Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

I have to admit that I often struggle with Mental Health Awareness Week, particularly the flooding of social media with “it’s okay not to be okay” and “reach out to someone if you need help”; it makes me want to scream in frustration because we are so far past that. If we’re going to create better support for mental health, we need more than that. This year, the theme is loneliness, which is an apt one, two years and change into this pandemic. I’m certainly seeing a lot of loneliness around at the moment: those with mental health issues, disabled individuals, people who are still shielding and feeling abandoned by society because of the dropped mandates… I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in or from Ukraine right now…

All of these situations need to be talked about and since the Mental Health Foundation is encouraging everyone to share their experiences with loneliness for Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d write about my experience, as a disabled person with mental health issues.

This is something I find kind of hard to talk about. I guess talking about it – and writing about it – makes me feel a little guilty because I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone. I have a great family and some really wonderful friends who have been there for me through some really tough stuff. They try so hard to make sure that I don’t feel alone. Fortunately, we – as people – don’t need to understand each other’s experiences point for point to find friendship and create those important, supportive bonds: I have a friend who has experienced very different trauma to me but there have been a lot of similarities throughout both of our journeys that have made it possible for us to relate to each other. I’m grateful for that, more than I can say.

But it’s also true that I do, often and increasingly, feel alone, feel lonely. And I think that that’s because no one – no one I’ve found at least – really understands what it’s like to be in my head, in my body, in my life, dealing with the problems that I have and the ripple effect that they can create. I’ve had multiple doctors and medical services simply stop helping me (or refuse to help me at all) because my case is “too complicated.” These are the professionals – the people who are supposed to really know and understand this stuff – and even they don’t know what to do with me (and those abandonments, plus other abandonments in my life, have left me with a lot of issues and fears that I have to work on every day). I think the issue is compounded by the fact that I have multiple diagnoses so, even though I may fit into the autistic community, I still don’t feel like I fit in because I also have OCD and BPD and so on; I can’t imagine there are many people who fit into the same community as me when the criteria is so narrow. I’m also not entirely convinced by the idea of community based on diagnosis either, to be honest, especially when the diagnosis covers such a range of symptoms, behaviours, and experiences, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel like I fit in, even with the people that, on paper, I would likely get along with.

As I said, I’m not alone. Even though I’ve never felt like I quite fitted in, I have some great friends and friends from all areas of my life: school, sixth form, uni, Masters, as well as stuff outside education… But I can’t always keep up with my friends, with my peers, and I can’t always do the things I wish I could and I find that so hard. I always end up feeling like there’s a gap between me and everyone else and it’s lonely. Not being able to physically keep up with those around me means that I often feel left out – even if that’s nobody’s intention. And there’s a level of embarrassment and shame about being the one who can never keep up, the one who is always asking people to wait, always having to double check or change or cancel plans. I don’t know where that comes from – I know my friends would never want me to feel like that. But still, it’s there. It widens the gap and it makes that loneliness worse.

The older I get, the more I notice it – the gap. While I spend my time trying different medications, going to appointments for my physical and mental health, and resting after doing what I can manage to do, a lot of my friends are pursuing PhDs, establishing careers, living independently, and building lasting relationships. Our life experiences are just so different. And the longer it goes on, the bigger the disconnect feels. It just feels like the future is full of loneliness and I don’t know what to do with that.

I know this is kind of a depressing post. It’s a depressing truth, although it might have come out differently if I weren’t coming off my antidepressants; if I were in a better place mentally, I might have a more hopeful outlook. I don’t know.

I don’t think it’s a bad theme – loneliness can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health – but the Mental Health Foundation’s website says that they want to “shatter the stigma around loneliness” and while I can’t say that there’s no stigma associated with loneliness, I can think of so many things that might have more impact as a theme, might make more of a difference, like access to mental health support or the impact of social media or… I don’t know, something more specific than loneliness or nature (last year’s theme). (I talked about this more in my Mass Observation Day post.) As I said at the beginning of this post, I find Mental Health Awareness Week difficult because I so often feel like the information being circulated is somewhat obvious, that we could – and should – be going deeper. I guess it all just feels a bit surface level but I don’t know how that changes, if anyone else even feels this way. It just doesn’t feel like enough. It’s one week a year and it doesn’t feel like enough.

An Unexpected Trigger

NOTE: Spoilers for Unforgotten Series 4.

