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A child’s hand hovers over a door knob. A sense of fear takes hold before the knob has the chance to be turned. What if it’s dark in there?

That’s an understandable sentiment.

But for some of us, as we grow and experience life, our minds become another dark place to be feared. Filling with torment and troubling memories, only to be locked behind sealed lips.

Batyr is an organisation that encourages that silence to be broken. Their aim is to empower and encourage individuals to speak about their lived ill mental health experiences. And this is my experience of one of their Being Herd workshops which I attended with 10 other brave individuals.

After the morning’s introductions and activities, the room turned silent as we started the difficult process of putting our personal experiences into words. But I – having already written over 10,000 for my book – was surprised to see them flee like a flock of birds at my slightest intent to share. So I just took the chance to sit and listen.

The stories I heard seemed like they belonged on TV. But where those tragedies are played out by actors;  these were felt by everyday people. It quickly became obvious that it doesn’t matter if you’re financially well off, have a supportive family, or told how great you look. The dark clouds of mental illness can settle over any life, regardless how picture perfect it sounds.

When it came my turn to speak, something unexpected happened. There was a new spin on my internal narrative that had been running for the last few years. Where I had previously felt ‘not good enough’; amongst my new group of peers, now I wasn’t damaged enough.

Luckily, the facilitators had started the workshop with a reminder that no experience is invalid. What makes an ill mental health experience real isn’t the reasons why its happened, but the fact that it’s felt.

Over the two days, I felt a lot of things. I winced in response to others’ words, but smiled with them as they realised the extent of their strength. Having not only survived their experience, but also just shared it with a room of complete strangers.

This is where the value of peer support shines its brightest.

Professionals are generally considered to have the ‘answers’, but something they cannot provide is the comfort and assurance that you’re not suffering alone. As simple as it sounds, it’s sometimes what we need to hear the most.

I’ve personally heard it from therapists, but this was different. This was a group of people, who didn’t neccesarily have answers to give, but were still willing to share my pain.

Sharing is not easy. Amongst the group, we had different stories but similar concerns: Who am I to speak? Who am I to tell people how to live, or that things are going to get better? And perhaps the biggest one: Am I even better… yet?

But as the second day came to an end, I got my answer. We huddled into a circle; I saw the smiling faces of strangers turned friends, and I realised…

Sometimes, the point of a story isn’t that it has happy ending; it’s that it’s still going.

Batyr is based in Australia, but I’m sure there are support groups closer to you than you realise. If distance is an issue, than look online. Just don’t ever think that you’re alone.

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