Special feature: interview with mental health writer and advocate, Charlotte Underwood

I’m delighted to feature Charlotte on Peaches and Scream this week! Others speaking as honestly as she does about their own mental health – particularly through social media, blogs, etc – has been a huge factor in my own recovery. Even though I value such openness, fear really holds me back when it comes to putting my own experience out there, so I was keen to catch up with Charlotte about how she manages being so candid about mental health and the impact it has on her own wellbeing.

Why did you initially decide to open up about mental illness?

I never chose to be a mental health advocate, it just sort of happened. I decided that it was something that I had a passion for and I wanted to carry on doing what I could to raise awareness of mental health. For so many years I was ashamed of who I was and became incredibly scared of the thoughts that were in my mind. I remember having so much pent up anger and pain that I had no idea how to cope. Ultimately, it led to many suicide attempts. Over the last eight years, since I have known that I have a mental illness, I have waded through my insecurities and have found the courage to talk about it very publicly. Not so long ago, I stood on a stage and stated that I was suicidal, which seems a world away from the times when I would drink away the pain and suffer in silence.

What does it feel like to be so honest in public about your own mental health? Have you experienced much doubt and anxiety over it?

It wasn’t easy. I had to understand myself and find trust in others, I still don’t talk to everyone in my immediate life about my mental health but I suppose it’s just become a fact. It falls into conversations as if there is no stigma at all – this is how it should be. What started off by talking to one or two friends, then posting online on my own blog, became so much more. I now dance and sing about my mental health. I just don’t care about judgement anymore. I know a lot of people are worried about rejection and the hatred that people may spew at them and I was the same way at one point. The thing you just need to remember is, you are living for you, not for them and their opinion does not define you, in fact, it defines them.

Does writing about mental health affect your mental health and relationships?

I don’t have many friends anymore, or much family. I have a very small circle and everyone in that circle is accepting of who I am. I made the choice to remove anyone who did not support me or made me feel bad for my mental health. So really, talking about mental health does not affect my mental health at all online or in real life. If someone tries to cause me harm, then it’s just block in real life and online.

Writing itself has had a very positive effect on my mental health. Writing allows me to organize that jumble in my head, think of it as a daily spring clean – worth it but exhausting. I am tired a lot because I have a lot of trauma to work through and writing makes me deal with it head on. The truth is that when these words are in front of me, they don’t seem so scary. I’ll never stop writing because it is both my passion and my saviour.

What kind of response do you receive and what impact does it have on you?

I have had all sorts of feedback, though mostly positive. I’ve had people tell me that I have prevented them from suicide. I’ve had people who have been so happy that I actually talk to them and let them have an outlet. I have a reputation for being so honest but also providing hope, which seems to really relate to people – so I’d like to think I’m creating a little support network, or being a friend to lots of people!

Do you think there are particular issues faced by women who speak openly about mental health in the public domain?

Being a woman, some people do tend to assume that we are more emotional. I’ve been lucky in the respect that I have been ignored by the haters and, if anyone is negative, I’ve just blocked them. So, being a woman has not affected or tainted my ability to talk about mental health. I do feel like sometimes I am seen as this fragile thing but I’m full of fire. To be honest, I just ignore gender stereotypes because they only add to the stigma and counteract what I work to fight on a daily basis.

Thanks so much to Charlotte. To find out more about Charlotte’s writing and advocacy, follow her on Twitter @CUnderwoodUK and visit her blog http://www.charlotteunderwoodauthor.com

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