#worldmentalhealthday

So today is World Mental Health Day. Blah, blah, blah.

God, does it just seem like the internets have exploded with stuff about Mental Health these days? God, why don’t people just get a grip? I mean how snowflakey can you get, right?

WRONG.

Call me a snowflake*, call me what you like, I honestly don’t care.

What I do care about is that this conversation about mental ill health is loud and proud. The conversation is incredibly personal to me. I’m your one in four, or whatever the statistic is.

Here’s my story

In the last three years, the depression that I thought I’d seen the back of in my teens returned with a vengeance. I didn’t find myself in bed, unable to function.

No, for a very, very long time I struggled on, in silence, getting up, showing up, fully washed and dressed and performing very well at what I was doing.

I was rather short tempered, but that could be explained by the immense pressure we were under at work.

I had become something of a recluse, but hell, I’m an introvert and under the circumstances I needed to recharge.

I lost my libido completely, but life was hectic etc. – there just wasn’t time for any of that – I was too tired.

I described how I was feeling as “hanging on by the very tips of my fingers”, but I was fine, honestly I was just fine.

It was all so easy to explain away.

You see, I just did not want to admit that I might be depressed again – it felt like a failure somehow to be depressed again. Somehow I had let
the darkness back in, by not being strong enough or vigilant enough or just plain not enough.

Then I went on a Mental Health First Aider course through work, and as we were chatting I could no long avoid the truth.

The fact that I could check off the majority of the list of symptoms was no co-incidence.

I had a plan though, I was going to phone our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and organise some counselling and everything would be fine.

So I phoned, and I organised the counselling, and everything was not fine.

No.

My counsellor suggested I go to the doctor and get signed off. I was burned out through and through you see.

I struggle to describe the magnitude of panic that welled up inside me at this suggestion. What about my career? It was doomed to go down the pan if I did this? I’d be the laughing stock. I’d be the woman who could not cope. I’d be an utter failure. I’m not glib in these statements – the fears were completely real and they were all consuming. I cried all night.

I booked the doctor’s appointment the next day though, because anything that makes me cry all night deserves some recognition. I was signed off for six weeks.

Fortunately for me, one of my very best friends was able to be around each week to meet up with me and ensure that I wasn’t driving myself insane with my thoughts. I had CBT counselling which focussed very much on what I needed to do to get back and functioning at work.

I was terrified of losing my job, terrified of not being able to pay my mortgage, terrified that when I went back to work that no one would have a shred of respect for me and I’d worked very hard to earn that respect.

As the six weeks drew to a close, and I started to get the ever so formal letters from HR about sick pay and so forth, I was aware that I wasn’t ready to go back to work. My confidence was shattered and I had a new friend – panic attacks. I went back to the doctor and asked for something to help and I was prescribed Sertraline. It’s one of the three standard antidepressants that are prescribed first, and it is supposed to help if you’re very anxious.

The first two weeks were hell, because what Sertraline does first is exacerbate any symptoms you may have before your body adjusts to it and calms down. So hello panic attacks whilst ordering coffee (decaf), hello panic attacks because I was on a train – no more than that, just I was on a train. Hello to all of the panic attacks.

What it also gave me was the confidence to return to work. I wasn’t myself. I returned to another role. The drugs made me feel like a greyscale version of myself. The world had no colour, but I was back at work and that’s all that mattered right?

Whatever libido I had left, ran away and hid. It had camouflage and an invisibility cloak. Potentially it just went up in smoke. I got to spend a lot of time berating myself about this and how it was going to be the end of my relationship, because who the hell would want me like this anyway? It was so much fun…

Here’s what also happened. Some people really surprised me during this time. They were so supportive and they showed up, they checked in, they listened and they didn’t judge.

They’re my closest friends now.

Other people, people who I had thought were trusted friends also didn’t show up. They stopped being in contact, for whatever reason. I’m not really in contact with those people any more. So this taught me a lot about the people in my life, they say big events do.

I was in a different position at work, which was really good for me because I didn’t have to face those fears about losing respect and not being able to keep the pace. I was able to build respect from the beginning again without having to explain what had happened to people I wasn’t comfortable explaining to. The anxiety abated slowly.

Then it came back.

More counselling. I finally found a way to feel like the anxiety wasn’t going to swallow me up and take over my entire identity.

I was doing great.

Then out of nowhere – crushing darkness.

I just wanted it to stop. I was so tired of fighting, of getting up, of showing up, of trying to be better than all of this. I wanted out. Out of this, out of life, away from the pain. It was so horrible and I was so incredibly sad.

There was not a single thing in my life which would point to a “reason” for this. I have a good job, loving family, the best partner, I earn good money, I have a cute, wee house, I have lovely friends, fluffy and loving pets – you get where I’m going with this don’t you? I have a charmed life, what the fuck was wrong with me?

I just felt like I had a black hole in the middle of me, a giant gaping maw which was swallowing me up with emptiness. It was soul destroying. I felt like I’d spent the last 18 months fighting it and all for nought. It felt inevitable and utterly permanent, and I felt rather desperate for it not to be permanent.

Fast forward to now… does this story have a happy ending? I hope so yes.

I’ve been in counselling every week since the soul sucking black hole showed up. I’m fortunate that work are flexible and understand enough to support this and allow me the time. I’ve identified where I feel huge gaping holes of disconnection and I’m focusing hard on fixing those.

The colour has come back into my world slowly and I’m delighted about that.

I have honest conversations with trusted people about where I’m at, and they have the same back with me about where they’re at.

If people seem not ok to me, I will do a double check with them to ensure they’re not feeling like they’re holding on with the very tips of their fingers or being slowly consumed by a giant, gaping maw of desperation. I check in with people and people check in with me. It’s quite different to the silence and hiding that preceded all of this.

That’s my point today for World Mental Health Day. Have the conversation. Listen. You may not be able to see what’s going on for people, but if they drop the mask, then don’t judge and offer an ear and a hug. Check in with them. Week in, week out.

It’s so positive that we’re having these conversations openly now and even though we’ve so much still to accomplish in terms of getting rid of the stigma, not least in our own minds, the very fact that this is all over the internet is a good thing.

If my company hadn’t opened up that conversation, offered the Mental Health First Aider training, who knows where I’d be today, but I doubt it would be feeling hopeful about the future.

PS: this is a very personal blog post so please be respectful of that. Derogatory comments are not welcome and will be blocked. Also, if you know someone who has said they’re depressed or anxious, drop them a text or ring them to check in. Continue to do so, even if they don’t reciprocate. You cannot appreciate the impact of that enough.

* snowflakes may melt under heat, but guess what? Everything is weakened by something, that’s just life. Snowflakes – they’re wonderful, unique, beautiful in their individualism, provide the best fun and en masse can cause epic changes, so don’t knock ’em and find another way to try and belittle people okay. Or maybe just don’t belittle people in the first place – try that.)