Last week, TalkRadio presenter and former contestant on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Iain Lee published a blog which laid bare his struggles with his mental health.
Reading it is a deeply uncomfortable, moving and raw emotional experience and if, like many, you’re someone who is disinclined to have sympathy for well-paid celebrities who seem to have it all, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you take some time to read it.
It will teach you more about what it’s like to live with depression and low-self-esteem than you can possibly imagine.
Iain Lee often polarises opinion. He can be outspoken and provocative. His views and opinions can sometimes appear obnoxious or ignorant. But, like so many of us and as those of us who watched his journey through the jungle last autumn saw for ourselves, at heart he just wants to be liked and loved.
The problem is, the most important person in his life doesn’t love or like him. That person believes he isn’t good enough. That he doesn’t deserve happiness or success. That he really should simply go and kill himself, just as the social media trolls urge him to do on an almost daily basis.
That person, as you’ve probably already worked out, is Iain Lee himself.
I don’t know him personally. But I admire him hugely. Because what I’ve learned from reading that blog and others is that he’s authentic and real and brave. Say what you like about him, but when you’re in the public eye it takes guts to bare your soul in the way he has..
You see, Iain Lee isn’t pretending. He’s not wearing the mask of a public persona and feigning a different and more desirable emotional life to the one he’s actually leading.
Instead, he’s chosen to stand up and say that, actually, life isn’t all cocktail parties and Armani. It’s exhausting and painful and pretty shit, thank you very much.
At some hard-to-reach existential level his rational self understands that the voices in his head are wrong. That he is good enough. That he does deserve to be happy. But the voices are loud and clamorous and persuasive.
It isn’t ingratitude or a lack of appreciation – which is what the trolls would like us all to think, as they reaffirm his ongoing misguided self-appraisal. He’s grateful and appreciative, all right. He just doesn’t believe he deserves it.
And here’s the real crux: for Iain Lee, being honest is more important than his image and what people might think of him.
What he perhaps doesn’t realise is that in putting honesty and himself first and caring less about what others think, he has already taken the first vital steps to recovering from his mental health issues.
We now live in a world where the unstoppable force of artifice meets the immovable object of authenticity on the battleground of social media.
In Facebook’s blue corner, more people than ever are sharing their real-life real-time mental health struggles, whilst the red corner of Instagram boasts an endless parade of models (both bonafide and self-imagined), celebrities, reality Z-listers and anyone with a filter setting on their iPhone standing half-naked in front of a seascape.
The caption might say It’s looking pretty good in paradise today, but it’s really demanding that you look at their apparently perfect boobs.
The rabbit hole of Instagram is dangerous because it’s where reality and fantasy blur. One of the first things I do when I work with Body Dysmorphia clients is to bottom-line Instagram – and if I did nothing else, that one simple move would provide a certain amount of relief from the relentless onslaught of ‘compare and despair’.
Every impressionable and vulnerable man, woman, boy and girl on Instagram now gets the unhappy privilege of feasting off its poisoned tree. They gorge on comparisons to the Victoria’s Secret model, to the reality stars with their surgically enhanced bodies, to Kanye West and to a million and one other role models who peddle perfection.
Except their perfection is a mirage that disappears the moment their phones go dark.
The world has created a place where it’s no longer okay to just be normal. So, I say thank God for Aussie comedienne, Celeste Barber
Dear old Kanye might say the world is his therapist, but there are dangers in sharing mental health on social media. While social media friendship groups can offer a degree of support that might be helpful, a wrong turn can lead you into the ugliest of digital snakepits – as Iain Lee discovers almost daily.
The internet is hardly the safe space of a non-judgmental therapist’s consulting room.
Reading Iain Lee’s blogs reveals a depth of loneliness and desperation it’s simply impossible for anyone who hasn’t suffered with a mental health condition to fathom. Despite the supportive presence in his life of healthcare professionals, the hollow perception that he believes he is dealing with his problems alone infects everything in his life.
Isolation – whether physical or emotional – is the enemy of good mental health.
Here’s why continually pretending your life is something it’s not is bad for your health:
1. To pretend is to put yourself in an emotional pressure cooker. If you are pretending that everything is ‘fine’ when it’s not, the unacknowledged feelings will build up inside of you until you can no longer pretend that you are fine. Really, it’s totally okay to not be fine!
2. Unacknowledged feelings create anxiety and depression. We’ve learned to suppress our feelings and replace them with other, more destructive things – booze, sex, social media, food, gaming, gambling. Whatever we don’t address will ultimately address us so they longer we suppress the more violent the eruption can be.
3. Failing to fully acknowledge our feelings is a form of self-harm. The whole point of being human is that it is visceral and messy. Healing is really messy. Recovery from any kind of mental health issue is horrifically messy and full of dark and many other wholly totally un-Instagrammable things. The irony of that? It’s all bloody normal.
4. Living in reality takes courage. Really being yourself takes courage. Being authentic takes real guts. Saying This is me in all my glorious weirdness requires unflinching bravery. I admire anyone who does that. Their worth is a million times what they believe it is.
5. Pretending not to be yourself is exhausting. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it. I work with people every day who are on their knees because of the effort that’s required to keep up the act. The truth is we cannot be anything other than ourselves. As Oscar Wilde so succinctly put it: Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
6. It damages your relationships. If you start a relationship pretending to be someone or something you’re not, you’re walking into a maelstrom of anxiety and perfectionism where you second-guess every possible move you make in a bad game of internal chess. And when the artifice crumbles and reveals you as you are, you will crumble, too.
Pretending is bad for your health.
So yes, being authentic is hard. But I’d take Iain Lee’s raw, messy, brutal honesty over a sanitised, anodyne celebrity Boobs-on-Sea post any day of the week.
Let’s not criticise people for being real. Let’s champion and celebrate them. Let’s validate them.
Healing isn’t pretty. Recovery isn’t pretty. Mental health issues aren’t pretty. But one day, with the help and support of others, we come out the other side and it just isn’t as ugly any more. We reach a gentle place of self-acceptance.
And isn’t that better? In a world where 1,300 people in the UK aged between 15 and 35 killed themselves during 2017, isn’t it better for us to embrace the Iain Lees of this world and acknowledge their value and worth, no matter how messy their lives?
Because the real healing starts when pretending ends.