Dave's Progress. Chapter 62: Telling Our Stories - Public vs. Private

Last Friday I went to an event organised by "Open Up", part of the "Time to Change" campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental ill health. It was called "yourSTORY" and was billed as a "creative autobiography event". The "purpose" of this event was to "create a safe, fun, and encouraging space where people can create a personal story from their experiences and experience creative fun and play". So, this was an event designed not only to battle stigma, it was also going to be "fun".
Indeed, telling your story of mental ill health seems to be almost universally regarded as a good thing. Coming out publicly and offering your own telling of events is thought, even according to anti-stigma guru Professor Graham Thornicroft, a liberating experience which combats stigma and social isolation. At the Media Action Group for Mental Health also, in the days of the "Talkbank" project, volunteers were invited to share their stories, sometimes even in the local press, in an attempt to portray positive and realistic depictions of mental ill health, counteracting, perhaps, the wealth of misinformation and stereotypes usually perpetuated by the media.
Going to this "event", then, seemed like a good idea, and I took along with me two postings from this blog which I felt told my story and some of the stigma and unfairness I had faced on my road to recovery. Indeed, the organisers of the event had suggested that if you did not know how to begin to tell your story, perhaps you could bring along three objects which reminded you of times when you had been treated unfairly. And it is here that my one criticism of the event becomes apparent.
By focusing on the "bad times", as it were, the times when we had been "treated unfairly", perhaps the event became just a little bit emotionally reckless. Indeed, some of those who attended became, almost immediately, quite upset at the memory of past events which had been clearly distressing. What, really, was the point of this? Some, already, had voiced their concerns on the "Open Up" web site, where they seemed to suggest that this was a somewhat unhealthy exercise in "car crash" voyeurism. Indeed, as far as I know, modern therapy techniques often concentrate on the here and now, rather than bad events of the past, as ruminating over previous traumas is seen as counterproductive to the recovery process. If one constantly thinks about negative events, one will, it seems, think negatively.
Personally, I would not go as far as those on the "Open Up" web site, but as one who has experienced mental ill health and wants to do something about the stigma surrounding it, it does raise the question of how much of our experience should become public and how much should remain private. I have already, in this blog, discussed the vexed issue of disclosing one's mental ill health. To whom and how much does one explain, when the stigma surrounding mental illness seems to be all too prevalent? It would appear that, in the final analysis, this is a purely personal matter, and for those who have the stomach for it, sharing stories about stigma in a "safe" environment may be an empowering experience, promoting bonds with others and alleviating the feelings induced by stigma. And, to be fair to the organisers of this event, we were all told at the beginning that it was up to us how much or how little we revealed. It was, perhaps, just unfortunate that some were still extremely sensitive to the unfair or traumatising events they had experienced in the past and "fun", perhaps, was not the right word to describe such an event.
I would say, then, that despite the overall success of the event ( I had my own story read out, which although a little nerve wracking, brought me many compliments and boosted my own belief in the unfairness of stigma) it is important to concentrate on stories of recovery, optimism and success in the face of unfairness, rather than perhaps wallow in negative events. There would seem to be no future in that at all. One has, eventually, to move on, no matter how distressing the past may have been.
So, if you're up for it, make it public. Telling our stories would seem to be one way of combating stigma and showing more realistic and positive images of mental ill health. If, on the other hand, you are bothered by such openness, it surely remains your right to have your story kept private.
That's all for now from your normal, average paranoid and delusional man.


吃太飽 said…
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klahanie said…
Dear David,
As you are aware, I was debating my own personal concerns about attending such an event.
Yes, I can see the positive side to such an event as 'Open Up'. We do need to address the 'unfair' treatment that has been imposed on those with mental health concerns. Focusing on the 'bad times', rather than perhaps moving on from unfortunate situations, is detrimental in one's ongoing recovery. If it was a 'cleansing' experience' that allowed folks to move on; then that would have been a benefit.
Personally, I have seen a decided shift in the attitude of people who may have stigmatised those of us with mental health concerns. I celebrate that shift and stay focused on the good news angle that has become a more dominant feature in my life.
I guess I did not want to dredge up the past. I've mostly moved through my pain. I congratulate you for being there and making such a noteworthy contribution to the proceedings.
With very kind wishes and respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for sharing your own thoughts on the "Open Up" event. You seem to more or less agree with me, which is obviously only right and correct!
For me, such things are a personal matter, and how much you reveal can largely depend on how far you are on in your recovery. For some, it was obviously a little too much too soon, while others did seem to find some comfort and camaraderie in telling their stories of discrimination.
Thanks once again,
From your friend,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
Thank you for sharing this. I have nothing to add, but much to ponder.

In health and peace,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Glad to help you "ponder" anytime!
Wishing you All The Vey Best,

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