K was great yesterday. I arrived home and when she asked me how I was and what kind of day I had, I dissolved into tears. She hugged me as I sobbed and told her about L and how I felt just unable to go on. I hate being like this. K made me tea, she makes the best tea, as I have said before. She looked around and emptied the dishwasher. I could see the thought processes in her head – Mum is upset,how can I make things better? Tidy the kitchen, that always helps.
We ate our evening meal together, just the two of us as C was at a funeral and not yet back. We went to see L and the three of us knitted and watched Great British Bake Off on my iPad. When K and I got home, she hesitantly asked me if I thought she might have problems, like L and I have problems. At first I didn’t know what she meant and wondered if she was talking about eating disorders. K’s attitude to food is about as normal as I can imagine. But what she meant was mental health. Depression. I considered this and said, she might. Because the reality is, lots of people do. Often really brilliant people. JK Rowling. Stephen Fry. I offered the view that perhaps those who are able to analyse the complexity and depth of life are bound to suffer from depression.
But on World Mental Health Day I am giving K this response:
L and I are both clever and especially good at passing exams. We like cooking, L is especially good at baking and I excel at family or celebration meals. We love to make our environments more beautiful, to redesign rooms or even whole houses to make them more comfortable, but also welcoming and even stylish. L shares with me a love of clothes, although she tends more towards leggings and jeans where as I am powerless to resist good shoes or bags. I love learning languages, just like K does, and K and I are both in awe of L’s ability in Science. I am a “badass” (K and J’s word) in political argument, especially when dealing with the media and L has a persistence and determination to get her own way that can make most of us crumble. Both L and I are funny, L in a zany way, and I like outrageous humour, which makes K gasp in horror as well as laugh. L and I are really into knitting and delighted that K is joining us in this. I think K would agree that both l and I are problem solvers, who make things better for others, but can be hopeless at doing that for ourselves. In a family with an autistic son, almost certainly an autistic father, and K herself is, by her own admission, a “bit weird”, L and I have generally been seen as the normal ones, who help the others make sense of the world. We like reading, but if we don’t have a book to read, we don’t despair in the way that K does. L watches XFactor with me, but we also see the naffness of it and welaugh when K says she despairs for the future of humanity if she sees it. L has a weak chest, caused by bouts of pneumonia when she was little, whereas my tonsils tend to be susceptible to infection.
We also both have experienced mental health problems. More specifically depression and anorexia. This is possibly the least interesting thing about us, but can sometimes be all others see. We will get better, just like L recovered from pneumonia. But it might be a problem in the future too. K may experience similar health problems, but it won’t stop her being K. The health of our brains is no different from the health of other internal organs, except the fear of mental illness leads many to feel isolated and lonely or to cover up their ill-health so that in fact it becomes much worse. World Mental Health Day will help us highlight the problems sufferers experience, but show that often these problems are due to stigma and ignorance, not the health problem itself. None of us are illnesses, we are people who are ill but will almost certainly get better and those around us are central to helping us do that.