What I do as a writer, using my lived experience in national media, can appear glamorous to some people, to others indulgent and yet still to some, it may appear as attention-seeking especially when I open up about some of the misery one can experience living and thriving with a hidden disability.
What I prefer to see this experience as one of giving to others a space, a face, an orifice and aperture of sorts—using my struggles to provide a way in the challenging journey.
This is a platform I have been allowed which has helped so many people in their struggles. And not just mental ill health, but it has helped people who live with many other kinds of illnesses a hope, a way to deal with themselves while advocating for others.
Often I want to give up opening up my life to the whole world. Many times I note that allowing people to see me at my worst prompts derision and disrespect. If you follow my hashtag #RantAndRavello or #MakeMentalHealthMatter or #CreateBetterMinds it is easy to discern that mainly strangers have banded themselves around me.
Even, there is ostracism, intolerance and a setting aside by friend, family and acquaintances. As the years of advocacy progressed, more people have understood what I do and why it is done. Many more are reading and understanding their own issues and that to me is full reward.
My work is my life. Or, more accurately, my life is my work. I was remarking to me—in one of those conversations “we” have quite openly that I always thought I could be famous. I dreamt of a legacy too, and had to chuckle to myself thinking that I never thought it would be one in the realm of psychiatry.
When you are comfortable though with understanding that mental health is health and that to serve in the area of mental health is to serve everyone with a mind, then you realise that you are serving all of humanity. What an honour that is!
I am having this conversation with my readers again for a few reasons. As we approach World Mental Health Day 2018, observed each year on October 10, I am considering how I can use my journey to impact more young people.
This year’s theme is aptly Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World.
I have opportunity to speak with many families about their struggles. When it is a younger person though, it is always the parent speaking on their behalf and, of course, if that leads to the parent suggesting their child speak to me, then I do. But I am not a clinician and I remain very careful about peer counseling younger people never having one-on-one, but including a parent and signposting to an appropriate professional.
Whenever I do radio, print or television interviews— something I do because of the reach it provides, my work increases—sometimes to my own detriment—and after helping others find care or interventions, I usually have to treat with my own “slump”.
It’s a challenging cycle in which one lives treating with bipolarity, clinical depression and working continuously to help others even when you feel like you are not coping. Then the personal cycle of renewal has to be employed and the recovery is sometimes much harder than one expects.
The other reason I’m having this conversation is to respond to the thinking that somehow doing this type of advocacy is glamorous—celebrity-like because it involves being “out front.”
Imagine my consternation that people are actually considering what I do with such adjectives. My life is not glamorous. My struggles are deep. My public pronouncements and exposure as an advocate is a way to present my pain in a manner to aid someone on their journey.
I still struggle to pay my bills. I have days many when I am irritable and unbearable and you’d not want to think anything “ glamorous” about me if you saw me. I cannot work full time. I still cannot work sufficiently to repair the house I call home - in fact since I began opening up about my life in national media over six years ago I have not been offered a job or an interview.
The State does not recognise my efforts; the universities and institutions of learning and higher learning know nothing (or pretend to know nothing) of my work; the multiple businesses—profits and non-profits—that build on the work I initiated in this country all behave as though each of them invented mental health advocacy.
Celebrity sirs, madams? Hardly. I work to free me and perhaps free others like me. There is no remuneration only gratification as my reward. And as Apostle Paul wrote and as hammered into the mind and consciousness of this space by master artist LeRoy Clarke, “I press on... hard on myself.”
When the times are good, I embrace them wholeheartedly. I dress and go out, socialising like the butterfly I can be. Despite my health issues, I still enjoy many successes, but make no mistake, the struggle to do what you or anyone else do in an ordinary day is ten times harder for me and those who live with health conditions as I do.
Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (UWI).