A quiet kind of progress.

Nearly two months after Flight 9525 crashed in the French Alps, the debate about whether certain professions should be screened for mental health issues rumbles on. It’s a pretty pointless exercise, primarily because you can’t detect the Witch of Misery in the same way you can with other harbingers of gloom – she’s a cunning little bitch, make no mistake. Even if we could, whatever tests were devised would simply result in the prejudiced meting out their particular brand of suffering with renewed vigour. Science and ethics – it’s nicer for everyone when they go hand in hand.

With no simple diagnostic test and no outward signs of suffering, mental health issues are the undertow of our society. If you get caught by their silent pull, scream and shout as much as your lungs will allow, because the buggers sunning themselves on the beach will happily turn the other way if you give them half a chance. The MH life guards are pretty overstretched these days too.

One of the many problems caused by her concealment is that you never can be sure that the Witch of Misery has left you for good. You don’t get a pair of sparkly shoes protruding from underneath a house as evidence, no celebratory song to sing – not even a tune to quietly hum. Each step away from her is so small that it’s imperceptible to most onlookers and passers-by. It takes an abundance of empathy to see these tiny victories; to recognise the courage it takes to go into a shop alone, to walk down a street, to sit in your local surgery and tell a doctor how you feel. Look – please, really look – the next time you see someone who appears abrupt or non-communicative. Try and find their hidden story. There are tales of courage and hope all around us. They’re reflected in the window of your local store, they mirror the cautious bend in a pavement before it merges with a busy street and quietly echo around otherwise empty waiting rooms.

At night, when I’m especially alone, the impact mental health issues have on me and on those that I love makes me want to howl at the moon. On good days I’m glad that my own experiences make me able to spot the daily triumphs of others, like a customer whom to others might appear aloof but becomes my hero for the day; the absence of eye contact, the slight tremor in their voice, a hurried walk to find a less crowded space. I do everything in my power to silently let them know that their efforts have been noticed and appreciated.

I can see and celebrate the victories of others, but the real bastard about mental health issues – mine, at least – is that they stop you from recognising your own wins. I could reel off a list of things that mean I’m doing OK but I can’t own it, it never feels like it belongs to me.  It’s only a matter of time before others realise that I’m not the person I’ve led them on to be.

But The Witch of Misery’s cruelest trick is that when I hear something positive about myself, it makes my super-sized bucket of self-loathing overflow. Kind words are simply evidence that I’m manipulating those who care for me the most into thinking that I’m something other than vile. The Witch tells me that I’m not worth anybody’s time or consideration and I’m definitely unworthy of their love. She makes it feel like the nicest thing I can do is to get out of their lives and leave them in peace. She stops me seeing any future at all – and makes this one thought more comforting than anything life has offered me before. I’m ashamed to say that it lulls me to sleep like nothing else.

I only called MH issues ‘The Witch of Misery’ for a laugh – it seemed to suit whatever sleep-deprived moment I wrote that particular blog in – but I think it might be quite useful. For what feels like ten lifetimes, I’ve seen things in terms of ‘Sensible CNS Blogger’ and ‘F@!?*Up CNS Blogger’ but that’s been really tricky, because I think I’m supposed to see F@!?*Up CNS Blogger as a frightened child that I need to care for more – or at all, if the truth be known. I’ll tell you about the year-long face/cheap shower gel fiasco another time, but safe to say that my very small niece has better self-care skills than her auntie. But a witch that’s out to get a frightened child – blonde hair, unbroken face and wearing a red cardigan her gran knitted – hits every aching, unfulfilled maternal instinct in me. I’m not having that, not on my watch.

I know it’s weird – if you’ve read my earlier blogs you’ll get that weird comes with the territory (remember that cactus-balloon picture?) – but separating myself from The Witch has helped me to see that I do not have to be my thoughts, that they might not be my own – not my real nature, but what nurture provided me with. There might just be another way. It’s fleeting – blink and you’ll miss it – but in those brief moments I dare to believe that I’ve won a very small victory.

Nelson had Trafalgar. Montgomery had El Alamein. CNS Blogger saw The Witch of Misery for who she really is. It might not seem much, but when you’re fighting a cunning little bitch you need to be as sly as she is. You can only sneak silent, imperceptible steps away from her – but progress is progress, however quietly it arrives.


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