Nicola first experienced mental health difficulties in her mid-twenties after an incident of self-harming. From that time until her first hospital admission over twenty years later she struggled outside the system without knowing she had bi-polar mood disorder. Now based in Eastbourne she works with The Wellbeing Performance Company as a Peer Support Coach sharing her experiences and personal insights.
What do we understand about resilience when discussed in relation to mental health? Many will know it as ‘bounce-back-ability’, that spirit to keep going when things are tough, to be able to just dig a little bit deeper. It is seen as a life-affirming, commendable trait.
For me though it risks becoming a poisoned chalice. I have had times when I did bounce back and was able to manage more with less. However I’ve noticed that it’s close to becoming a burden. People expect me to be able to cope – because I have in the past. Friends in recovery tell me I am an inspiration. I’m a mental health advocate who speaks publicly. All of these situations have culminated a creeping feeling that I can’t succumb, can’t sink down into myself, can’t let people down. That I can’t say “I’m struggling”. I have realized that there have been times when I have presented a coping, outward face masking a different inner turmoil. Some will say that what I describe is resilience because I did and do keep going.
I would like to suggest that the nature of my bi-polar mood disorder is that it is highly likely that there will be times when I do struggle. When maintaining all the spinning plates of my ‘recovery kit bag’– exercise, diet, medication, yoga, connections, volunteering etc. alongside holding down my job and managing the mechanics of day to day living risks becoming a weight. So, hear me when I say no matter how long my recovery, just because I have had resilience in the past it is no guarantee that it be there the next time. I need to be able to be vulnerable, to be unsure. I can be a better inspiration to others by discussing that my mental health waxes and wanes all the time, in tandem with my life as it develops.
Triggers still exist for me, sometimes surprising me with their ferocious ability to grab me when I least expect it. I need to be able to process these events as they impact me within the context of my life today. I need to be able to say “today was tough”, “I don’t want to talk” or “I need company”. As has happened in the past though, there may well be some subconscious judgement/bias in others – a disappointment on my behalf that I have slipped, gone backwards. Nothing could be less true, being transparent about all aspects of my life is a testament to the ongoing nature of recovery.
So if you have a family member or friend with a mental health condition please give them the space and support to live with it as each day unfolds. To know that mental health is not a straight line but a wibbly-wobbly one. To understand that the stigma around mental health can affect us all but that sometimes a step back or a slowing down prepares us for the next event or phase. That there is no wrong or right way to recover, it is deeply personal for each one of us and a continuous endeavour.
Nicola McCarthy Peer Support Coach
The Wellbeing & Performance Company
|01424 236900 | 07311 647864 | www.twpc.co.uk|