Last week I had been spending time with family down in Cardiff and enjoying the National Eisteddfod. It used to be a family tradition when we were kids, to spend the whole week soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing new things every year. My grandmother and mother both members of the Gorsedd of the Bards, would look forward to the Eisteddfod every year, and my siblings and I would always enjoy exploring, learning and taking parts in various activities throughout the week. 10 years ago I brought my daughter who was only 4 weeks old to her first Eisteddfod in Cardiff, and I thought what better than to bring her back ten years later to see what had changed. You see the Eisteddfod is in my blood, both my grandmother and my mother are members of the Gorsedd of the Bards, my nain won the crown in 1952 and my mother won the prose medal in 1985. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Eisteddfod it is Wales' largest festival, celebrating music, literature, poetry and so much more. The Eisteddfod is in my blood, it's a part of me so nothing hurt me more than being unable to attend because of my illness. Suffering with severe anxiety meant that I could hardly leave the house, let alone walk amongst thousands of people in an unfamiliar place. Some days I'd get so anxious i would have to have all the doors of the house locked even though everyone was inside because I was terrified of the outside world. My husband would often have to reassure me that I was safe, I would close myself away from the world. I didn't want anyone to see me this way. Thanks to the dedication of my husband, help from my GP and a lot of therapy I am now getting better at handling my anxiety.
With my daughter by my side I enjoyed the twenty minute walk to the Eisteddfod on a gorgeous sunny day. I felt happy that she wasn't missing out on such opportunities because of my illness, which had been the case so many times in the past. I felt slightly anxious but I had it under control, and was determined to enjoy my day. We strolled along, browsing various stalls along the way, when I was drawn to a stall displaying freebies, my husband had asked me to bring back as many free pens as I could carry (one of the many benefits of the Eisteddfod) I pulled my daughter away from the gaze of a food stall with a chocolate fountain and headed over to the stall. We were greeted by two lovely ladies who were happy to talk to us. As it turned out, the stall was that of Hafal, an organisation that works with people recovering from serious mental illness. Normally I would have smiled politely, listened to what they had to say and walked away, I was drawn to what these women had to say. Normally I would never publicly admit that I suffered with any mental illness, but these ladies were kind and understanding, and were raising awareness. We chatted for a few minutes, and it was a delight to see what amazing work this organisation does. They explained their current campaign #deedsnotwords outlining the changes that need to be made rather than just discussed for women and young girls who suffer with mental health. It was so encouraging to see that more is being done to break the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and that more help is being arranged for youngsters, something which was seriously lacking when I was a teen, and when I needed it the most. I thanked the ladies for talking to me and educating me further on the work that they do and left feeling happy. As a child enjoying the Eisteddfod I would never have taken any notice to such a stall only for the free pens, but it was so nice to see that there were more and more charities and organisations dedicated to mental health present during the week. As m daughter and I walked home with more bags than we could carry, armed to the teeth with lots of wonderful free gifts i couldn't stop thinking about mental health organisations such as Hafal. There are so many people all around us who suffer in silence, who still feel that they have to hide away from the world because of their illnesses, and more needs to be done to encourage those who struggle to talk, and to let them know that's their ill not weak. Having a mental illness can change your life, but it is you who ultimately has the say on where you want your life to go. There may be obstacles along the way, but with the correct help and support you can make it.
As we made our way back home I noticed some swans in the water and pointed them out to my daughter, and what she said to me in reply has stayed in my thoughts for the last couple of days. "it's funny how elegant a swan looks when you see it on the water, but underneath the surface their flapping like mad." This is of course true about the swan, but it's got me thinking about people. We may appear to be confident and strong on the surface, but underneath there could be all sorts of things flapping around. It could be a mental illness, grief, despair. It could be any of those things, the important thing to remember is that it's okay to show or tell someone what's going on beneath the surface. I see myself to be very similar to the swan (although not as beautiful), I seem calm and composed on the surface to everyone who looks at me, it's underneath the surface that the battle goes on. And it is a battle that I struggle with daily. Some days I feel like I can take on the world, the next day, I feel that the whole world is against me. I don't know if I will ever reach a point in my life where my illness no longer affects my day-to-day routine, but now I know that it's a journey I won't have to make alone. There are so many organisations out there that can help us. And countless people around the world are working hard every day to raise awareness and educate others about mental illnesses and what can be done to help sufferers and their families. 10 years ago when I took my daughter to her first Eisteddfod there weren't half as many organisations or charities there promoting mental health awareness and support, and now they could be seen all over the place, with so many volunteers on hand to talk to anyone. Seeing them all out there for the world to see, raising awareness, helping people, guiding individuals towards the right place to seek help and support made me feel proud. Although the battle to break the stigma is nowhere near being over, it's a liberating feeling knowing that I no longer need to suffer in silence, I no longer need to bury my emotions beneath the surface. I am a human being, and although I have mental health issues it doesn't mean that I need to hide myself away from the world, I should be proud that I have made it this far, that I continue to fight my demons, that I'm getting help from professionals, that one day I will look back and be able to see how much I have achieved.
To anyone who feels that they have to hide their feelings and struggles away from the rest of the world I have a message for you. You are brave and strong, you are like a beautiful swan on a lake. You may be struggling beneath the surface but that's okay, there are people around who can help you. Talking about it is the best thing you can do, hiding it away from everyone is not the solution. If you feel that you are all alone in the world, I can assure you that on the other end of the phone is a sympathetic ear for you to discuss your worries without fear of judgement, if you live in Wales, Hafal have a fantastic service online, where you can anonymously talk about mental health issues with others who have or still are going through the same experience themselves. My point is that there is always someone who is willing to listen to what you have to say. You don't need to feel embarrassed or ashamed, you are strong and brave in taking that first step to get the help you need.
Thank you for reading my blog, I'm always here if anyone would like to talk about mental health, domestic violence, or if you just want someone to listen to you. It's how we can all help each other, to face this together.
Take care xxxxx