On Monday, I was at the PRCA census launch, and the figures speak for themselves. A third of our industry has suffered or been diagnosed with mental ill health. Last month's CIPR State of the Profession sung from the same hymn sheet.
Every so often I need a good cry. So I will watch the US drama, This is Us or Grey's Anatomy. I will listen to a particular speech that cuts my emotional insides. I once cried on the tube reading a book and another time listening to a podcast. As a fully formed human being with a body, soul and mind. Each part of me needs to be taken care of, nourished, strengthened and healed when the defence walls have been penetrated by sickness. This is something that I have had to learn the hard way. When the darkness comes in like the dead night, and the cavalry is not marching on the horizon coming in to save you. So, you get up and decide to be your own hero. As someone who has done media relations for almost 5 years, I concluded last year that it is a young 'person's game as Russell Grossman often says it needs a certain kind of energy and as my sanity started to mean more. I made a choice to put myself under a new pressure. I danced it out, stood in the sun listening to Thank You, Next and bowed out.
I had to do it for myself. Nobody was ever going drag me out of the situation. Certainly not the ex-boyfriend who once said to me that people like 'us' 'don't go for counselling. The concept of talking to a stranger to become better seemed so foreign to him that he would rather I suffer in silence. Years of cultural norms that brush mental health under the carpet. Because you see in my mother tongue the word, depression and anxiety 'don't exist. I can be sad or scared. Those are all perfectly normal or and accepted, but mental illness is the taboo we speak about in hush tones or associate it to witchcraft.
Because how can our wonderful, educated daughter of the soil who is working in this incredible job for this fantastic organisation, that we 'don't understand have something wrong with her mind. So, you smile and get on with being everyone's swan. Gliding through life, work and this big world with grace, until one day. Yes, the day of reckoning. It has come more than once, and I know when 'it's rearing its ugly head. I see glimpses of it. The isolation, lack of sleep, silencing of my voice, worrying and retreating to my shell. That warm lonely dark shell where it's been easy to hide is probably the most dangerous for me.
But in 2018 there was a saving grace when I needed it. It was a community rather than a person with a halo. A learning experience as opposed to a training session with a deck. It is hardly a secret at this point how I feel about Comms Unplugged. I love the outdoors, and fresh air and one of my previous occupations was a farmer. So, I'm in my element, Hunter wellies and all. But as I have said in the past, it is more than an event. 'It's a safe space to work through the highs and lows that come with working in this profession. Doing it with kin and knowing that they too have jumped the hurdles, maybe they are going through it as I write this on a train going to be reunited with some of them. See that's the thing, they catch me when I fall, and they understand. They are a text away. When I am away from our closed group, they come looking for me in the virtual world, and they are honest. The latter is the purest gift. "It will all be fine. We got you." And they had me through each and every moment. This goes for my entire comms community. They come through in a way I can only repay by being a good citizen and maybe one day coming through for someone else.
I've found ways of dealing with my mental health and identifying when things are getting to a fever pitch. Even though my tears are far away, they are there. The complexities of my anxieties are a cocktail of factors which have a splash of imposter syndrome, fear, and a hint of race sprinkled on top. Working twice as hard and navigating spaces painted with prejudices, I am powerless to control start to take their toll. So sometimes I put the baton down and rest. When I am on leave, I do what makes me happy. I keep myself in safe and drama free spaces on and offline because I just ain't that woke to be the one who changes the world with a Twitter clapback. Journaling and exercise are now part of regular rituals. I volunteer and am slowly smashing that shell to let light in. And remember the community, well they are my Calvary now, charging in like the Knights of the Vale at the Battle of the Bastards.
Join CommsUnplugged 8-9pm on Tuesday, May 14, for a Twitter chat #MHinComms with Leanne Ehren. She is a communications and engagement specialist, and you'll find her on Twitter at @leanneehren.