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Mental Illness is not a fashion trend

Mental Illness is not a fashion trend

To live with a mental illness can be a very lonely and isolating time in a person’s life, a fact I know very well still battling my way to recovery as I write this. We all know the statistics, in the U.K. 1 in 4 are suffering from a mental illness. Sadly, so many are suffering in silence and far too many are losing their lives to Mental Illnesses, one sad example this year was Claire Greaves who lost her battle with Anorexia.

When I began blogging about my physical disabilities, Mental Health and Autism through AMHA and the charity Fixers last year. I joined a growing online community that had been working hard to dismantle decades of stigma, misunderstandings, myths and negativity surrounding mental health through real stories about their own lives and experiences. As blogging is not my best skill struggling with dyslexia, being a more creative person, I decided to launch a new anti-stigma clothing and accessories brand called Whatlabel in spring 2018, hoping to compliment the work I do raising awareness around Autism, Mental Health and disabilities.

MENTAL ILLNESS. ITS NOT A FAD. ITS NOT A FASHION TREND. ITS NOT A HALLOWEEN THEME.

Why clothing though? When done right, clothing is a great way to promote awareness, after all clothes are used to express ourselves, they can act as a great canvas for artists and designers. Although I had a very clear picture about what i would design, I didn’t go in blind. I took some inspiration from some other mental health clothing companies like WearYourLabel, Fandabby and Schizophrenic.nyc who all have their own values, unique branding and designs based on their own experiences around mental illness. I also took note of independent sellers on platforms like Etsy, which is a great place to find some amazing handmade mental health themed accessories made by some very talented artists and designers.

Although I felt clothing would be a great way of taking what I was doing online into the real world, I was also extremely aware of  how mental illness has been abused through fashion and the media, and im not just talking about how Mental Illness has been used as a theme for Horror, or the ridiculous Halloween costumes that pop up every year, (just to name a few examples).

What I didn’t expect was to find dozens of startup businesses with their own websites, aswell as independent sellers using platforms like eBay, Amazon, or sites like Zazzle or Cafepress (which frequently appear in the mental health search results), where it is apparently deemed acceptable to sell cheap mental health themed wholesale clothing and accessories which can be found on marketplaces like AliExpress, as if it’s some kind of fashion trend to jump on. Most of the designs have been created with no thought, using tacky cliché stigmatising designs, printed on see-through cheap material. Many of the slogans are not only offensive, but distasteful and rude.

 

Would you wear a t-shirt with “Medicated for your protection” slapped across?

This made me stop and think about what I was creating. I knew it would be essential to ensure I made it clear from day one what WhatLabels missions and values would be. I wanted to make it clear WhatLabel has been created by someone who really does understand. I have only ever wanted to promote awareness, acceptance and share resources to helps those suffering.

Although some home truths will be popping up in my designs, plus my take will be different when designing for Autism and Disabilities. My focus will be on promoting wellness and encouraging messages, especially around recovery, and enduring those dark lonely days when all you can do is just sit and look as a TV screen. I want those struggling out in the real world when they see my designs to feel they are not alone.

To see my clothing, something I spent months designing now roaming around the Barbican Centre on the backs of people this summer was a very surreal moment for me. To have a big organisation wanting to wear my clothing and contribute to raising awareness gave me hope and the energy to keep doing my little bit to highlight the struggles of others.

If you would like to support Whatlabel, you can do so through donation or purchasing of any of our clothing, profit raised this year is being used to support Mental Health Charities like Clearly Speaking, a Special needs family centre in Buckingham who support thousands of families and young people every year who have mental illnesses, autism, various disabilities and special needs. Find out more

 

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Mental Health Awareness ‘Day’

Mental Health Awareness ‘Day’

The 10th of October was World Mental Health Day and I have a confession: I’m exhausted. Not just this day in particular, it’s been creeping up for a while. The difficulty sleeping, the irrational thoughts, the intense headaches. My head feels so heavy that my only response is to lie down, which subsequently results in me not wanting to get back up. My ability to get up in the morning has diminished, so my 7am start times seem impossible. Even when I manage to get to sleep my dreams are, for want of a better word, unnerving. They serve as a reminder that I still have obstacles to conquer. Heck, I couldn’t even time this post right I’m so all over the place.

