This week, I attended NSUN’s annual event in York and, from speeches to conversations with my peers, it was clear that we were all sharing a feeling of dislocation, of being part of broken, under threat, communities.
NSUN’s annual event brings the mental health community together. The real mental health community, made of people with visceral stories to tell. Not the official, well funded and media hungry representatives that the wider public probably perceives as the face of mental health.
I mean the actual mental health community, those with ‘lived experience’, the grassroots. They are my family. Well, one of my many families.
This brings me back to the notion of dislocated society. We live in a world of silos. I am part of the mental health movement. And also part of the LGBTQI+ movement. And I am also an EU27 citizen, one of those whose lives are in limbo because of Brexit. And believe me, Brexit has put my mental health to the test.
I am struggling with depression, anxiety, fear that every time the door bell rings it’s about asking me to produce documents proving I can live in my home. I know it’s not rational. Mental health is not rational. Mental ill health is about trauma and triggers. And 3 years of toxic Brexit discourse is one hell of a trigger to the mind of an EU citizen, branded a ‘citizen of nowhere’ , a ‘queue jumper’. And it’s a repetitive trigger. It doesn’t let go. The news takes us from hope to misery and back again every day. It’s relentless.
Oh, did I mention the physical impact, the somatising? My auto immune disease has been flaring up nearly constantly since that infamous vote in 2016.
I do not know whether I still belong in the UK or not. And that is after nearly 26 years, all my adult life. The official narrative tells me I don’t. This week, as the NSUN event was taking place, a draft bill was proposed in parliament, aiming at stripping EU citizens of the right to freelance and own businesses in case of no deal. I am an NSUN associate. A freelancer. One more arrow shot at my already vacillating mental health.
I shared my worries with my peers at the NSUN event. This community can be relied upon to listen to any ills. Even those which are not popular in the official discourse.
My mental health peers know what it’s like to live with the repercussions of a bullying system and they are keenly aware of the danger currently facing grassroots communities. The theme of the event was after all ‘peer groups’. Those groups which are dying out in our frightening social climate.
Everybody I spoke to was feeling on edge, afraid for the future. The homelessness, the refugee crisis, the Windrush scandal. All of those were weighing heavy on people’s minds. Anne Beales, one of the mental health movement’s prominent leaders, a woman known for her strength and resilience, burst into tears in the middle of her speech – she was mentioning our harsh social context, choking on her own words.
Brilliant poetess Jacqui Lovell-Norton spoke of the dismantling of the NHS and of the poignant story of her daughter being carted off by the Home Office. That brought it all back to me. Will I be carted off like that one day? You will say it’s not rational. But where is reason when we are made to live in a climate of fear?
Fear so divisive and so powerful that Clare Ockwell had to say she was sorry for mentioning the ‘B word’. Brexit. Why should she be sorry? Why should any of us? Why do we feel compelled to pave the way for being gas-lit, brushed under the proverbial carpet?
Maybe because there is an old tradition in this country, a tradition whereby the elite bully the grassroots mercilessly, dividing them at a whim. Think War of the Roses. A small bunch of overlords dragging the rest of the country into their feud. Think of how brutally Henry VIII unleashed the Reformation, splitting his country in two. Think of the civil war. Nowadays it is Brexit dividing the nation. And, like all victims of bullying, the nation feels too guilty to speak up. So Clare Ockwell was sorry for speaking the B word.
But Clare wasn’t sorry for asking for the necessary solution to end the nightmare. Don’t let them divide us anymore. ‘Oppressed minorities must come together. Divided we fall’. She was speaking of mental health peer groups, and of the need for the whole mental health community to reach out to other oppressed minorities.
Yes we must connect. As a member of 3 minorities, I know this all too well. We must put an end to our world of silos. Or live with permanent bullying from a tiny upper class whose whims are less ‘rational’ than my darkest anxious imaginings.
As the event demonstrated, my three minority families all feel the same. They just all too often do not know about each other. This must stop. We can make it stop.
Why not start with learning about each other?
In Limbo, a community of people sharing stories about the human cost of Brexit, can be found at https://www.inlimboproject.org/ and @InLimboBrexit on Twitter.
Voices for Europe, a group committed to stop Brexit, from defending rights to co-ordinating free support services for EU citizens in distress, can be found at Voices for Europe and @voiceseurope on Twitter. For the support service, please visit the Existential Academy, ESSE.
The grassroots mental health charity for LGBTQI+ people, PACE, has sadly closed. One more victim of the ongoing decimation.