Black Cats, Stigma, & Sheffield, Again

Owl bag (left) does not approve of cats on tables: Airy Fairy, Sheffield 2016

Owl bag (left) does not approve of cats on tables: Airy Fairy, Sheffield 2016

We humans are creatures of associations. I was back in Sheffield yesterday: “back” in that I worked there for 20+ years, then had a break of two years or so. Then I was back again, for one very intense year, before transferring to Donny. It was great being back again, volunteering for Time to Change at a mental health event at Sheffield University.

Back, back in … oh hell, here’s that track. It was in my mind, if not yours.

Twenty five or so years represents almost half my life. The first decade, however, wasn’t so good. I disliked my job, which resulted in my disliking Sheffield, too. Later, I drifted into something which was more my thing, and my attitude toward Sheff began to change.

When I married, the family held its collective breath to see how Mama Buna -Romanian for grandmother – would react. Fortunately, many years earlier, the family lived next door to an Englishwoman, and Mama Buna liked her. The lady even gave my grandmother a planter which was in her garden for many years.

So my British husband – who considers himself more Yorkshire, than English – was okay in Mama Buna’s eyes.

A win for association.

Good luck? Bad luck? Or simply a cat? Airy Fairy, 2016

Good luck? Bad luck? Or simply a cat? Airy Fairy.

One of the smaller adjustments I had to make when I moved to Britain was the belief that black cats – bad luck in the States, especially if they cross your path – are a symbol of good luck here.

But the cat is just a cat: although, in the cat’s opinion – and mine, for that matter – there is no “just” about cats.

Angela Slater from Time to Change, and the rest of the groups which included Sheffield Mind, several carers’ groups, and staff and volunteers from the local Mental Health Trust, were there in part to persuade students and staff alike that people with mental health problems are no different than the rest of us.

We’re all human. Like everyone else, sooner or later, we get sick: physically, mentally, or both.

How can you not love a city which has a Jarvis Cocker poem on the side of a building?

How can you not love a city which has a Jarvis poem on a building?

Don’t they teach you no brains at that school?” – Jarvis Cocker

Sometimes, it seems as though we’re teaching children useless facts, rather than life skills.

Skills like cooking, and paying bills, and how to get along with others, as well as themselves.

And the ability to treat mental health problems the same as physical ones.

Angela Slater (left) from Time to Change talking to a woman from another mental health group.

Angela Slater (left) from Time to Change talking to a woman from another mental health group.

On my way to Sheffield, and the Student Union where the event took place, it never crossed my mind to compare my breast cancer diagnosis, to my bipolar one.

But the comparison is apt, I think, when it comes to stigma. I can remember when cancer started coming out of the broom cupboard. It seems odd now that 50 years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to talk publicly about having early stage cancer.

Suspicious character spotted at Sheffield University

Suspicious character spotted at Sheffield University

Why should schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorders, depression, and anxiety be any different?

We are imperfect beings. We get sick, and it isn’t always our physical bodies which feel the strain. Sometimes, it’s our mental health. And sometimes, it’s both.

Yesterday, it was time to talk about mental health.

It still is.

Cake is good for the soul, unless of course you've gone for a cuppa with Owl Bag.

Cake is good for the soul, unless you’ve gone for a cuppa with Owl Bag.

Tagged: beliefs, bipolar, breast cancer, Britain, cats, Jarvis Cocker, luck, mental health, poetry, Sheffield, stigma, Time to Change

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