I have many things on my to-do list. Paint the walls, defrost the freezer, deal with my Grandmother’s death, wash the dishes, put in my prescription, iron my clothes, battle my demons, paint some more and last but not least, pretend that it’s all okay. It’s not. But that’s okay.

One of my recurring dreams at the moment is that my Grandmother is alive. In most of them she has died and then comes back, sometimes when I wake up I think they’re real. But they’re not. I’ve discovered so far that my grief comes in waves, most days I genuinely feel like she’s going to come back (or that she’s still here). Other days, but rarely in comparison, I sit and think about our various exchanges and get upset knowing they’ll never happen again. I found myself on Google maps the other day looking at where she used to live, digitally walking down the roads I used to when I was little. Then she moved closer to us. Then she moved in with us. Then she lived in a hospital bed in our front room. Then she stopped living. A part of me did too.

It’s strange to have to accept the fact that you will never see someone again. All the questions you wish you’d asked will never be answered. It’s a weird numbing sensation, that can’t say I’ve never encountered before but the circumstances are different. I’ve come to realise that it’s undoubtedly my body’s survival mechanism, something it has become accustomed to over the past 2 years. A way to stop the floodgates from opening and subsequently submerging your mind. Why feel pain when you can feel nothing?

My Grandmother was always my favourite. Any excuse to sing her praises and I’d be off, telling as many anecdotes as I could until the recipient zoned out. She always had sweet stuff in her fridge and her encouragement for us to eat its contents was never ending. She had an infinite list of superstitions with a zest for life that was incomparable to anyone. And now she’s gone. I can’t even put into words how odd it is. It’s like it hasn’t registered that I’ll never hear her voice again or see her cheeky smile. I’m writing words but I don’t feel the emotion they depict. I’m in a familiar fog for an unfamiliar reason.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already in the fog. It seems easier for me to say that my current mental state is because of my Grandmother’s passing, even though it’s not. It’s just how my brain works. I feel less ashamed about it when I insinuate that there is a specific cause. But in all honesty there isn’t always a reason. Fleeting between a combination of different factors to absolutely no cause whatsoever. I’ve also found that some people just cannot fathom the idea that depression can pop up when it wants to – it’s more comfortable for them to pin point a root cause.

That’s another thing I’ve come across quite a few times. People may be suffering terribly and others may know about it. But nobody reaches out. Because they feel uncomfortable. The void that ensues just festers into bitterness and self hatred. The illness takes up the space where comfort from friends should have been. And before you know it you’re consumed. The well gets deeper and darker. You have no energy to even attempt to start climbing. There is no-one around to throw down a rope and help you. And you convince yourself that no-one is helping because no-one likes you and no-one cares. 

It’s all fine and well to promote mental health awareness. Whether that is on the dedicated day itself (the 10th of October) or the week (13th to the 19th of May 2019) or even every now and then. But I must stress that there is a difference between sharing a quote on Instagram and actually reaching out to someone in need. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s unlikely that someone suffering from a mental illness will reach out when it has already consumed them. I speak from experience but can appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone (and I applaud whoever has the strength and courage to do so!).

Random acts of kindness are greatly encouraged nowadays. I must admit that, in my opinion, there is nothing more selfless than overcoming ones own uncomfortableness in order to help another. That applies to all situations, not just mental health. It’s indescribably difficult to get yourself out of the depths of despair. Internally crying out for help but the words cannot leave your mouth. You don’t want to reach out for fear of being a burden. So you don’t. But some kind words from someone who cares can just maybe begin the steps to recovery. Sometimes it can be the difference between life and death.

Check out Louise Bowns blog on our partner site AMHA, a social share platform to give anyone with mental health and autism an equal voice, check it out!

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Labels are for jars. Not People.

Labels are for jars. Not People.

Well. If you would be telling me back 4 years ago while I was in the darkest time of my life and start of my recovery that I was going to be an award-winning mental health blogger. I probably wouldn’t believe you at all and would tell you to clear off in a polite manner.

I was fighting mental illness undiagnosed since I was 14. I got told I had suspected Social Phobia Disorder & Depression when I was 17 but I wasn’t allowed any medication as I was under 18 so they just made me go to camhs and I’m not being ungrateful at all but they just said it was a teenager phrase that I’d grow out off and didn’t offer me any support as it was just “hormones”  then I finally got diagnosed properly in 2017 at 20 years old.

