by Huma Munshi
Trigger warning for one description of self-harm
Madness is but a sleight of hand
The line is so faint
It is mere good fortune
That today I write
Today I accomplish
Tomorrow I may crumble
Rae in My Mad Fat Diary has a new boyfriend and he is helping her reach orgasm, it is a funny scene which includes an overly enthusiastic parent walking in. It made me remember again how much I love MMFD, not just because of the orgasms but because mental health is finally shown with some complexity. I have written elsewhere about how powerful the programme is, but as I watched the first episode of the second series, the character of Rae took on a much wider resonance.
I find a programme like MMFD a lot less problematic than the fly-on the-wall documentary, Bedlam, which showed people managing serious mental health problems. In MMFD, the audience can see the illness in the context of someone’s life. It is one element of a life; it is not the entirety of who they are and this is what needs to be repeated and understood.
MMFD demonstrates the fine line between those of us that experience mental health problems and those that have the resilience to manage life’s pains without having to access mental health services. Who doesn’t go through the issues Rae, played by Sharon Rooney, is facing? Feeling angst about a new boyfriend? Check. Wanting to feel sexy? Check. Pressured by friends to lose your virginity because being a virgin is deemed uncool? Check. In fact, a feminist analysis would say that it is patriarchal culture which is the basis for the angst that Rae is going through.
But I digress. Let me get back to my initial point on mental health.
I am genuinely curious as to how people manage life’s distresses without going into self-destruct mode. In the last series, we witness Rae taking scalding hot showers as a form of self-harm. It shows how painfully easy it is to go from a person who is experiencing the everyday reality of life and then reacting in a way that becomes incredibly damaging. Maybe that is why I hold the show so dear because madness (and I want to reclaim that word) could happen to anyone. It is but a sleight of hand.
MMFD also demystifies access to mental health provision. It does not always get this element right. The relationship between Rae and her therapist has spilled out of the confines of a therapy room, something which is strongly discouraged. But at least it demonstrates that accessing mental health provision does not have to be frightening and dreadful. Yes, in that room she discusses all the things that she tries to push away, including her feelings of self-loathing, but by bringing the issues to the fore, you see a journey of sorts. I am particularly looking forward to her group therapy sessions (I currently access group therapy) though I get a whiff of a burgeoning friendship with one of the others users outside the group which is also strongly discouraged. But as it gets so much right, on this occasion we can make an exception to allow for some artistic license to help with the plot development.
I sometimes wish Rae would take on a feminist perspective to life’s tribulations, I am sure it would help provide some clarity. Barring that, I will champion her as the hero we need – I need – to get people to understand the impact of mental health problems in all their complex pain and glory.
 Untitled poem by Huma Munshi
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here