I HAVE recently experienced one of the lowest points in my mental health. I use the past tense because it feels somehow safer, held at a comfortable distance from the version of myself who is writing to you now. The version of me who gets to write columns in a newspaper, as if I have some kind of wisdom to impart.

Truth be told, my mental health is very much a work in progress. But then I’m a work in progress, and in some ways, I expect I always will be. That’s exactly why I wanted to write something to mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 13-19 May until Sunday.

Not because I have it all figured out, but because it feels important to be able to talk about this in the present tense – to acknowledge the grey, and the mess, and the unknowns. And to let other people who are struggling know that, even if it might not always feel like it’s OK to not be OK, it should be.

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No life lessons for the mentally unwell shall be contained herein. No top tips for surviving in a world that gets worse every day, in a kingdom of wealth that would rather watch people die than pay to keep them alive or in good health.

It seems to me that we have all been patronised enough, and “awareness weeks” only become harder to stomach when they don’t reflect the anger, hurt and fear that so many of us feel at the very real circumstances around us.

So: I am angry, I am hurt, and I am afraid.

The UK Government thinks the conversation on mental health has “gone too far”. GPs are too quick to sign people off, they insist.

The Department of Work and Pensions should be the arbiters of who is able to work and who can’t, we’re told.

Minor little details like depression and anxiety should not be enough to qualify someone for social security, says the government of austerity, of foodbanks, of decimated public services, of dehumanising migrants, and queer people, and always, always disabled people – because they’re the ones that cost the most money, and whoever said a National Health Service was a good idea anyway?

People are confusing normal human emotions for mental health problems, they say. It is a normal human emotion to be miserable in the face of all of this, I’ll give them that. But there is a difference between recognising structural factors and removing support.

As it stands, this government’s approach to mental health looks a lot like smacking people on both sides of the head and calling it even.

Meanwhile, it’s OK to not be OK. Hadn’t you heard? In the scheme of things, I am incredibly privileged. I am aware of this, and yet, I am often “not OK”.

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A little over a year ago, I went to the doctor to tell them that I believe I could be autistic, or have ADHD, or perhaps both. I came to this realisation after a lifetime of feeling like I was standing on the outside, looking in; wanting to connect with people, and sometimes managing, but always feeling somehow apart from it all.

From a young age I was made aware that many people found me to be strange, and that led to periods where I felt so depressed, so angry, that I harmed myself. I was comforted, somehow, by the knowledge that, despite what others thought, my feelings must be valid if I could see them on my skin.

I always believed that becoming an adult would make all of this make sense. That cruel people would no longer exist and that anyone worth knowing would understand me, and I them. “It gets better,” they said. For me, I don’t think it worked that way. The idea of “better” that I clung to in my imagination was like a bus that would never turn up, leaving me feeling all the worse for standing at the stop for so long like a fool.

OUT in the world with so many new people, and old ones to hold on to, I was plagued by anxiety over a sense that I simply couldn’t figure out how to say or do the right thing – as if everyone else had read the instructions and if I didn’t understand them by now, well, I must be a lost cause, or maybe just a terrible excuse for a person.

Thinking and feeling this way all the time took a toll on my mental health and came out in other ways – every negative thought like another shake of the bottle, ready to spill out over everything in its path.

The hardest part was convincing myself that I needed help; that I shouldn’t just be able to deal with all of this myself. In other words: that it was OK to not be OK. A powerful message – if you can believe it.

It was several years after I learned just how many of the “diagnostic criteria” I fit before I got up the nerve to speak to my GP. Thankfully – because I know this is by no means always the case – he was understanding, and made a referral for an assessment. It’s 13 months later and I’m still waiting. This, I understand, is the norm.

In the meantime, I told myself that my newfound awareness gave me the understanding I’d been missing of why things had always felt so hard. This was true, but that still didn’t stop the shame from driving my decision to hide many of my struggles and even “push through” them, hoping that I could appear to the outside world like the version of myself I believed I should be.

In the end, I crashed into a burnout so deep it took me weeks to resurface, and I was prescribed antidepressants.

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The most surprising thing about this is that it took me so long – but, then, we live in a society where stigma around both poor mental health and neurodivergence looms large, so perhaps it’s not surprising at all.

There is a popular viewpoint that we are all wonderfully aware of the importance of mental wellbeing nowadays, and maybe that’s true, but that’s not the same as understanding, without judgement, what mental ill health looks like.

And it’s certainly not the same as ensuring people have support when they need it.

That’s why I appreciate See Me’s “If it’s OK” campaign, which interrogates the well-known message that “it’s OK not to be OK” by spotlighting people’s experiences of judgement and shame around their mental illness.

My fears over talking about my struggles were not merely imagined, but based upon real experiences of judgement on a personal level, and upon the world that I observed around me.

That’s why I choose to use this platform to talk about it now – because I am still afraid, and I don’t think I should have to be.

But, more importantly, because there are so many people whose voices aren’t heard and who deserve to see real change – to attitudes, to policies, to structures – far more than they need to hear platitudes about awareness.