that I talked about mental health without having my ‘I’m going to talk about mental heath now’ hat on. It was liberating. Even now, writing this, I’ve got the hat back on. And it’s trying to force me towards making a point — some form of pithy conclusion that you, dear reader, can take away.
But sometimes we don’t need conclusions, or to wrap up our trains of thought with a bow. Feeling the need to do that — for me at least — stops a lot of the conversation before it even starts. Talking about mental health shouldn’t always be a well-structure essay.
We should be talking more about mental health. And to do that, we need to normalise thinking about mental health. The more exposure to it we have day-to-day, the less it makes sense to have a whole separate hat for talking about it.
For me, I think that might start with more stories that just happen to be true.