Raising awareness any time of the year
I’ve been quite busy lately and when that happens, my writing tends to take a backseat. Couple that with a lack of inspiration about things I’d like to write about and the result is a blog that has been lying silent for longer than I’d like. But with mental health awareness week coming next week in the UK and mental health awareness month already in progress in the US, it feels remiss not to share what’s on my mind. And while words are not – nor have they been – flowing from my fingers of late, writing is on my mind.
I’m a pretty regular reader now of Writing Magazine, and in their May 2022 issue, they published an article of an interview with Julia Cameron. I read this with much interest, as her book, The Artist’s Way, was a game-changer for me in a lot of ways, but especially in the way I approach writing. But before I even got to this interview, I was struck by an article titled Dying Matters. In fact, it was this article that got me thinking about mental health awareness week. The phrase “Dying Matters Awareness Week is coming up in May…” shocked me. There’s a Dying Matters Awareness Week?! Why, indeed, there is and according to Google, Dying Matters Awareness week (#DMAW22) is from the 2nd to the 6th of May in the UK. There are events throughout the country (but, curiously, not in Scotland) and this event was created to help people talk about dying, as death is yet another taboo subject. This year’s focus is about being #InAGoodPlace when you die.
This brought to mind all the people I’ve worked with over the years who have come to me to talk about something they couldn't talk to anyone else about, things that they felt others just wouldn't understand or things of which they were ashamed. Experiencing grief or a loss, adjusting to new circumstances, planning for a future they never thought they'd have to plan for. It reminded me of all the times in supervision over the years that I’ve needed to be reminded that people come to helping professionals to talk about things that they wouldn’t normally talk about with others. Then I felt simultaneously extremely sad and extremely blessed that I have been able to allow people to talk about things that aren’t normally talked about.
So I started to get it – why we have all these awareness weeks. All these things matter – dying, mental health, stress and a wide variety of other things – and people need to be able to talk about these things. Dying Matters Awareness Week is book-ended between Stress Awareness Month (every April in the US and the UK) and Mental Health Awareness Week (the 9th to the 15th of May – UK) / Mental Health Awareness Month (May in the US) and now that makes complete sense. Stress awareness month was created to increase public awareness of why we’re stressed and what we can do about it. Mental health awareness week this year in the UK is focused on loneliness and the aim is to raise awareness of how loneliness impacts on mental health and well-being and what can be done about it. The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month in the US is Together for Mental Health (#Together4MH). It is so important for people to feel like they have someone to talk to, whether it’s about stress, dying, feeling lonely or just feeling. It strikes me that if we need all these reminders that it’s ok to talk about things, we must not be that great at listening to people who have these kinds of things on their mind. (By the way, no joke people, I have literally just got an e.mail telling me that this week is also Deaf Awareness Week in the UK!)
I do want to be aware of all of these things - and I also want to do my part to spread this awareness (hence the links for you). Aside from that, though, I’m not really sure how else I can contribute. I'll definitely continue the work I'm doing and I'll recommit to letting my friends talk about those things if they feel they need to. We all need to talk about things we’re struggling with from time-to-time, and I want to be that person who listens without having to fix. Challenging at times, but definitely possible. But is there anything else I can do?
Several pages after reading the creative writing prompts around dying matters, I read the interview with Julia Cameron. She spoke about using morning pages as a way to ‘talk’ in a safe space about whatever’s on our minds. The morning pages, she says, “are written through the heart and hand” and they bring clarity. Another way, then, of letting ourselves air what’s troubling us – and a way that also might bring a lesser risk of being judged. Yes, our inner critic can and does come out in morning pages, but this inner critic is more easily identifiable in writing and probably easier to combat in this format. So I’ll probably continue to recommend using morning pages for people who find writing useful, as a way of letting those things that are sitting on our heart come out through our hand. If we can’t find that trusted person who will let us share what we need to without trying to fix it, we can do it for ourselves. It’s better out than in, as they say, even if you’re ‘talking’ to yourself.
Let's not wait for It’s Time to Talk day (coming in February!). Let's not be constricted by awareness days, weeks or months. Let's talk with each other or using a pen and paper. You can share how you feel about your own death and dying. You can share any concerns or thoughts you have have about your mental health. You can even share any thoughts or concerns about your hearing if you need to. In one of my favourite songs, Peter Gabriel sings, ‘come talk to me.’ But if you don't want to do that, you may want to try writing it down for yourself.