Cartoon credit: Jonathan Pugh
By Rachel Kelly
After a long battle with depression, I now feel calm and well. It feels as if I have my Black Dog on a tight leash thanks to many different strategies: I think of it as having a toolkit, which I dip into according to what I may need.
One key tool, and a great antidote to my anxious, striving nature and perfectionism, has been my ‘sixty per cent’ rule. If a friendship or work project is 60 per cent right then I’m doing well – though this doesn’t always apply to those in some professions such as pilots or surgeons! It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It can just be ‘good enough’.
As well as this, I’ve learnt to follow a healthy diet, embraced physical fitness, breathing and relaxation – in short, I acknowledged the intimate connection that exists between body and mind. A healthy body helps cultivate a healthy mind and vice versa. Often the best way to fix the mess in my head has been to attend to my body instead.
But probably the best strategy of all has been to think of stumbling blocks as stepping stones. For a long time I was ashamed of having been mentally unwell. Initially I told very few. Ours is not a culture that encourages us to be open about perceived failures. We are embarrassed if we get things wrong. We worry we will be judged, and mocked. Many public figures, be they politicians, sportsmen, doctors or actors don’t want to be seen as vulnerable or human – and they especially don’t want to be seen as ‘crazy’.
However, if we are to truly beat the stigma that surrounds mental illness, we need to deconstruct the idea that you are only a success if you live a ‘perfect’ life free of challenges, pain or setbacks.
We need to adopt something of the positive attitude towards getting knocked down that is more commonplace in America than in my native Europe, a land where they hold workshops, seminars and conferences celebrating the art of making mistakes. Where they write books entitled Why Success Always Starts with Failure and have even coined the term ‘failing up’.
Supposed failure, mistakes and even suffering, however undesirable, make us who we are. I don’t regret having had depression, even though it was a bitter and cruel experience. But ultimately it has shaped my life in a new and positive way.
I have published a memoir about my experience Black Rainbow, taken on roles as an Ambassador for SANE and Vice President of United Response, and now run workshops for mental health charities and in prisons and campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
While I would wish depression on no one, the fact remains that the illness has been the catalyst to change. It was the signal I needed to realise that something was wrong, and that my life needed re-evaluating. Stumbling blocks have indeed become stepping stones.
Rachel Kelly’s latest book is Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness published by Short Books is available on Amazon. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit www.rachel-kelly.net.