Monday, 12 August 2013

Footnote on my weekend blog post on mental health

On Saturday I pressed the "send" button on my blog post in which I wrote about my own battles with anxiety, and waited for the reaction.

I was in little doubt that my friends and colleagues would rally to my side, and I am grateful to each of them for doing so. What I didn't expect was to have the story re-tweeted 100 times to over half a million people, and for almost 3,000 of them to visit my blog. Nor did I anticipate almost 200 messages of support, encouragement and thanks. The comments came in via direct messages on Twitter and Facebook, emails sent via my blog and even from a few people who had traced my local Conservative Association's email address and contacted me there. 

The messages fell into four categories:

1. Support from friends and colleagues. The kindness shown was truly moving. Friends emailed to praise my "courage" and to reassure me of their love and support. Some of the messages were very emotional; such as the friend who wrote to say my words had moved her to tears as she realised that even after ten years she felt she didn't really know me, and apologising for not realising my 'problems' before - as if anyone could be blamed for my own secrecy.

2. Thanks and encouragement from strangers. This is the group which caught me by surprise, over 100 people who I had never met got in touch to thank me. Many spoke of how telling my story would help someone they knew. I suspect that for many, the person they 'knew' was the one looking back at them in the mirror. I shall never know for sure, nor does it matter. 

3. Friends and strangers sharing their own stories.  A surprising number of people I knew told me that they too had been through what I had dealt with, and quite a few were still coming to terms with it. Some of these didn't surprise me as I had spotted the signs or we had talked previously, but the most moving story was someone I know well, who wrote to say, "I hope you now understand why so often I don't come out canvassing when you ask. I don't want to let you down, but there are times when I simply cannot face strangers."   I should have realised.

4.  Those for whom reading my story may made a real difference. I don't make this claim lightly, but there were a few emails which made the anguish of baring my sole worthwhile. 

The 25 yo political activist from the north of England who emailed to say he had been living with similar symptoms as I had described for two years, but was afraid to seek help as he wanted a career in politics and he thought admitting to his depression might damage his chances of selection. He told me that he was going to see his GP this week as my post gave him the confidence to do so.

The chap who has been on tranquillizers for 8 months and hadn't told his wife or children as he thought they would think less of him if they knew. He was going to use my blog as a gateway.

And Mary Harris, the long serving and highly respected journalist from Tunbridge Wells (named with her permission) who messaged to say that she had been looking for an opportunity to get her story out on Twitter, and thanking me for the opportunity to do so.

It has been an emotionally trying yet satisfying weekend. I have been moved by the kindness of strangers and humbled that so many people have shared their own story.  I would like to thank everyone who re-tweeted my post and enabled me to tell my story to a much larger audience than would have otherwise been the case. In particular I would like to thank Steve for his love and kindness, and also Greg Clark MP and Tracey Crouch MP for their support and encouragement. Thanks even to the person who Tweeted a link to my blog with "Tory agent tells how he recovered from mental breakdown". Not quite what I wanted to read over my Sunday cornflakes, but I managed to see the funny side!  

This will be my last post on this issue. I told my story because it needed to be told, and I hoped it would help others.  It is part of my life, but not what defines me. I am pleased I did what I did, but now it's back to business. 

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