A few months ago, I recorded an episode of Greifcast with Cariad Llyod. Every week, Cariad interviews a different comedian, actor, musician or writer about their experiences of death and grief. It’s one of my favourite podcasts and I find listening to other people’s stories of loss comforting because it reminds me that I am not alone. When Cariad agreed to have me on the show I was delighted but on the morning of the interview, a bleak day in February, I was not in a good way. My mental health had been bad for a few months and couldn’t concentrate on anything, let alone talk at length about my dad. I was nervous on the journey to the studio but when I met Cariad, who is lovely, I calmed down a bit. When we started recording I became anxious again: my palms were sweaty and my heart was thumping angrily in my chest. I struggled to focus on what I was saying; I rambled and repeated myself. When it was over I told Cariad that I had been nervous and she assured me that no one would be able to tell. I didn’t believe her and came away convinced that the whole thing had been a disaster. I assumed that the interview would be unusable and she would be forced to can it.
Cut to last week and my mental health is improving every day and I am finally recovering from an episode of poor mental health that started last Autumn. Cariad emailed me a draft of the interview, asking if I was ok with the podcast going out a couple of days after the fifth anniversary of dad’s death. I said I didn’t mind and I would listen to it right away. I knew I’d be too nervous to listen on my own so I decided to wait until my husband came home, we sat down after dinner and I hit play. To my surprise, I sounded coherent and composed. I spoke about my relationship with my dad and his illness without falling apart, contrary to my memory of that day.
The whole experience was a lesson about self-perception. I realise that my mental illness will lie to me at any opportunity. It is a bully that tries to persuade me I’m better off staying in bed because I’m not capable of anything. I know this is false, even when I’m unwell. My bipolar doesn’t stop me from working, it just makes me assume that what I do is rubbish. If you’re living with a mental illness, or you’re just feeling depressed, remember that your brain will trick you into believing damaging thoughts that are just not true. Cognitive distortion will lead you down a path of self-loathing and inertia. It’s really hard to contradict those negative voices that insist that you are a worthless failure. But remember there is a liar in your head, trying to cheat you out of fulfilling your potential. You are capable of so much more than the destructive voices will have you believe.
I do a pretty good job of masking my insecurities, as the episode of Greifcast will attest. The way I dress and present myself contributes to this, I often choose bold colours and prints to cover up how I’m really feeling. The more shaky my confidence, the more I’ll try to camouflage. When these pictures were taken I was having a wobble, but I felt a little better for putting on some makeup and leaving the house. Attending to my appearance will at least get me out the door, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change how I feel.
If someone appears confident, don’t assume that they have their shit together and they aren’t wracked with self-doubt too. We’re all in this together and it’s ok to admit that you’re feeling vulnerable and insecure. Chances are, it’s not nearly as bad as you think.
My dress is from Primrose Park, my shoes are by Castañer and the jacket is old, from Oasis.