Wednesday, October 09, 2013

WMHD 2013: 'A Letter to Laila'

I might not be able to change the whole worlds' perception of mental health, but I believe I can change the world around me and hope it helps. Just think, if we ALL changed the world around us, we could make a big impact on the world after all, couldn't we?

By speaking out about my battles, sharing, I can help change the world my 5 year-old niece grows up in, I know it. I hope her generation understand more about mental health than my parent's or mine does. I believe can make a difference to the world, her world in 2023 on World Mental Health Day in 2013. That difference is fine by me, because if I can change someone’s world, I want it to be hers. 

An open letter to my niece, a teenager of the world in 2023.

Dearest Laila,

I hope you’re reading this sat in your pants, with nothing else but a princess crown and Disney fairy shoes on, because believe me, that’s what you spent most of your time wearing in 2013, see...

Even if you’re not, I hope you’re at least wearing a smile, because you should always be able to find something to smile about. Even if you don’t believe me right now, try to remind yourself that you CAN find one, somewhere. That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to cry, because it is. It’s also okay to say you don’t feel very well or that you’re struggling. If no one else in the world listens, I always will.

You are never alone, ever. 

I don’t know if I will have told you yet, but when you were younger my world crumbled around me because I ignored how I felt and tried to keep it all bottled up. I didn’t look after my mental health or speak about it. I don’t want you to ever say you’re fine if you’re not. If I hadn’t have used my voice, if I’d carried on trying to convince Nanny, Grandad or your Mummy that I was okay, I might not be here now.

Actually, my biggest wish would be that you’re going to read this and tell me it’s all really obvious stuff that you already know. Let’s hope so and I hope you also tell Freya all this too, but here goes...

Firstly, you don’t need to try to be perfect. You are as perfect as it gets. Trust me, I spent too long looking for perfection, just try and accept that it's a myth. A fairytale. 

I thought that dieting and exercising would make me happier, more liked, admired, perfect. But it didn’t. That belief could have killed me. Anorexia could have meant I didn’t get to take you to ballet, your first gymnastics lesson or wave you off on your first day at school. But because I told someone how I felt, I was able to. Like I said, someone will ALWAYS listen. I hope the world understands mental health a little more now and will be able to help you, if you do feel you need it.

I wonder if gossip magazines are still telling you about diets and celebrity bodies, week in week out? Well, what I’ve learnt in the last couple of years about food (and alcohol) is that everything is good for you, in balance. Never deny yourself a chocolate bar if you fancy one, but you shouldn’t really eat a multipack. In the same way, you can’t live off spinach and rice cakes. You need a little bit of everything, no food is ‘good or naughty’ and one carrot or a single apple will EVER get you through a day. Crash dieting is really rubbish and I bet you’ll always look gorgeous in a bikini without dieting anyway (especially if you get blessed with your Mum's boobs!) 

Don't compare yourself too much to other girls, it will eat you up inside and anyway, you are all so different and beautiful in your own unique way. 

Balance goes for exercise too. If you haven’t already, try yoga or Pilates or even better, if you’re still a gymnast or ballerina, then why not run away with the Circus? I’m writing this letter to you while listening to Cirque Du Soleil, maybe it’s a sign? Try trapeze or silks – you always were brave! Unless they’ve made a super-fun gym, always remember treadmills are SO ridiculously boring, get outside and breathe and ENJOY exercise. It should never be punishment.

Anyway, I’m not going to tell you to always love your body, because sometimes you won’t, and that is okay. Some days you will wake up and being having a ‘fat day’ and throw hundreds of dresses around your bedroom, before you find one you want to wear out to the cinema with your friends. Sometimes your hair will be a complete mess and you’ll wish it was straighter or curlier and one day you will wake up with a huge spot before a date with a guy from school. (TIPS; Always wear matching underwear, buy GHDs and use Dior concealer and BB Cream.) 

This is all okay and it’s about accepting YOU, maybe not always LOVING, but just accepting.

Don’t get too stressed out about exams. You will find a way to carve the life you want whatever happens, it’s not worth making yourself sick over. But please, turn off the TV for a little bit and do your homework, it does help prepare you! Listen to your teachers, they’re wiser than you give them credit for.

There are going to be bullies at school, there always has been and I am pretty sure some people will still be nasty. But don’t listen to them. Their actions say more about THEM than they do about you. Also, don’t tease others either, you never know how they might be feeling on the inside. I hope you’re living in a world where you all TALK to each other about your problems and feel empowered to say how you really feel. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not because what you are is YOU and you should be proud of that, no matter what. Don't forget to ask your little sister and brother if they're okay too. 

Always treat people with respect, if they’re straight, gay, black, Asian, Jewish or Muslim, they are all amazing. Take time to speak to them about their cultures or beliefs. Listening to other people's stories can be fascinating and we are always learning. I spent way too long not listening or understanding other people and when I started to, the world was so much brighter. Travel, see the world, meet new people, see as many cities as you can. I missed out on lots because I was too scared.

Be brave, fly.

Finally, I hope you’re getting taught about mental health at school? How to look after your mind, cope with stress, anxiety and feeling down? If not, please can you talk about it? 

That’s what I hope I’m helping carve out in 2013 for you. Creating a world where people with mental health problems can be open about it and where other people understand that they are just human. Trust me, they are really confusing illnesses, and no one really knows why or how they develop yet. If we’re still trying to figure it out now you are fifteen, then promise me this little Bear; Even if you don’t understand why you’re best friend is self-harming or why a girl in your class makes herself sick, then just try and listen to them and support them the best you can. They will be so thankful you took time to ask if they’re okay. It could even save them

If for some reason you are ever that girl, then just remember what I said at the start of this letter. You are NOT alone. I swear, you never will be, talk about it. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t need to be like everyone else. You’re as worthy, wonderful and wise as anyone else in the world, simply because you are you. I promise.

Finally, Thank you so much for just being you, even if 10 years ago you didn’t realise it, seeing you run around in your pants, begging me to bake cakes with you or asking to come to my house for a ‘picnic’ after ballet, reminded me what I was living for, it helped me to keep fighting anorexia.

It also reminded me I need to fight to make YOUR world different. A better place.

I love you, always.
Aunty Sarah xx

Now, if you do the same, and tell a little one you love about mental health and being brave, think of the difference we could make for the future....

Where to get help in 2013 if you or someone you know needs support;

BULLYING Beat Bullying
SELF HARM Childline advice on SH 
MENTAL HEALTH - Mind / Young Minds
CRISIS CARE Samaritans 

1 comment:

Samantha Betteridge said...

Wow Sarah! This is a beautiful read. Laila will be extremely proud of her Aunty after reading this and I'm sure she'll be a very insightful teenager xx