Politics and mental health

For all the work that’s gone into reducing stigma about mental health recently, this still feels like a hard thing to write.

I’ve not been well recently.

This isn’t a new thing; I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression periodically since being a teenager. There have been episodes over the years where things have been particularly bad; and then at other times, I’ve had it under control for stretches long enough to almost make me think it’s not coming back. Until it gets walloped with the next thing.

Politics is not, in general, a forgiving environment for people who are prone to mental health issues. There’s a huge amount of interpersonal conflict that comes with the territory. People are actually out to get you, and to humiliate and discredit you personally, in a very public way. Add to that the difficulties caused by the pandemic, and then the issues that led to me leaving the Green Party which tipped things over the edge (I’m not going to dig over all that again here).

Sometimes the difficult thing with mental health is recognising and admitting once it crosses the line from feeling rubbish to actually being unwell. It doesn’t happen all at once; and there’s no physical test you can take which will tell you. It’s easy to beat yourself up by thinking that you should pull yourself together and try harder. Maybe you’re just imagining it, being lazy, making excuses, being overdramatic. And if you do tell people you’re unwell, will they think less of you? Less competent, less reliable, less “mentally tough”? No doubt some will. Sometimes it’s hard to trust your ability to make good decisions. I’ve learned to recognise when the depression is starting to skew my perceptions, but even when you know your perspective is wonky it’s a hard thing to correct for. I’ve likened it before to trying to play Japanese Binocular Football (if you’ve not watched this, then you definitely should).

Anyhow, this latest episode has definitely crossed that line — probably a while ago — and it’s time to acknowledge that. Without going into detail, let’s just say that it got really quite bad. So I had a long talk with my doctor last week, and we’ve got a plan. We’ve decided (amongst other things) to try a new medication. That means things are probably going to be a bit difficult for a few weeks as I come off the old medication and start the new one, and I’m planning to be largely off social media in the meantime. I’ve also been thinking about how to change what I’m doing. It can be a difficult balance knowing when to cut myself some slack and take a bit of time off, and when biting the bullet and tackling the difficult thing will work better. Talking this through with a couple of friends over the last few days has been really helpful.

When I was first approached about standing as a local councillor, the thing that almost put me off the idea was knocking doors to speak to residents. I have a particularly hard time with social anxiety and I find social situations, especially meeting new people, really difficult. I’ve done some reasonably scary things in my life, but knocking on doors to speak to strangers about local politics is right up there. Although I got better at knocking doors with practice, it never really got any less stressful.

I was still pretty new to being a councillor when COVID came along. For much of the next year, we were prevented from visiting people and sometimes even delivering leaflets to them. Not seeing people face to face during that period knocked my confidence and exacerbated my anxiety.

That, coupled with the other issues I’ve been dealing with, means I haven’t really got back out there properly yet. I’m aware that a few people have been quite critical that I’ve not been very visible in my ward recently. Although I’ve still been working hard behind the scenes, it is fair to say I’ve been keeping a lower profile recently. That’s something I want to change, so I’ve been thinking about how to do that.

I’m planning to be in Two Mugs Cafe on Haslucks Green Road most Mondays from 12–2pm, if any resident in the ward wants to come and talk to me about any local issues or to ask for help with a problem. I’ll post a list of future dates soon, but I’ll be starting tomorrow. It’s short notice, so I’m not necessarily expecting anyone to join me, but if you’re around feel free to pop in and say hello.

As always, Shirley West residents can also contact me at rosemary.sexton@solihull.gov.uk or by leaving a message at 0121 3853883.

One thought on “Politics and mental health

  1. Thank you for sharing your mental health story. It makes such a difference to know others have been there. Whilst positive moves have been made in educating people, there is still a way to go.
    Sending love and hope of recovery.

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