In Journalism, and throughout this MA – I’ve been forced to meet and talk to new people all of the time. Networking – something that I run away from, but is apparently necessary not only for journalism, but everyday life too.
Last weekend I did something different, and found a whole group of people who I wouldn’t have met if A) I hadn’t read a book B) I hadn’t told my anxiety to bugger off that morning. And C) Someone hadn’t had the idea in the first place.
Mental Health Mates is a group of people who have grown quite considerably over the last year from being a small group based in London, founded by the Journalist and writer Bryony Gordon, to a national (and international) movement. The idea was (and is) for people with mental illnesses to meet up in local parks, to walk, talk (or not talk) and drink coffee, demonstrating that you are not alone. I’ve known about Mental Health Mates for a little while, from a friend elsewhere in the country being involved and I wished (although the thought terrified me equally) that there was something similar near me. And now there is.
I decided early last week, that I was going to go to the next Mental Health Mates in my area, having seen it advertised on twitter. On Saturday morning I got up, and caught the bus into town – I’ve felt nervous about meeting new people before, but this definitely seemed like a different kind of meeting new people. I remembered the reasons why I was on the bus in the first place and the ‘find your we’ quote I’d read in Bryony Gordons Mad Girl, continuing with my bus journey feeling slightly calmer.
I didn’t know what to expect and as I approached the gates of the park, considered going home. Will they like me? What will it be like? Will I fit in? Have I imagined it right? My brain argued with itself. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because within the first five minutes of being there I realised that this is one of the best things I’ve done since starting the Magazine Journalism MA. I’ve always talked about finding a belonging and this definitely is part of my belonging. I hovered around the gates of the park for a bit, collecting my thoughts and pretending to be on the phone (I’m sure most of you have an imaginary conversation when you’re a little bit terrified too right?) Anyways, imaginary conversation over, I made my way over to a group of people standing in a circle at the park entrance.
“Are you the Mental Health Mates?” I asked
“Yes, yes we are.”
I took my place of an awkward circle, that was only awkward for a couple of minutes. After a round of introductions, we were off for a walk around the park. There was no pressure to talk about mental health or the weather or what you planned to have for lunch that day – but if you wanted to talk about all of those things you could do too. Some walked in silence, some talked more. It’s difficult to put into words how it felt to be around people that bring up antidepressants without worrying about judgements, or talking about feeling anxious in the same way you would about the weather. (They are all normal things that can, and should be discussed.) I can’t articulate enough how uplifting simply being there and listening felt.
For the first part of the walk I was pretty quiet, taking in my new group of people and making sure I remembered the way out of the park once it ends. Then a girl approached me, who I later discovered is exactly my age AND is working at my old University in Durham, having moved here from the states in September. She also has a cat. There was lots to talk about.
‘Hey, I didn’t catch your name.’ She said
And so the conversation flowed, and continued over coffee after the walk.
I left my first Mental Health Mates meet up with energy that I haven’t felt in ages, knowing that there are another group of people who could be a welcome addition to my life (And I will go back.) Bringing people together with similar interests is always encouraged, but bringing people together who often feel marginalised and disconnected is bloody brilliant. This weekend has proved that sometimes, doing the thing you’re most terrified of, at that precise moment is probably the best thing you can possibly do. Mental Health Mates is just a group of friendly normal people, talking about everyday things that should be seen as normal everyday things and drinking coffee in parks.
I’d really recommend Mental Health Mates to anyone, go with a friend or go alone (or come with me if you’re local enough) – and it’s probably best that you don’t go home when you get to the gates of the park. You can let your brain think you need to turn around by all means, just don’t listen to anything it says.There’s been a few occasions this year when I really have felt empowered, connected and valued – last Saturday is certainly on that list.