This week I saw lots of great posts for World Mental Health day. Every day we should do our bit to help remove stigma, simply by being as honest as we can be and holding the space for others to do the same. I have been researching all things mental health and wellness for almost a decade. I have watched loved ones really struggle. I have met so many people who have shared their stories. Then BOOM, after a clean bill of health up until I was 37, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital. So it seems my mind can break too. It’s been brutal but it has sure given me insight because you can never really understand something until you have been in it and through it. For me things manifested with anxiety and dark, scary thoughts which moved to insomnia and then I had some of the most surreal and intense spiritual experiences of my life. I then came out of my mind. Part of my mind stopped working, it broke. At the time of course, if someone challenged me about this I would be raging. I couldn’t see it. I remember a mental health worker telling me that she felt I was too in the spirit world and not grounded enough in the human world. I see that now. But back then, I just thought it was her that lacked the insight. Why the hell would I want to come back down? My vibes were so high. I was fine and my mind was totally fine. Ah good old insight. It’s so hard when it comes back. Forget coming back to earth with a bang, it’s coming back to earth with a massive punch in the face followed by a car crashing into you at 100 miles an hour.
You see, I will always be a super spiritual person and I will always be a dreamer. I love having my head in the clouds. But this was too much. Do I dare to type these words? I am gonna, as much as it pains my soul.
My head was too in the clouds. It went way too far.
They say intense emotions don’t come up to harm us, they come up to set us free. But I guess I feel pretty damn hard so forget clouds, let’s take the rocket and head for space. It’s okay to go to space, perhaps with someone who matches your energy. But you need to come back down.
I could talk for hours about mental and spiritual wellness. I have always loved all things self development and have taken it to pretty extreme levels. There has been a marathon, lots of half marathons, ice cold therapy, gazing into strangers eyes and breathing deeply, feeling energy, working with crystals, hugging trees, laughter yoga, intense breathwork, meditation retreats to name a few. Some of these pushed my comfort zone, especially the intense eye contact. There were moments of trying to hold it together, followed by fits of laughter.
Talking about mental illness is different. It’s so complex and very hard to not take it personally. It can get messy. There are more than 200 forms of mental illness. With many of these, they think a part of your brain switches off and stops working. The part that cares about what others think (ouch). The part that has boundaries (absolute and utter cringe). The part that can be fully present. The part that has empathy.
When I was 35, I wrote a letter in my first book called Please stay and hold my hand. It was a letter to anyone missing a loved one due to a mental illness taking them away for some time. Basically anything that stops the mind working as it normally would. It was also a letter that I would want my kids to read if it ever happened to me. That has always been my biggest fear, that I am not well enough to be the best Mum I want to be. I want to be present. My kids are everything to me and being their Mum is the best job I have and will ever have. They are the sweetest, nicest little humans and I adore them. I want to be around as long as possible, healthy and happy and enjoying watching them grow up. I think when we have a scare with out health it makes us appreciate the simple things more.
My challenge and determination is to keep my insight which for me means knowing my triggers. It is also being compassionate because insight is the hardest part for anyone who is lucky enough to get their mind healthy again. The flashbacks, the constant cringing, the questioning – where did that come from? Did I actually say that or write that?! Why on earth did I think that was a good idea? Who should I apologise to? When are words simply not enough? Am I brave enough to live with myself? What the hell can I do to ensure this never happens again? No more therapy ever may be a good start!! Then more cringing. So much cringing. But you have to remind yourself constantly that your mind was broken. You must take a deep breath and remember who you freaking well are. When I am really self critical, I try to remember all the compliments people give me. People actually think I am a really nice, warm, caring and loving person. I also think about the many people I have met who have come out of their minds. I have met some incredible, inspiring, funny, loving, amazing souls. People who really give a sh*t. Proper angels. Trapped between the two worlds. I then question how us spiritual people can find the balance of staying connected to it but keeping a healthy mind.
From experience, people react differently to mental illness.
Some are amazing. They get it. They don’t take it personally. They stick around and keep the real you close as much as possible. Even if they despise the ill version. Perhaps the ill version can be nice/lovely/funny/sweet some days so that is confusing.
Some find it too hard to hang around and have to cut ties for their own mental health. I get that. Because it can be hard. It can get toxic. Believe me, as a people pleaser, thinking of myself as toxic makes me feel awful. That is the last thing I would ever want to be. But mental illness can get toxic.
Some are champagne Charlie’s and are only around for the good times or when you have been there for them. That hurts but you just have to accept it.
Some really thrive off vulnerable people and enjoy it (thankfully I have only come across a couple of people in this camp). The best way is to see these people for what they are – nasty and weak.
Having a mental break from ‘reality’ will never be without stigma because it is so hard to talk about. It comes with so much shame and guilt because those who experience it may act totally out of character at times. It really can feel like an unstoppable force in your body, taking full control and ruling the show. If you have been impacted by a mental illness then I would say to focus on the helpers. Focus on the small and simple joys every day. Laugh when you can. Look for the lessons. Do things you enjoy, even the most simple things like a hot bath, lighting some scented candles, going for a nice walk, watching a good movie. Take things a day at a time. Know your triggers, remember that you are so stronger than you think. And to borrow the theme of world mental health day 2023 – Mental Health is a Universal Human Right. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be healthy. Sometimes it just takes a bit of perseverance.. You got this. We got this.
All my love,
Jojo Fraser is an award-winning mental health researcher, author, podcaster and speaker, dubbed as ‘the Queen of positivity and a kindness advocate. She is a Tedx speaker and a regular contributor on BBC radio. Jojo is known for normalising discussions around our mental, emotional and spiritual health, making it accessible and relatable to all. She has quickly grown a reputation for having a huge impact even on the most sceptical of people.
Connect with her across social @jojofrasermojo
Listen to her Tedx talk about the power of removing our masks.
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