The Story Behind The Story Collective
As a teen I went through periods with very low moods, so low I wished I could stop being part of this world all together. I felt lonely and isolated in these feelings as I didn't know anybody else who felt like me. As someone who had been bullied - learning from a young age that the way I was, wasn't acceptable - I internalised my feelings and blamed myself for being weird.
Mental health problems weren't discussed at my (Danish) school, nor at home, nor among my friends - I didn't know it was a thing. I was (shockingly) in my early 20s before I learned the term 'depression' and that was what I'd been struggling with for so many years.
Being able to label it meant I felt less alone. I felt understood. Here was a problem that so many people deal with that it'd been given a clinical term and numerous books had been written about it.
But after a while, the term became increasingly limiting.
I thought "I am depressed" or "I am a depressive person." I overly identified with the term and made it into a personal shortcoming. I started developing several beliefs that limited me and made m increasingly unhappy, such as that I was ill and that my brain was broken. I believed that I'd never be happy or live a satisfying life. I would continue to lose friends and relationships due to my brokenness and have to spend a lifetime feeling low, miserable and hating myself.
I changed addresses and jobs and hair colour to try and feel better but within months I'd be back to feeling unhappy, blaming myself and feeling hopeless. When my fiancé left me in 2009 I thought my life was over and that I'd never be loved again. But, ironically, it became the best thing that ever happened to me and the turning point I needed to go on a journey towards healing myself and becoming happy.
I started gobbling up degrees and qualifications to understand the human condition and as you can read under the About Me section, stories became my focus point.
I learned that I'd been telling myself a story about being broken and I'd believed in that story. I'd believed in the medical model of mental health problems and that it was my brain that was the problem. But taking a step back I could see that I had developed a depressive state of mind because I felt so lonely growing up - my father wasn't around, my brothers found me rather annoying, I had no true, loyal and loving friends, my choice in men was problematic and I went from being bullied at school to bullied at work. I'd been fed a story by some of the people in my life that I was unlovable, stupid and unworthy of their time, respect and affection and I bought into this story and accepted that people treated me with disrespect. The problem wasn't my brain, but the people in my life. My brain was having a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances!
After all, when malware infects a computer we don't tend to blame the computer for not working right - we blame the malware and then we seek solutions to remove the malware. However, when it comes to mental health problems, so many of us believe in the story that we're the problem, rather than the malware impacting us - be that our family, our toxic friends or partners, or horrible bosses or work conditions, or lingering past trauma. The malware might become thoughts and feelings we believe to be our own authentic thoughts and feelings such as "I'm worthless" , "I'm unlovable", "I don't deserve better", "I'm the problem", "I'm broken" and so on. But if we pause and look back we'll discover that these are not our own thoughts and feelings. We were born happy, care-free and full of confidence. We weren't afraid to ask for what we wanted when we wanted it by screaming until we were fed, were given a clean diaper, cuddled or put to sleep. But over time, due to various external circumstances, we learned to become quiet about our needs, to shame ourselves for being who we are and we started internalising external messages.
There are many stories that can impact how we end up thinking and feeling.
In Denmark there's an unofficial 'law' called 'Jante's Law' and it tells Danes to not think too highly of themselves, to not think they're anything special, to not try too hard to be different. On one hand this story helps us keep a class-free system (though, this is slowly eroding) but on the other hand it makes people feel bad about their achievements, keeps them small and silence them (including when I was feeling depressed but thought I wasn't allowed to talk about it because then I'd be 'different' and 'attention seeking').
Maybe you grew up with the message at home that children are to be seen and not heard and learned to become invisible.
Most of us learned to supress our natural needs and urges and creativity at school to become compliant and conformist students and we learned that what matters is our external achievements such as grades. We were praised for doing well at tasks and most of us were spoon-fed the value of being perfectionists (trying to feel good about ourselves by seeking external validation).
We also learned that 'success' means money, status and material goods. This is the story of capitalism but few of us were taught that we can challenge and change this story for ourselves. For example, for me, success is waking up feeling happy in life. That's how I choose to define success.
There are thousands of such stories that impact our daily lives from cultural influences (for example, individualism versus collectivism, arranged marriages versus free love), to societal messages (like what I means to be beautiful in the 21st century) and to family or religious traditions (what is considered good or bad behaviour). But also the political climate we grew up under will have impacted us, be that war, poverty, unrest, uncertainty or, indeed, wealth and abundance. Did our government promote equality or oppression? Did they support racism and discrimination or inclusiveness?
And last but not least, what's the mental health narrative of your country and generation? Because coming back to Denmark after 18 years abroad and 12 years of intensive study of the human mind I was shocked to find Denmark so behind in its mental health narrative (I go into details about that here).
For many years, stories (our beliefs, our opinions, our worldview and the way it shapes how we talk about and view ourselves, others and the world around us) and narratives (the way we tell a story and looking at who the story really belongs to) have been at the forefront of my work, both professionally and privately. This is also why I call myself a Narrative Psychology Coach & Psychotherapist*.
With The Story Collective I invite you to join me to examine stories we take for granted and stories that aren't helping us or helping society to become better, healthier and happier. It's hard to change the world - especially if you're standing alone - but when we come together we can make a difference. Just look at the collective conversation Greta Thunberg started, standing alone with a sign, protesting about the climate crisis. Her speeches are powerful and hard-hitting, not least because they tell a story - a story about her and her generation's lives and future, a story we can all understand and relate to and a story so powerful it has made world leaders stop and listen. That's how powerful words can be.
At The Story Collective I'm not, necessarily, asking to start a mental health revolution (though I'm open to this!) but I'm inviting you to join the conversation and either listen or share your own story to create a ripple effect. Perhaps, the ripple effect will reach the ears of the Danish government and perhaps it'll make one other person out there, who's felt alone in their pain, feel seen, heard, understood and accepted and what's more powerful than that? I don't see myself changing the world but my mission has always been to make others feel better - one person, one conversation, one story at a time. My work is an absolute privilege and honour.
So, what can you do to join the story collective?
You can follow me on social media and read my posts and reflect quietly or join the conversation by commenting.
You can make an enquiry for us to privately look at your story to see if it can become more helpful and hopeful.
You can join my programme Reframing the Mental Health Narrative or one of my workshops.
You can book me to talk about this at your place of work or at an event.
Or you can make a request for a tailored offer, such as a training session for your employees around the power of stories and words or around mental health and the workplace.
Or, you can just email me and say hi!