Ruby Wax, humour & being mentally ill.

Having a good old laugh and discussing mental illness are two things that don’t really sound as if they fit together well. Kind if like chives and tea. Naturally, mental illness is a serious topic, as the repercussions and impact that it has on millions of lives are immense. Part of the discussion, and the work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, involves these illnesses being taken seriously, as they are often dismissed as being “all in your head.”

Yes.

Mental illnesses are located in the brain.

Correct.

The symptoms of many mental illnesses can affect different parts of the body too, but the brain is the central hub, sending all the signals flying.

Now why does that mean they aren’t seen as real, progressive, or harmful, as an illness with it’s spindly roots growing in an arm? Or maybe in an ear? Or perhaps a throat?

This all reminds me of the wise words from the wonderful Albus Dumbledore –

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

(J.K. Rowling).

Day 1 – Watch a TED talk and be inspired.

Today, I watched the TED talk What’s so funny about mental illness? by Ruby Wax. I picked this one from browsing through the mental health section on the TED website, which I definitely recommend having a flick through! It looks like there are heaps of pretty good ones there. I picked it because it was categorised as both humorous and courageous, and what a beautiful combination that sounded like!

bloom, blossom, botanical

And, wow. You know how sometimes it’s like the universe knows what to put in your way, for you to stumble gracefully (or sometimes trip, falling flat on your face), upon?

This banana peel was Ruby Wax’s TED talk.

One of the key messages I took away from it (and there were lots!), was that there are different ways to discuss mental illnesses, and to work to reduce the stigma around it.

As mentioned at the start, often discussions surrounding mental illness as serious, precise and humorless. And rightfully so, in many spheres. There is still ample work to be done to get people to listen that no, it’s not “just a bad day”, and no, being told to simply “just smile”, probably won’t solve it all.

However, Ruby Wax talked about mental illness in a way that was engaging, energetic, vibrant, and overall, was just plain funny. It was also informative, lighthearted and relatable. The fact that she used humor to portray her message meant that it seemed a bit less scary, and a bit more open for input, shared experience, and insight.

Lately, I’ve been trying to expand the tone I use to write about mental health with, however, it has been hard. Usually I write with a serious tone, as I would always be afraid that writing about it all in any other way, would somehow come across as being disrespectful or wrong. However, I am coming to realise (with the help of the lovely Ruby Wax now too), that it is okay to discuss mental health in different ways.

Using humor can make talking about mental health less daunting, and potentially more approachable. Something I’m trying to work on, is using humor (or trying to) more in my own writing, about my own experience with mental illness. However, it is also important to note that the humor needs to be used in a way that will help propel forward the discussion surrounding mental illness, rather than contributing to the stigma of it. This is why I am so hesitant and afraid to be venturing into putting “funny” and “mental illness” in the same sentence.

Overall, the TED talk by Ruby Wax has inspired me. She is both pretty rad and pretty brave, to be sharing her message with the world so openly and with such great vulnerability.  It has inspired me to keep talking, to keep doing, to keep bashing down the stigma with one long, pointy stick at a time. The stick can be traditional, serious and straightforward, or it can be a little curvy stick, with flaking bark and maybe a caterpillar or two. Both sticks are good, for destroying stigma is a darn good thing.

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