Back in March, I watched the final episode of Unforgotten Series 4 and if you haven’t seen it – spoiler alert – Cassie, the main character (played by Nicola Walker), dies from injuries sustained in a car accident. It was incredibly shocking and upsetting. It’s something that’s been in my head on and off all year and I would really like to leave it in this year. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it now.

Screenshot 2021-11-22 at 21.08.41


As I said, I was very upset when the series ended with Cassie’s death. That’s not exactly surprising since I do get very attached to my favourite characters. Upset isn’t really a big enough word: there was shock, distress, grief, anger… it was overwhelming. And in an attempt to process some of these emotions, I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete,’ a snippet of which I posted on Instagram…

And while that helped a bit (coincidentally, it’s the second TV show featuring Nicola Walker that I’ve written a song about), I could feel it all hanging over me. It felt so shocking and so brutal and I felt oddly fragile in the wake of it. It was later that I learned about ‘the alienation effect’ after a researching rabbit hole that ended in me reading about the film, Psycho (a film I’ve never seen by the way – I’m looking at you, ADHD). In his essay about Psycho, film theorist Robin Wood wrote: “[The murder of the main character, Marion] also constitutes an alienation effect so shattering that (at a first viewing of the film) we scarcely recover from it. Never – not even in Vertigo – has identification been broken off so brutally. At the time, so engrossed are we in Marion, so secure in her potential salvation, that we can scarcely believe it is happening; when it is over, and she is dead, we are left shocked, with nothing to cling to, the apparent center of the film entirely dissolved.” I could be wrong – I’m not a film expert by any measure – but I think that’s what’s happened here; this quote certainly describes how I felt about that final episode. Cassie was the focal character, the audience surrogate almost, and she was the glue that held together a show that regularly changes almost the entire cast (along with Sunny and the rest of the team, of course) and her death was incredibly shocking. I’ve always felt things deeply but I haven’t spoken to one person who wasn’t upset by it.

While there were, of course, other factors impacting on my mental health, it was the trigger of that particular period of depression. But months later, even after my depression lifted a bit, I still couldn’t shake it. I still found it very upsetting and I was still having nightmares involving car crashes; as deeply as I feel things, this seemed to be sitting differently. Eventually, it occurred to me that it was potentially more than straightforward upset over the loss of a favourite character and the loss of a favourite show (maybe – I’m still not sure how I feel) and that the storyline – a sudden, completely unexpected, shocking death – had triggered me as a result of the trauma around my Dad’s death, trauma that is still relatively undealt with. It completely blindsided me. I’m still relatively in the dark on my triggers in this area, given that my coping mechanism for most of the last thirteen years has been to, essentially, bury it: facing it just felt insurmountable. But now that I’m starting to unearth it again, it appears that that earth is packed with landmines. The metaphor wears thin, but hopefully you get my point.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this but putting my thoughts into words has helped. This year has been so busy and so emotionally chaotic that I feel like I haven’t had the time or brain space to even start processing it all. In regards to the show, I don’t know whether I’ll watch the next series. Right now just the thought of it is upsetting. Nicola Walker said in an interview that “Cassie’s death wasn’t for effect; [Chris Lang, writer of Unforgotten] is going somewhere with that conversation about grief,” and while I think these are important conversations to have, I’m not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth for a fictional one when I’m already trying to manage my own very real one. I don’t know. But I really don’t want to go through this again if I can avoid it.

“Cassie’s fate may have caught viewers by surprise, but it was something Walker had discussed with the show’s creator and writer, Chris Lang. ‘We were talking from the beginning, really, about what he was doing with this character and this story he wanted to tell,’ Walker told TV Insider. ‘Chris and I were always interested in looking at the cost of being involved with these sorts of cases that we all love watching on television. Cassie does not have superpowers. She’s an ordinary person who’s really good at her job, and it took her to the place of having an emotional breakdown… We talked a lot after Season 3 about where it was going to go, and it was a joint decision,’ she adds. ‘I think the clues were there in Season 3. The title of the show is Unforgotten and I think there’s a great deal of narrative beauty to this woman. She’s not going to be forgotten. I felt like she was quietly very unusual on television because she was a real person.'” (x)

I keep coming back to this quote. I agree with it, with what she says about Cassie, but I still don’t understand why Cassie had to die, why she had to die in a shocking, brutal way. Maybe I never will. Most of all, I’m sad. I’m sad that a show I loved will forever be entwined with distress and painful memories.