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Mental health: a personal perspective

By Shaun Gibbons Chart.PR
Head of Communications, South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership

Some people can see it. Images, sometimes shapes, sometimes with human features and characteristics. For others it’s smells. Others experience feelings that pervade the body before moving into the mind.

For me, it’s sounds. One sound in particular.

On normal days, the sound is the sound we perhaps all hear if we listen closely enough. That ‘white noise,’ that buzzing you can hear in your inner ear that’s barely audible. The stereo sound dial pointing barely to 1. (For Gen Z’s who don’t know what a stereo is, WhatsApp a parent. They’d love to hear from you…)

I know it’s coming down the track when that dial has shifted to maybe a 3 or a 4. That normal white noise/buzz strays from the periphery of the unconscious to perhaps a person on a train who’s speaking loudly into his or her’s phone and no matter how much you try you cannot help but listen. It’s irritating, I know it’s there but if I concentrate hard enough, I can move my mind on.

By the next morning that dial is at Spinal Tap 11. I wake up and can barely notice, understand or comprehend anything else. The sound is so loud it’s changed from white noise/buzz to hundreds/thousands of tiny voices all screaming in my ear at once. Yesterday’s feelings, thoughts, ideas, all collect their bags and head for the sliding doors to the quiet carriage.

It could last a day, two maybe even three or four. In extreme cases, I’ve known it hang around for well over a week.

To begin with, the voices morph into just one ear-splitting continuous, monotonous scream. From first light to last thing. Then, after a while/hours/days, depending on circumstance, how well I’ve slept (which is normally poor to say the least during these episodes), eaten (ditto), etc. I start to pick out the odd word, phrase, sentence, inference, insult. The voices start to get personal.

These sounds were an early childhood memory. I’ve learned to live with them. I function with them – both at home and at work. But there are subtle changes to the way I talk (my speech is faster: barely noticeable to others, but noticeable to me). The way I walk (I feel slightly unsteady: again unnoticeable to others). My environment is different. The light is sharper. I can see lines in things. The air different: cleaner, fresher. I’m more emotional, vulnerable. Gestures, body language in others, subtle inferences in other people’s language are razor sharp. Like an old TV from the eighties suddenly switched for a 52-inch 4K resolution.

These episodes are fairly rare. The last one was this time last year. Recently, I’ve made a few lifestyle changes which have helped me manage these better. Help keep them at bay. Keep that stereo needle hovering at 1.

I’ve listed three simple takeaways below that have helped me over the past 12 months which I wanted to share – regardless of where your mental (and physical) health is at. Below is just fuel for human function. Nowt more.

Find something that’s yours and that you do without judgement. Learn a craft, bake, journal, become a flautist, create songs, draw, paint, spot trains, anything. The important bit is do it without judgement. I write lines of poetry. They won’t see the light of day (and I suspect Auden and his crew aren’t going to have to shuffle up one to squeeze me into Poets’ Corner any time soon). But that’s the point. Without judgement. I write with the freedom that it’s just for me. I don’t even read them back. I sit in the kitchen with a cup of coffee each weekday morning 7am sharp and just write. Find your jam. Poetry is mine.

Physical exercise is well known. It’s the Man City of prevention. Top of the league table for a reason. Get walking. The end.

Linked to physical exercise: use tech to your advantage. How many virtual meetings have you been to where everyone on the call is sat at their desks. Why? Grab that dog lead, log on to Teams on your phone and listen and actively participate on the move. We think better when we’re moving. Even better when there’s trees and nature and stuff around us. Challenge old convention. Need to make notes? No problem. Voice note. Worried about camera wobble while you’re talking? Switch to camera off for a few mins. The practical, physical and emotional benefits of being on the move far outweigh the naysayer brigade. Own it. And as a popular sports apparel company says, just do it.

If you’re having a crappy day (as we all do from time to time), there’ll be others in your team and wider influence that are too. Don’t be scared nor ashamed of showing it – and sharing it. Showing others you’re human and being susceptible to vulnerabilities makes us, well, human. Invest in the time to make connections with people on a human level. Create those safe spaces within your team to enable you and others to say “I’m having a crappy day. No big deal, just am. Just letting you know…” The more people talk about their mental health (not everyone suffers from bad mental health, not everyone who has depression is “sad”) the stigma is removed, and acceptance is talking about mental health without it being a ‘thing.’

Well, if you’ve read this far down, well done. Only a few more sentences to go… (you’re doing great, by the way).

If you want to hear about some more prevention tips and other practical material around resilience and mental health for you and your teams, myself and fellow Prestonian, past Future Leader alumni and all-round trailblazer Suzie (Good) Evans are in the process of planning a series of LGComms events in the next month or so. So keep a beady out, ok?

Catch you later.

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