“By strange coincidence the biggest mental health crisis I’ve faced fell during Mental Health Awareness Week…it’s become a peculiar calendar marker”

“By strange coincidence the biggest mental health crisis I’ve faced fell during Mental Health Awareness Week…it’s become a peculiar calendar marker”
19/05/2023 Becky Evans

In this blog Listen Up! Project Officer Tess writes about the personal significance of Mental Health Awareness Week, survival and joy

Content warning: this article contains references to suicide and self-harm 

By strange coincidence the biggest mental health crisis I’ve faced fell during Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s become a peculiar calendar marker since going into this job where one of my focusses is storytelling and using lived experience to generate change.

In the year or two following that mental health crisis I reframed the anniversary as my “survivaversary” – the day I survived two suicide attempts, not the day I ‘failed’ twice. It makes it a day of celebration where I’m able to reflect on all the reasons I’m glad I survived and friends will celebrate with me. I find it an easy way to frame conversations around suicide attempts with people who, perhaps, find it a topic they shy away from. Regardless of the theme I use Mental Health Awareness Week as my opportunity to use my experiences to draw awareness to what surviving means and the legacy it can have.

This is my reflection on this – my tenth – year of having survived. 

It’s been ten years since I last tried to end my life. Each year the anniversary of that day, my survivaversary creeps up and reminds me of what happened that day. I’ve written about it at length trying to make sense of it all and trying to contextualise it, and it was working. This year was different.  

Ten years seems both momentous and foreboding. I was worried that I’d somehow sabotage it for myself. I didn’t think I would try to end my life but there was something in me that was scared that something would happen. I found myself thinking about it more and more, the urge to self-harm to make the thoughts stop became suffocating, nightmares increased in intensity… I felt a pressure but couldn’t work out where it was from or what it meant.  

Should I have some sort of wisdom now I’ve gone a decade without actively trying to die? Should these ten years mean my mental health trials should also be behind me? 

Having thought and thought and thought some more about it I’ve concluded that my brain is a d*ck. Ten years is only significant because part of me has decided it should be. The pressure and anxiety are being generated by me, as part of me is always looking for an opportunity to destroy anything good that happens to me. Part of me doesn’t think I deserve good things. Part of me thinks I don’t deserve happiness. Part of me always belittles and minimises whatever I do. 

What that part of me can’t take away from me is the moments of joy that have occurred in the past ten years. It can try to make out that it was stupid to find joy in whatever it was but the truth – the evidence – is that some things have made me truly joyful. Here are some of them: 

  1. The first time I managed to read a book after that day. The book was The Missing by Jane Casey. I was sat in the bit of park between Bethesda Chapel and The Sentinel in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. It was quite late, I was reading by streetlight and there were rats scuttling around, the book wasn’t very good, but I managed to finish it. And that alone made me happy and began to bring me back to myself. 

2. I successfully made a cheesecake. I’ve since made several but nothing will beat the sense of joy and achievement I felt when I first released the spring-form tin and it stood proud. I may have done a little dance. 

3. The first time I saw a real hedgehog at an event held by the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. There was a hedgehog rescue group and they had real hedgehogs. It reeked in that tent but I’d never seen one before.

4. The first time I saw a hedgehog in the wild. It was massive. It let me walk right up to it. I had a little cry. 

5. Each time I finish a Lego model.  

6. I drew this [pictured to the right].

7. I saw a sloth do a poo (no photo unfortunately). 

8. I met some raccoons [pictured to the left]

9. This teapot

10. Her.

Maybe the wisdom I’ve gained from the last ten years is that my brain is faulty and can’t be trusted. It wants me to believe there is no good in my life but evidently there is. I could do lists of “serious” joys including the people, the CV worthy achievements, the proper person milestones but these are the ones that really show that my head doesn’t know what it’s talking about. These types of joy are the ones where I am myself and I’m able to let down my guard and feel what it is to want to live.  

My brain won’t always disfunction but there will always be moments where I can embrace being happy and someday, I know the happy moments won’t be worthy of note because they will outnumber the rubbish ones. This is what I’ve survived for and will continue to survive for – those unexpected occasions where I can grin and know that life truly is worth living. 

Resources and further reading for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek (and the rest of the year too)