I didn't think I'd ever be sat here writing something like this. A couple of months back
posted about organising a mental health bloggers meet. Immediately my heart jumped. I've dipped in and out of the blogosphere since I was at least fourteen. Throughout this time I've seen dozens of meet ups and bloggers-only events come and go, just wishing for the chance to join in. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. I'm yet to go into my experience with social anxiety but, much like being diagnosed with depression, I was now able to recognise certain behaviours as symptoms and get to work on getting better. Whilst receiving cognitive behavioural therapy, I saw Rachel's tweet and knew it must be a sign.
As much as it felt completely out of my comfort zone, I knew in my heart that I couldn't let an opportunity like this pass by. Not only was it a blogger meet up, but one where there would be guaranteed understanding of my outward quietness and inward busyness. I swallowed any worries and contacted Rachel as soon as possible. What initially felt like a day so far out into the distance I could barely see it, suddenly seemed to roll around out of nowhere, and now here I am writing about it retrospectively!
- Thank you Maddy!)
On the day before the meet up, I was filming a mental health conference in Birmingham for work. After a 4.45am start, a two hour car journey, putting in a 8am to 6pm shift, and then jumping on a train for another hour or so, I was feeling surprisingly awake and chipper; keeping my fingers crossed there would be a bath in my hotel room! As I sat on the train I began to ask myself how I felt about the upcoming meet. What really struck me was how I didn't feel anxious. I hadn't felt the usual overwhelming sense of dread that I just couldn't go. I was about to meet up with a
group of 10+ people
, that I had
never met in person before
I smiled to myself on the train. I would have never been able to do this last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that... But there I was. Sitting amongst the other passengers, all of them none the wiser that this small ginger nugget (who just sped ate a curry from Wasabi) was about to face one of her biggest fears and kick her anxiety where the sun don't shine.
This was it. The day had arrived. In the days before leaving for Manchester, I had scoped out a Starbucks nearby to the venue, as somewhere familiar to stop for breakfast; seeking out and printing maps so I didn't feel completely lost in an unfamiliar city. I posted in the chat group for if anyone else would be interested in coming along too - so this was where I first met
! After a big bear hug (of which Mike is king) we nattered on about all sorts. It was amazing to see someone I had spoken to via the #TalkMH chat in real life form -
not just a 2D image!
I was super grateful Mike came to meet me - he's so lovely and has the most infectious laugh. It also made the next part of the day so much easier. I didn't have to walk into the meet up first nor alone.
Before going into the meet up, familiar thoughts began to intermittently circle in my mind.
What if they think I'm rude? What if I don't talk enough? What if I say something wrong? What if? What if? What if?
I immediately thought back to my therapy sessions and about what my therapist had taught me. From separating the illness from myself and looking at the thoughts objectively, recognising them as anxious thoughts rather than genuine fears, I felt myself begin to calm.
I was in control
. These thoughts cropped up in the odd quiet moment, but I am so surprised at just how much I was able to get involved. I definitely spoke a lot more than I could have ever wished to. It was also nice to have pauses in the conversation, and be able to sit with the thoughts that told me I should be trying to fill them. I didn't have to. I could just enjoy the moment.
The wonderful people there undoubtedly made the whole experience a heck of a lot easier too. I got to meet and talk to
who is just as stunning and lovely in person!
- and her equally as sweet boyfriend
which was just fantastic. I talked to the lovely
for a little while, as well as some sweeties I had never spoken to before, including
- all of whom were tremendously friendly and made me feel right at home. I got to know
, who I got on with immediately and felt like I'd known for years, and
who really kindly walked me back to the train station afterwards - I've also seen she has an amazing travel blog that I can't wait to sit down and read thoroughly! I'm super glad there was lots of link swapping going on so I can keep in touch with them all. And last but by no means least, I got to meet Rachel and her friends too! I am so grateful to Rachel for organising #MHMeet. More than I could ever verbalise or write. I'm so proud of how far I've come this past year, considering where I started it and the tough things I've faced along the way. I will forever be grateful to her for what was an unforgettable and life changing experience for me. It has left me feeling stronger than ever.
I texted my Mum on the way home to let her know how it went and she replied to tell me how proud of me she was. When I returned home and got into bed, I was overcome with adrenaline. I couldn't stop thinking about just how great the day was. There was conversation about cats and dogs, where we gushed over instagrammed pictures of beloved pets, but also chats about our personal struggles with mental illness too. The reason I think the meet was such a huge success was because no one had to hold back. Before I started talking openly about suffering with various mental illnesses online, it had become my dirty secret. I was terrified of how people I knew would perceive me. Although it's getting easier to talk about IRL, it can still feel like a grand reveal when I open up to someone about it - particularly if it's someone I am close to. #MHMeet felt different. Here it felt more like
"Oh, you suffer with depression? Here's a picture of my cat!"
. It was how it should be. It was normal. A normal topic of conversation, where no one batters an eyelid or reserves judgement. The whole experience has given me so much more confidence in myself, both generally and in terms of talking about mental illness, as well as a drive to continue pushing on.