Today it’s a fear and loathing in Edinburgh day - Alastair Stewart
Lately, my mental health has been twitching. And I loathe the term “mental health” as it conjures up horrid cliches. The language is awkward and irksome, and embarrassing. It's all the same to such an extent few can really communicate how they feel.
There should be a standard denominator scale of where we're all at rather than loaded phrases. It should be a social currency, totally understood as if you're discussing football or the weather.
“Guys, today I'm at a really tough four, I know this is weird for you as I seem like an eight, and I'm laughing and telling jokes, but really – this is a four day for me, and I feel like a dumpster fire.'
“No probs” – as casual a response as saying you had a headache or the flu.
The last year has not been a rolling series of unfortunate events. A better description would be a cumulative series of events. It takes its toll. Beginning a course of counselling has partly opened the door to appreciating that things tend to stockpile and, eventually, the room gets too full to sufficiently hold everything in there.
Psychotherapist Owen O'Kane dubbed the issues facing many at the moment as post-pandemic stress disorder (PPSD), the fear of returning to normality. You cannot decondition yourself at the whim of government policy after being told to stay inside and away from loved ones for a year.
Chatter about mental health is stale. It perpetuates the awkward stigma and harder to make the discussion socially translucent and acceptable. It has yet to devolve into such an unceremonious usage that it's no different to saying “I'll be honest, I've got an upset stomach” or “I have a seething pain behind the eyes, and need to lie down”.
Noam Chomsky said: "A language is not just words. It's a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is." The next step of the debate will be reaching out beyond the hyperbolic or understated, or insincere.
Personally, my anxiety is through the roof, coupled with a sincere and slightly debilitating sense of inadequacy. Nothing is ever quite good enough; assurances are always sought; nothing will last forever; the boat is sinking no matter how methodically you pail the water back overboard.
It's something of a long slog ahead. And it is harder to describe what is wrong when there's such a limited social vocabulary available to explain it. Clinical depression is a case in point. Does saying to a crowd I have “clinical depression”, over being “depressed”, give it a certificate of authority it would otherwise have lacked? Does it actually convey the inner workings?
I'm not “depressed”. My “mental health” is not suffering. Today, gentlemen, it's fear and loathing in Edinburgh day. I'm at a five. Surely that candour is a better effort to tap into the real vein and truth of what people feel inside?
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer. You can follow Alastair on Twitter @agjstewart and read more from him at: www.agjstewart.com