CW: discussion of mental health issues and stigma (incl. suicide and self harm), images of visible self harm scars
You may remember the lovely Robyn, who was one of the models in of our #NeonMoonCelebrateYou campaign, and took part in our collaboration with the V&A museum. We met with Robyn to discuss mental health in this Neon Moon blog edition dedicated to the World Suicide Prevention Day. Despite having suffered from depression and OCD for years, she speaks ever so calmly and eloquently about her experience with mental illness, the stigma surrounding it, and how to overcome it. You can see everything she shared with us in her video interview below.
A LITTLE ABOUT ROBYN
Robyn’s mother, who shared some incredible and moving insights about her daughter, describes her as ‘a coffee loving foodie, who loves being around people’. She calls her ‘a sound and active listener’ who is ‘so so carful not to make quick or unfair judgements about others’ and is at the same time ‘deeply honest’. Furthermore, she is motivated, sensitive, intelligent, and stunningly beautiful.
When talking about Robyn’s past experience with depression and OCD, her mother says: “Her particular problems are rare and invisible and therefore difficult to talk about and for others to understand. It’s been difficult to find the appropriate medical help and not the kind of thing people want to chat about over coffee. There is a real sadness around this. Finding the space and the ‘appropriate’ language to be able to talk easily about such personal difficulties is a challenge that I hope is being left behind.”
She also explains that “It is testament to Robyn’s incredible energy and self motivation that she soldiers on the way she so positively does. It’s so admirable and inspiring. She doesn’t like sitting around doing nothing”.
Her friend Jacqueline calls Robyn ‘a bloody ray of sunshine’. She says: ‘Robyn is one of those people that manages to hit both sides of the spectrum - she's one of the most fun girls to have a good laugh and night out with, but she's also the one who will always be there to listen and talk about real issues’.
Another one of Robyn’s friends, Josephine, describes Robyn as ‘the kind of person you distinctly feel the absence of at a social gathering’. She calls her ‘direct, open and non-judgemental’. Robyn’s friends and family all agree that her unique wit and sense of humour are of the many traits that make her special to them. Her mother says that ‘people are attracted to her sharp, witty sense of humour, always being observant.’
Lily adds: ‘not only is she one of the strongest people I know, but one of the softest’. Robyn has been through and survived an incredible amount of stuff, but it hasn't hardened her as a person and I find that unbelievably inspiring. Robyn overflows with love and support, and I am so so privileged to have her in my life.
ROBYN AND NEON MOON
Her mother expands on Robyn’s inspiring and positive attitude despite everything: “Since doing the work with Neon Moon, Robyn has shown a new and empowering strength, having made the decision to do the things she wants to do, without the influence of others. It’s liberating, progressive and exciting all round”.
Lily expands further and says: ‘When Robyn first told me about her involvement with Neon Moon I knew that it could only be a good thing. I didn't quite anticipate just how much of a positive impact it would have though. Working with Neon Moon has made Robyn shine, and the happiness which comes with the confidence she's gained has rubbed off on all of us! I've learnt so much from Robyn, and I'm excited to continue to watch her work and grow with Neon Moon’
Josephine says the reason that Robyn’s experience with Neon Moon had a positive impact on her is because ‘one of the factors that complicates body image is not being able to see yourself clearly’. Based on her personal experience, she explains: ‘Sometimes, what I see when I look down at myself doesn't correlate with what I see in the mirror or in photographs and different photographs can show me very differently. I feel like I can't really conceive the real shape and space of my body and it throws my self image into a flux where I can feel light and 'thin' or heavy and 'fat' depending on the situation or my mental state. The Neon Moon photos are really honest and unmanipulated and I think Robyn can see that she looks great in them - it's as simple as that! I imagine the photos help her to see (and love!) her body with a refreshing sense of clarity.’
Robyn's mother reminisces: 'When she called to tell me about the invitation from Neon Moon I knew in her voice she had made the right decision for herself. I thought it was brave and really ‘out there’ and could only imagine she might feel completely out of her comfort zone. My instinct was to totally support her in her decision. I felt so lifted to hear her sounding hopeful and inspired. She found it so liberating and exciting to find Neon Moon and people she shared such core values with. The work Robyn has done with Neon Moon has given us all very special and solid building blocks for new and meaningful ways ahead. Robyn’s image of herself has totally changed, as has her attitude generally, in so many positive ways I could not have imagined.'
START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
We asked Robyn’s family and friends for some tips on how to start the conversation about mental health, to try and alleviate the stigma surrounding this taboo topic in society. Lily starts off by acknowledging that talking about it often requires bravery. However, she says that ‘it's a conversation that everyone needs to have, and needs to continue having. A lack of communication only makes issues worse, and feeling alienated and ashamed only adds to the general misery. Once the conversation is started, everything seems to get a lot more bearable. Whether you're discussing your own issues or supporting a friend, it's important to realise that support is key to healing. So talk to each other! The more we talk the easier it'll get!’
Jacqueline says that in reality, the conversation ‘is never as terrifying as it seems’. She encourages you to start the conversation: ‘Your friends will always want to be there for you, and if they don't understand they will work so that they will be able to. It lets other people vent too. It also really strengthens your relationship, and allows you to help other people too’.
Robyn's mother told me: 'The issues around self harm and suicide can be terrifying. Everything, absolutely everything felt so fragile. After getting the call that Robyn was in hospital I drove from Cornwall to London alone, all the way forcing myself to think positive thoughts, to gather my energy and project the right things.'
She talks about the amazing support Robyn received from her friends and says: 'The fact that she can forge such amazing friendships says a lot in itself. Her friends and I got her back to her flat and she said I seemed irrationally happy - I think I was relieved to have reached ‘that stage’ and that frankly she was with us and as OK as she was. It was like a bit of euphoria or endorphin rush.'
She also talks about how she became better at supporting her daughter:
'I called my GP surgery and asked for antidepressants over the phone with the intention of doing whatever I could to help myself. I registered for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through the GP surgery website and had a weekly session over the phone which was really effective. It gave me a place to find me and be me and be the best me I could be at that point in time. I highly recommend it.'
Robyn's mother acknowledges that the hardest thing was to start talking and emphasises that 'the real importance of listening - just listening. Listening is the main and most valuable priority.'
Her final message is: 'Stepping in to do something positive can be vital and if it’s done with the right intention then it will be felt positively. Being honest about your own lack of knowledge, expertise, experience and so on is important. Loads of us are ‘fixers’ and it can come across as ‘knowing it all’ and patronising which is a sure way to block communication. That’s why the question “Are you OK?” works well - it holds no judgement or other meaning and it doesn’t inform or persuade an answer. I like talking so I found it difficult to just make the right signs and sounds that I was listening. But we all learn fast when the chips are down.'
Robyn's advice on how to get better is to open up to friends and family. She has also devised what she calls a 'crisis plan' - she's written down a step-by-step strategy which reassures her just by being there, which consists of what she would do or who she would call if she were feeling down.
We hope that today will be a day from which you will emerge stronger in your acceptance of yourself.
If you or anyone you know needs to speak their mind and open up, there are a few services set up to help: In the UK and ROI, if you needed to speak to somebody, you can call the Samaritans at 116 123 for the UK. In the US, you can call 1-800-273-8255 for the Suicide Prevention Line.
What do you think of Robyn's incredibly inspiring story? Let us know below!