Monday musings

Angela Porter 28 August 2018

It’s been a little while since I’ve done an illustrated quote. Today, I was drawn to one by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and even though it was written over 200 years ago, it still has relevance in our time.

I printed the words out and then used Ohto Graphic Liner pens to draw the illustration around it. After scanning the image in, I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to alter the colour and add my watermark.

A nice way to spend a damp, sometimes drizzly Monday morning here in the UK. The schools return, the teachers at least for their day of training/preparation for the return of their students in the coming day(s), the interminable meetings where so much information is passed on it’s hard to retain it, let along digest it!

I do not miss this one bit. I loved teaching – the actual teaching, helping pupils to grow and develop, not only as little scientists but also as human beings and in confidence and self-belief.

I do not miss the huge number of meetings, the constant change, the challenges of behaviour/attitudes that changes in society have wreaked, the homogenization of teaching strategies…and so much more.

I’m feeling grateful this day that I get to do what I love, to make a new career from it, to continue to help people through my colouring books, and in other ways too.

I was once ignorant of the fact that I could do something else with my life, I thought I’d be a teacher until I reached retirement age, and that I would struggle more and more with my mental health and emotional health over time. I was also ignorant of the fact I had depression, anxiety and more – willfully ignoring the signs, denying that it was a problem, that I was just tired, or it was the result of a verbal attack or poor behaviour or even a physical threat at the end of my time teaching.

I was ignorant as I chose to ignore the facts of what was happening to my mind and emotions.

It must have been a terrible thing for those who truly knew me (not many, one maybe, thanks to the carefully crafted mask of happiness and jollity that I wore all my life when with people, very different behind closed doors with no one around to observe) to see how I was plummeting downward, to have me dismiss their observations with the excuse ‘I’m just tired’ or ‘I’ve had a tough day’ or ‘So and so did such and such yet again today and it got to me. I’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep’.

Eventually I had no choice but to get help, to have months and months away from teaching so that I could recover just enough to return and last another eight months.

I know now my ignorance of my own well being wasn’t out of innocence about mental health issues; instead it was borne out of the messages I had as I grew up from the mother, from society, that to have depression, to be anxious, was a shameful, weak thing and there was something wrong with you if this was you.

I stigmatized myself, and prevented myself from getting the help I needed for a long time.

I was ignorant as I willfully ignored the facts, the evidence that was right in front of me, staring back at me whenever I looked in the mirror. It wasn’t innocence. I knew about mental illness, mental ill-health, depression, anxiety, but I refused to consider that was what was wrong with me.

Ignorance, ignoring the facts, the knowledge or applying it as it didn’t suit what I wanted to believe.

To give myself a bit of a softer time, I’d never known anything but depression and anxiety, ever that I can recall. So, to me, the worsening state of my mental/emotional health was just me being worn out by the day, the week, the term (semester) or academic year.

It took a very skillful and understanding GP to help me see that I needed help, and I took it, and still am with my weekly therapy sessions.

That’s a personal example of why I don’t see innocence and ignorance as the same thing with reference to the quote.

mhaw2018

Angela Porter mhaw18 16 May 2018Today sees me do my third anti-stigma talk for Time to Change Wales as part of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2018.

I am tired this morning.  Each talk I do is emotionally draining. It also takes a lot of energy for me to keep up a happy, smiley and laughing mask when in public and not to get overwhelmed by my story and allowing aspects of it to re-traumatise me.

I put myself through this for some good reasons, and one of them is NOT attention seeking (which is what my narcissistic mother would say).

I really do believe it’s time for the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness comes to an end.  I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but little by little.  I tell my story to give people an insight into what it’s like to experience depression, anxiety, hyperperfectionism, hypervigilance, emotional flashbacks, being overwhelmed by choices in a supermarket, not being able to get out of my car when I go to somewhere I want to visit, being in fear of going to do a job I used to love when I was a teacher, and more, CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) is so complex.

I also want people to know that little changes in the work place can help people remain in work.

I want people to know that the social stereotypes of depression, anxiety and so many other mental illnesses are incorrect and that they lead to be people being stigmatised/prejudged and treated differently/discriminated against as a result of the urban myths that exist.

The more we can have conversations, the more people open up about what it’s like to experience mental illness, the more people will, hopefully, have a better understanding and the urban myths will lose their power.

Not only that, the self-stigmatisation that results in people not seeking help, acknowledging they are not thinking well of themselves, will result in people seeking that help and advice they need earlier.

On a more personal level, telling my story is helping me ‘own’ it, and though I still minimise the traumas I’ve experienced from a very young age, it’s helping me understand that they are not small little things that everyone goes through, as well as me understanding that it’s profound effect they’ve had on me that is the important thing as well as having counselling/therapy to help me heal from my past and have a healthier way of thinking about myself and living my life without avoiding all kinds of things for fear the same things will happen again and again.

I come home from a talk emotionally drained and tired; I either want to nap or just draw, or both, but not at the same time!

When I draw I like to just draw intuitively, drawing on my visual vocabulary of favourite shapes and patterns, and just let them flow onto the page. I can lose myself in that flow, I’m able to enjoy drawing familiar motifs and patterns and the intricacy of my work. Just letting things flow, drawing for the pleasure and contentment it brings me, the calmness that results, lets me put to oneside the anxiety I can feel when I’m creating for a particular contract, to put aside my hyperperfectionism and just go with the flow in a way that can be difficult when I’m drawing for a publisher and can add anxiety and frustration when I need to draw for peace and calm.

And that’s what this drawing helped me to do. Today, I hope I’ll be able to draw again, however after the talk today I’m taking a friend out for ice-cream and I think I have something occurring this evening too.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Angela Porter mhaw18 14 May 2018

This year, in my role as a champion for Time to Change Wales, I’m giving (at the moment!) four anti-stigma talks to various organisations this week.

The aim of the Time to Change Wales campaign is to help to bring about an end to the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health.  In my anti-stigma talk, I talk about the campaign and tell my own story of my mental health issues.

It’s not a secret, I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cptsd) that has resulted from constant trauma from emotional neglect, emotional and mental abuse from a very young age and that persisted throughout my life until the past two or three years.

EMDR therapy with a fabulous therapist is really helping me and my mental health is so much better than it used to be.

If I help just one person through my talks, then it’s a worthwhile exercise.

For myself, it’s helping me to ‘own’ my own story and to not minimise the effect the traumas of my life have had on me, on the way I think about myself, about how I behave to avoid triggers or more trauma, and to begin to live a healthier more rewarding life.

Art is not only how I make a living now, but it is also my therapy, my way of helping myself when I’m anxious or depressed or stressed. It helps me to find my balance again, even if temporarily.