The third letter



















Are we warriors? 

On Twitter and on mental health forums, the word “warrior” crops up quite regularly. “Mental health warrior”, “OCD warrior”, “recovery warrior” and similar such terms. It is intended as a positive thing, a compliment even, but It makes me wince every time I see it used. 

We’re not warriors. Neither are we fighters or heroes. We’re ordinary people, dealing with and trying to overcome circumstances which aren’t, in reality, all that uncommon, even if severe. I don’t disagree that we are in a battle against an enemy that means to do us harm, but we’re just people. We’re not soldiers, we’re not guerrillas, we’re not freedom fighters. 

There is a lot to be admired in the common dignity and quiet bravery of civilians who experience conflict, yet they remain civilians, despite their courage under fire. The same is true of people who experience mental illness at first hand. It is incredibly difficult to trudge on through the endless knee-deep sea of cold porridge that is mental illness, but we do it. We aren’t passive victims. We push on. We defend ourselves by whatever means at hand, but we’re wielding bin lids, not light sabers. 

To name ourselves “warriors” is to create a caricature, all be it a seemingly positive one, of people recovering from mental illness. I don’t like being portrayed as a caricature. It robs me of my individual identity using lazy, generic tabloid-newspaper-speak. “Mental health warrior John Smith” “Mental health warrior Jane Brown” “Page three stunner Mitzi St Claire” “Alcoholic TV funnyman Fred Spiller”. 

To caricature ourselves is to set ourselves up as different. Out of the ordinary. A race apart. We’re not X Men. We’re humans, just like all of the other humans. Just as breakable. Just as broken. Just as fixable.  If we want people with mental health problems to be seen as “normal”, we need to tell our truths and stories as individuals, not a homologous warrior subclass of humans. In demanding that poor mental health be treated with the equivalent urgency as poor physical health, we’re not asking for special treatment, just appropriate treatment. 

You never hear of “broken leg warriors”, “gallstones warriors” or “heart disease warriors”. That’s because it sounds ridiculous. Why should we, in demanding parity of care and parity of recognition try to distinguish ourselves so oddly?

Yes, it takes a lot of guts, character and determination to recover from a mental illness. It takes just as much to recover from some physical problems. We’re not special. I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed when I first realised that the thoughts, symptoms and behaviours associated with my mental health issues were absolutely text book. I wasn’t unique. I wasn’t distinctive. I wasn’t something new. I’ve since come to realise how good a thing this is. I’m able to talk with people who share some of my experiences. Yes, we differ in certain ways too, which is also good to learn about, but broadly, we’re a group of ordinary people dealing with similar difficult things in our lives. 

Mental illness is a great leveller. It doesn’t discriminate by age, race, gender or social background. Why should we try and distinguish ourselves in response? Let’s just be people. Let’s each tell our story and be recognised as individual ordinary people dealing with life’s realities, steadily trudging through the storm, in search of shelter, a welcome and acceptance.