Hello, dear reader. How the devil have you been? Come in, come in, I’ll stick the kettle on.
As you can probably tell from the sporadic nature of my blog posts these days, I’m afraid I only tend to write posts when something properly bugs me. I’m sorry to say that today is no exception, BUT I hope that by being creative with my annoyance I can do something positive with it. And of course, it’s always nice to see you for a catch up. You’re looking very well, by the way.
Now, before we begin properly, I must warn you: I am going to talk about mansplaining. I’m also going to talk about bad attitudes toward mental health. If you’re thinking “oh God, are we STILL talking about these things?! Didn’t we fix them with a hashtag??” then please stop reading now. We are going to keep talking about them. We are going to keep talking about them until they become history and then we’ll STILL be talking about them because historians will exist and they will have glorious things to say on Dan Snow’s podcast. Still here? Good. Help yourself to a biscuit.
I recently had an encounter with someone who, heaven preserve us all, managed to combine a sexist attitude, terrible understanding of mental health AND basic bad manners in his conversation. The way that he spoke to me made me want to calmly but firmly smash his face into the table we were sitting at. (The fact that I didn’t is a testament to my mother’s child rearing abilities rather than my own self-control. My mum’s a thoroughly good egg and she taught us well.)
Before we go any further, let me be emphatically clear: I am not saying that all men are like this, or even a particular group of men: I am saying that this one individual man behaved this way and it made me angry. Also, this guy was not someone I was on a date with or anything like that. After this conversation he will barely be an acquaintance.
I won’t go into the gory details of the conversation, because it would be unnecessary and a bit vindictive, but here are the highlights:
- Using the phrase “I want to talk to you about” when what he meant was “I want to talk AT you about”.
- Asking me a question and then immediately looking annoyed when I gave an answer (and even, occasionally, an OPINION) rather than letting him carry on talking.
- Talking about theatre as though he were the intrepid pioneer who discovered it as a concept. (Tiny point to make here, real quick: theatre directing is literally my job. And not to be a twat about it, but I’ve won an award for doing it, so…in the most mature and polite possible way, I guess what I’m trying to say is OH, SOD OFF.)
Now, all of these things were patronising and annoying and obviously a bit of a bummer, but the one that really got me was when he started talking about mental health. Mental health is complicated, painful, comes in many forms, can often be invisible and affects millions of people in various ways. This chap claimed to know all of these things, and yet he spoke about mental health as though he were the sole survivor of a sanity shipwreck, which for many reasons I found offensive and hurtful.
It is stupid at best and evil at worst to launch into an ill-informed diatribe about mental health to someone you don’t know very well. How on earth do you know whether the other person is affected by mental health issues? Even if they’re not, they still have the right to be offended by the way you discuss them. Every single person you talk to all day long has had a completely unique experience of life, and assuming that you can hop up on a soapbox about mental health without considering their feelings or experiences is just a terrible way to behave. For all this guy knew I could be struggling to come to terms with my own diagnosis of mental illness, or trying to support a loved one with mental health issues, or even contemplating suicide. He had no way of knowing because he was not interested in my opinions about anything or who I was as a person. I was just an audience member.
If he’d bothered to ask, this guy would have found out that I have a lot of experience of mental health issues. He would have found out that I and several of my loved ones suffer with mental health problems; that my manic depression affects my friendships; that the subsequent behaviours of my mental illness have very recently scuppered a budding relationship; that one of my coping mechanisms is to refer to my negative thoughts as gremlins which run around inside my head and mess things up. We could have had an honest conversation with each other about how we feel and what we experience as people – not a man and a woman, or two theatrical types, but as people. I’m sure I would have found out some very important and honest information about him, too.
I am extremely fortunate to have so many friends and family members who are willing to discuss mental health in an open and honest way. It is a great source of pride to me that my favourite people want to understand mental illness, and that those of them who have their own crosses to bear in that department are very aware of the fact that no one has the monopoly on it. No one’s mental health struggle is more important than someone else’s because we are all unique people and our brains are all wired differently. It can be hard to ask questions about it, but if we truly want to love and understand people better then those questions will never be taken the wrong way because they come from a good place in us.
Thank you for letting me talk about all of that stuff. You’re a good friend and I appreciate it. Go and eat something very yummy for lunch.