About 7 years, thinking I was going crazy inside my brain and people just blamed it on my hormones as I was a teenager and said it was a phrase I needed to get out of. Which made me feel so more alone that I wasn’t being taken seriously as I was just a 14 year old and they just blamed it on the teenage years.

Labels are for Jars, Not People.

 

This isn’t a hateful rant to the NHS as they are doing an amazing job with low funding but I just wish I had some support when I kept going back with the same symptoms and maybe I would be better?

But who knows?

I was too scared to talk as I knew that it would be blamed on hormones as I was a teenage girl and of course periods.

I wish I kept going back and fighting for a second opinion but at that time I just didn’t have the energy or confidence to get my opinion across and shout that I needed help and support. I used to be so ashamed of being ill. I used to blame and punish myself for feeling low and crying till 2am on school nights as I didn’t want to go to school as I felt so low.

You wouldn’t have been stuck in a house for 365 days at seventeen years old just because of hormones, would you? I know I’m no doctor, but I knew something was wrong. Since finally being diagnosed with depression and social phobia disorder I feel like a rock has been lifted and that I’m finally being listened too and being taken seriously.

I used to be so quiet and shy as I knew I’d get a weird reaction if I told people I was battling depression and social phobia. But now, I’m like if you can’t take my bad days you don’t deserve my awesome days.

I never had a voice then as stigma and my illness took over my voice. Now it’s my time to make sure mental illness and stigma what is attached to mental health knows that I’m the boss and I’ve got my voice back and it’s not going anywhere even when I’m having low days.

It’s not the best news I’ve ever had, and I was upset and angry for 2 days when I got told my diagnosis, but you know what? I’m happy that I’ve got my diagnosis because I knew, that I was right, and everyone was wrong. I knew what I was facing, and I knew what I was battling and I knew my recovery is going to be around the corner one day.

I’ve gained so much confidence since speaking out that I am ill, and I’m not scared of the stigma anymore.I’ve gained so many friends in the mental health blogging community. I’m writing for charities and back when I was 17, I thought I had no hope and I thought that I wasn’t good enough to be writing about a subject what is so close to my heart.

But I am good enough.

I’m speaking up for more people who need their voices back.

In the Aldridge/Brownhills community, I’m finally speaking out in my own hometown about mental health and it feels bloody amazing!

  • I’ve had relapses in my journey.
  • I’ve had bad times and good times.
  • I’ve had tears and smiles.
  • I’ve had horrible thoughts and happy thoughts.
  • I’m not a victim of mental illness. I battle it, yeah, but it isn’t me.
  • I define me. No illnesses will define me.
  • I’ve had times where I hated my body and myself but times where I love my body and myself.

Last week was so intensive and bad, I thought I was going insane in my head and I didn’t want to fight anymore. But this week is a new week and I am determined to make It a good week. But you know what? That’s completely fine. As It’s okay not to be okay!

Stigma use to get me down so much and use to make me feel ashamed. But when someone does say something nasty to me about my illness, I don’t listen to them as they probably aren’t educated enough and that’s upsetting really as they could be going through with it, and they wouldn’t even know. I tend to educate them and they thank me later!

  • I’m a stigma fighter and proud.
  • I’m a mental health advocate and I’m so bloody proud to be one.
  • I’m Shannon and I bloody define me!
  • Labels are for jars. Not for people.

Talking does save lives. I’m the living proof that it does even on my bad days.

Big thank you to Samaritans for last week being my shoulder to cry on when times were so exhausting at 4am when everyone was asleep.

Big thank you to my family for looking after me when I was so low and I didn’t want to talk about what I was feeling but you managed to talk to me and you helped.

Big thank you to my Nan for noticing the symptoms that I was getting worse and booking me that most important doctor appointment last Friday what saved my life.

Big shout out to my amazing doctor! Dr Flenley as he finally listened to me and I probably wouldn’t have been here today without his kind words and actually helped me. He’s a credit to Aldridge and Portland Medical Practice.

We need more doctors like him!

Till next time.

Love, Shannon Diana x

Read more from Shannon DIanna via AMHA

 

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