As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are asking creatives and residents in Armley and the wider West Leeds area to share their experiences and journeys with mental health difficulties.
Maddie Fleming is an multifaceted creative, a keen artist and graduate in English and Drama, who has very generously agreed to open up and share their personal experiences of anxiety and depression.
Have you ever experienced isolation, or felt alone in your mental health journey, and how did this affect you?
I feel truly fortunate to always have been surrounded by an unconditionally supportive family unit. Poor mental health is as hereditary in our family as hazel eyes, so the understanding and advice I have received has always been readily available and of top quality. That is not to say though, that it has been a comfortable journey. I have always been a ‘Worrier’. An intense worrier. I would worry obsessively about almost anything from an early age. Getting answers wrong in school, saying the wrong thing to a friend, getting into trouble, a member of my family feeling upset; you name it, I worried about it. Being a ‘Worrier’ may have been cute when I was five- not so cute at seventeen. The first time I remember feeling truly isolated on my mental health journey was when I decided that enough was enough and I needed to seek medical advice. The GP I saw was completely unhelpful- even a bit scornful- an eye-roll response to an overdramatic teenager. “It’s just hormones, you’ll grow out of it.” Ouch. I left the surgery with a library book recommendation and a burning sense of shame and embarrassment. I felt abandoned by a system that was supposed to provide help and vowed to keep my mouth shut about the worrying from then on.
What support do you rely on the most in your mental health journey?
I completed my A-Levels, went to university, entered the world of work and lived in Vietnam for two years, all whilst battling my anxiety problem unaided. Though I am partially proud of myself for this, it makes me sad to think that my quality of life and the enjoyment of these achievements could have been so much better if I had received the correct medical support.
At the start of 2020 I visited a new GP, determined to fight my corner and have my concerns taken seriously. This GP was wonderful- calm, understanding and interested in what I had to say. It was incredible feeling, to hear my problems being validated and getting confirmation that there should have been medical intervention years ago. I was formally diagnosed with anxiety and depression and started taking antidepressants. Now, I can’t remember how I functioned without them!
Taking correct medication has made me feel so much more me again. I feel alive, energetic and passionate about my goals and hobbies. I am a huge advocate for breaking the stigma associated with mental health medication. The brain is as much an organ as the heart, lungs or liver. Why is it deemed so embarrassing to take tablets to regulate the brain’s function? As well as my wonderful family, I now have a fiancé who offers whatever support I need. Whether that be tissues and a soothing chat on meltdown days, or a firm push in the right direction on days when I need to be present and on top form. My meds and the people who love me are the support I need most on my mental health journey.
Why do you think it is important to talking about our mental health?
There is a bizarre and archaic idea that talking about our mental health somehow makes us weak or complaintive. I think that this is exactly why it’s so important to talk about it. I feel the more normalised that conversations about mental health become, the closer society will move towards discarding the stigma. You don’t get a medal for suffering in silence, and it truly doesn’t make you less of a person for needing mental health support.
What barriers prevent us from talking about our mental health?
I think I accidentally answered this in the last question! There is an element of shame that comes with talking about mental health, far more so than when talking about physical health. It is the ridiculous idea that by admitting you have poor mental health, you are a weak person. I actually believe it to be quite the opposite. If you can make it through every day, battling your mental health issues, I think you are exceptionally strong.
How does mental health affect us as a community and is there anything that we can do to help those with difficulties feel included?
I think most people would be surprised to find out how many individuals in their social circle struggle with some form of poor mental health. Once I had disclosed to friends that I was taking antidepressants, so many of them revealed that they had their own stories to share. I think it would be great if as a community, we could feel more open about sharing our mental health journeys. I believe that this would lead to healthier and happier communities, with more open channels of communication and expression.
With regard to helping those with difficulties to feel more included, I think the paramount thing to do is to be considerate. You can’t always see poor mental health. Be kind always and consider that perhaps you don’t know what is going on beneath someone else’s surface.
If you have any advice for anyone currently in crisis, what would it be?
I’m not a medical professional, so I don’t feel that I can fully provide helpful advice. I would however encourage people struggling with mental health issues to see their GPs. Doctor’s clinics are still up and running despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Please don’t be afraid to fight for yourself and make your voice heard! Your happiness is important, no matter what your mental illness tells you. In cases of extreme crisis, if you feel you are a danger to yourself, call 999 for immediate help.
Thank you Maddie! We are extremely grateful for your openness and honesty, which we hope will give others the courage and support they need to speak out. We wish you the best of luck in your journey and hope the future ahead of you is bright, safe and creative! Keep grafting!
If you would like to share your experiences and take part in our interviews please get in touch with us! You can drop us a message on our social media channels or email us: email@example.com