Pheebs attends three events - poetry for children, a lecture on animal behaviour, and an account of living with mental illness

My day started out ordinarily: get up, have breakfast, mess around, realise the time, mess around further with a guilty conscience, notice the time again, and pack everything and everyone in a final ten-minute panic and breakdown. All the while humming ‘No Worries, Be Happy’ to my granny’s irritation.

Anyway, we got in the car (vaguely) on time, and made it to my first event with a pretty smooth run over to Chipping Norton; meaning I was twenty minutes early.

That was okay, because I was there to see the excellent John Dougherty at his event. It meant I could have a nice natter and say hello before the event; but when he needs to leave to prepare for going onstage, do I socialise with others in the normal human fashion? Nooo, I sit down, all by myself, for fifteen minutes, doing nothing, and generally looking like a right plonker.

But then John came on and did an incredibly funny event about his new collection of poetry, Dinosaurs and Dinner Ladies; there was singing, poem recitals, and a paper thermos of tea involved, and this fine array engaged all the audience: plenty of wit for the adults to enjoy, not just the children. The poetry itself was mostly hilariously silly, but some of them were genuinely serious and thought-provoking, such as the rhythmic ‘I am the Bully’. That was one of the things that really stuck with me; although I must say the song ‘Auntie Fred’ did oscillate around my mind a few (read: many) times.

On making my way to a Very Short Introduction to Animal Behaviour, I saw a flower stall and thought that it would be nice to buy my mum and gran a posy of flowers each. I acted on this impulse later, which spiralled into a farce of inconvenience for everyone concerned, with a very remorseful and bewildered me at the heart of it; but since that didn’t happen until lunchtime, onwards with the chronological account of the day!

The VSI was in the Chequers pub, so after waltzing in (something I did to a lot of places that I thought were venues; sometimes I got this wrong and much embarrassment ensued), I seated myself and learnt some fascinating things about crickets, wasps and elephants from the engaging Tristram Wyatt. It was all interesting stuff, albeit perhaps a bit beyond my current (GCSE Biology) level, so some of it went over my head with the slight whistling sound of my ignorance. Nonetheless, I found it very enjoyable and educational.   

I then scurried to the Mad Girl event, having (I’m not gonna lie) kind of forgotten what it was about. It turned out to be unforgettable.

It was the most extraordinary, eye-opening, and emotional event that I have ever been to. Bryony Gordon, who wrote the autobiographical book Mad Girl, was interviewed by Cathy Rentzenbrink about her experiences with mental health; and she took our collective breath away.

She dazzled us with her wonderful and quick wit, and then turned us around and shocked us with the ignored and unsought truths of mental illness: how little attention it gets, how it affects those with mental illness, how little treatment it receives… It is estimated that the average time for a young person with a mental illness between being diagnosed and receiving treatment is roughly ten years.

When the interview opened up for questions and comments, there were several accounts of how some of the audience had experienced mental illness, which had been disregarded or not accepted by others. When the audience was asked if they had ever experienced or known someone who had experienced a mental illness, every person (as far as I could see) raised their hand.

But the most incredible moment was when a member of the audience stood up and shared a little about himself.

I want to respect his privacy, and I don’t want to put in too many details, but it was such a personal and touching moment that many were openly weeping. This young man had recently attempted suicide, but was now going down a different path, and had written a poem to express his earlier feelings. He asked to read it out and was invited onstage; he proceeded to perform the most moving recital, which was so powerful and heart-wrenching because it was so obviously straight from the heart.

And I felt the most incredible feeling of being united with the rest of the audience as he stood on that stage, trembling from emotion, as we cheered him; because it is the only thing that will ever work against mental illness, as far as I can tell. I have no right and no experience to talk about this,  but I hear others who have experienced mental illness say that when people know about and, more importantly, help someone to cope with mental illness, it does mean something and just being there to listen is one of the most of important things to do.

I don’t mean to paint the whole experience in some romanticised ‘Dam buster’ theme tune, but if everyone steps up to the mark and actually pays attention to the thing that kills the most young people according to modern statistics, maybe a united front can get mental illness the attention it should have, and sufferers the treatment they need.

I also ask that if you are in need of help, please ask for it, because as they said in the event, talking about it and knowing that you are not the only one can help in itself. And if you don’t or didn’t know about the impact of mental illness, learn about it. Because if someone experiencing it asks for your help, your time, or for you just to listen to them, you should know why, and then you should know that you should help.

My next post on Part 2 of Saturday finishes the day, including the Flower Fiasco, but this is a good place to stop for now. I don’t know what else I can say, so thank you for reading this.