Blog 43 – A conversation in a cafe

Last week I wrote about the event I was planning in support of Time to Talk, the national campaign on 1st Feb by Time to Change, to encourage conversation on mental health. This is how it went.

Part one – beforehand.

I am writing this Thursday morning, ahead of the evening event. I am actually buzzing like a child on Christmas Eve. I did my preparation earlier in the week, went through the materials that Time to Change & Derbyshire Mind provided me with to hand out. All I have done then is to re-read some facts and figures, plus noting down a few points.

When I was working I often talked and presented, sometimes actually hiding how I was feeling and most of the time I avoided making copious notes or slides. I preferred to just talk, with a few key words written down as reminders. That felt natural to me. So it’s the approach I am taking tonight. I don’t know how many people will come along, what they may hope to get from it. I just have a few bullet points to refer to and will take it from there.

And not planning it too much is liberating. It will allow me to settle in the evening and actually experience it, not just to look back in rememberance. The one difference will be that I will not hide how I am feeling. If I should get upset while talking about certain points…well that is the reality.

I was also reminded recently that this was an open invitation, so people attending will be there with interest in listening. Steve also reminded me to make sure I had finished my cake before starting to speak. Wise words.

There are some points that I do want to get across, so will state it here too. I only talk about depression, that’s my experience. These are the heartbreaking facts on depression:

  • 300 million people have depression right now around the world (approximately 4% of the worlds population)
  • approximately 800 thousand people die from suicide linked to depression each year
  • every day 12 men in the UK die from suicide. Just think about that…12 men who could still be alive today if they had support and early intervention.

And I mention men specifically there as we really are rubbish at talking. We don’t like to show weakness, we cover it with banter and mickey taking. Yet suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 45. We need to show that talking, to be vulnerable is actually a lot harder, braver and beneficial than avoiding it. To be compassionate sounds a bit, well weak. It’s not. It accepting the pain and distress, learning to work with it rather than hiding it. If Jonny Wilkinson, who happens to be my rugby hero too, can talk about depression then what is stopping us? The more we talk the more we reduce stigma. The more we reduce stigma the more we can tackle discrimination.

Part two – afterwards.

So just back. Was buzzing like highly caffeinated Ewok on the way there. The cafe is in a quirky, independent bookshop in a lovely Derbyshire village. It’s full of tiny rooms, jam packed floor to ceiling with books, across three levels. The cafe is very homely, with a range oven, bookshelves and a brilliant range of home made cakes. The chocolate cake is a delicious self-care moment. Alongside posters, pictures,adverts from across the years that hang on the walls, there are also the original, historical stocks used to apply justice locally. Overall it oozes charm.

It’s a warm, cosy setting to chat about mental health.

A small group of people came along, most I actually knew, but not all knew my story. So it really was a conversation in a cafe, about what stigma is, why that can make it hard for people to talk.

And I told my story of depression. From hiding it, a breakdown, how I have come to terms with it and some of the things I feel passionately about. On awareness, education, being open and treating yourself with compassion. We stayed longer than planned. (By the way, I still have loads of Time to Talk teabags if anyone wants a year’s supply.)

As I talked I tried to listen to my body, how I was responding. And it was fine, I was relaxed and it felt natural. I understand why. It’s because this is important to me, so while it includes painful things, talking aligns with those values of doing my bit to raise awareness and to offer whatever help my story may give.

Recently I saw (thank you Emma) a quote tweeted, which said “Great things never came from comfort zones. “. I responded with this thought , which I hope sums up living guided by your values:

Sometimes we need to stay in our comfort zones, to look after ourselves. At other times we can be guided by our values & take a courageous step, with self-compassion, towards what has meaning for us. And maybe this will happen.

A last thought, which may provide hope to others. When I started therapy in Feb 2017 I struggled to say depression. A year on I write, campaign on social media and have now spoken in public about it. Depression is still with me, the rat is there in the corner. Some days it has a run around, some days it just snores. However long it takes you, through whatever things you find help you, you can learn to manage it. And that doesn’t mean you have to write or talk about it. It means that you can be you, not defined by depression.

As I write the buzz is fading and I know I will be tired on Friday. That’s okay, have planned a quiet day, to recharge. A big thank you to Scarthin bookshop for staying open late to support it, all the messages of support and a massive thank you to those who came along. It would have just been me, hundreds of tea bags and the chocolate cake otherwise.

Chris

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