#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.)

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On Loneliness

As always, a quick disclaimer- any time I choose to share my thoughts through this blog you can be assured that they’re deeply personal to me.  I share because I believe it is very good to give voice to those parts of us which are often kept from the light due to whatever.  In today’s world, with all its complex gloriousness, I believe that it is more important than ever to be able to let the cracks show, so that others know that they are not alone.  So please don’t be nasty here – it’s a place of gentleness and understanding. Okidokey – onwards…

Today I’m asking myself if loneliness is a state of mind or if it is something that is unavoidable? Is it something I can be mindful of, diverting away when I sense the dark spiral descending, or is it a burden which I simply have to bear? Is it a choice? (Albeit one made without consciousness, because who in their right mind would choose this?)

There, ladies and gents, I believe we have hit the nail on the head.  Who indeed, in their right mind would choose loneliness? The operative words being “right mind”.

When I am depressed, recovering from depression, anxious, panicked, whatever, then loneliness is a familiar companion; a very reliable, kind of with-you-for-the-long-haul-won’t-let-you-down companion. The bastard.

My mental illness isolates me, and the dark spiral magnifies the isolation.  Importantly, it is a place that I know intimately.

So that tells me that the feelings of isolation and loneliness may be a product of the negative self talk that I am oh so good at. If I tell myself that I am so alone, that no one cares, that I have to be strong because no one is going to be there for me, then yes, I can see how I would come to believe this to be true in my heart of hearts. (I do this often…)

If I tell myself constantly that everyone else has wonderful friends and marvellous lives without moments of despair or isolation, then I can see how this filter will descent to colour my world, making it true for me.  (I also do this often…)

You see, the rational part of me knows that 1) I have many, gorgeous friends who must care about me and 2) I don’t particularly connect with them frequently either for a multitude of reasons. Then the other part of me, the one which is most dominant in dark moments, tells me that they evidently do not love me as much as I love them because they never bloody make any effort do they? This of course, must be because they don’t need me since they have a full and connected life in the absence of my presence and so on and so on.  It’s the perfect victim speech let me tell you, and boy I am a convincing story teller to myself! Oh woe! Oh woe is me!

The loneliness is a very real thing. I miss my friends with all of my heart and I find the isolation of this village very difficult to cope with, but I recognise that somewhere along the way the grief has morphed into the most dangerous and miserable story of victimisation.

So how to reverse the flow, to create the momentum towards the upward spiral, away from the dart? Well I think this, right here, is a very important place to start; acknowledgement, truth, readiness to look through a mindful and honest lens, with compassion and understanding at what is happening in my mind right now.  I think that only then can moving upward begin.  But first, a cup of tea!

 

 

Leaning into the wind

What they never are able to get across to you, when they’re urging you to keep an open heart during times which you find are difficult, is how fucking hard it is. I mean, every instinct in your body is screaming at you to get angry, get even, retreat, throw your toys out the cot, basically all the things which are not keeping your heart open to what is feeling. 

Every defence mechanism going lines up to have a go, whether it be epic proportions of sleep, eating all the sugar, trying to gloss over, tamp down, think past, think around, get cross about, start blaming, start generalising, get critical, try to find out all the terrible things which happened to you in the past which have lead you to this very moment of melodramatic angst and proceed to pick them apart in painstaking detail (an accomplice is almost certainly required for this), just so you don’t have to face the incredible discomfort of just sitting with what is…. Mostly impossible to avoid, for we are but human.
There are flashes of peace. The moment when you are praying to the goddess of everything to please just help lift the torment and then a moment of clarity, remembering that love is not something that happens to you, it is something that you utterly are, always. Or the moment when you whisper to yourself, “maybe it is okay to feel like this” and it feels like every muscle fibre in your body exhales, relaxes and reaffirms that this is where you are right now and that’s just not a threat to you, or the glimmers of gratitude from kind words, kitty cuddles or just three deep and present breaths whilst inhaling the scent of mown grass. They are a balm to the soul when you are feeling a little tossed and torn by the stormy seas of your story riddled mind. 
Then it is back to the what ifs and the should I’s, and the general cacophony of discord that such stormy stories give rise to. In the midst of this, your challenge is to find your roots, take a deep breath and lean into the wind with an open heart. Fuck me, is it ever a challenge! By goddess do you love and appreciate the youness of you when you manage, even for a fraction of a moment…

On giving a fuck…

(Note, it is advisable that if you don’t like the word fuck then you should not read on.)

It appears that there is a current trend of not giving a fuck. Observe:

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and…

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This is an issue for me, because basically giving a fuck is about all I can do.

If I’m there and I’m involved, then I’m giving a fuck.

The issue of course, is that this ensures that I am inherently uncool. A concept which is absolutely not a surprise to me and something which I long ago accepted and even have embraced. Because if you’re cool then you can’t do things like wear yellow trousers just because you felt like making them. It’s just not cool.

However, whilst I am quite happy to generally be the uncoolest uncool person ever, in this instance it would appear that I have an issue…

I yearn to absolutely and genuinely, not give a fuck.

Logically, if you actually don’t care then nothing can touch you yes? That is to say, nothing can hurt you. This is the inner diatribe’s point of view, at least.

I cannot begin to describe the knots my feelings and thoughts tie into when this process is going on. I try and try and try to rationalise away the caring about whatever it is that I am caring about until there is no longer a straight and grounded thought inside me and the diatribe is on a rampage, telling me off in the harshest of ways for caring far too damn much and don’t I know that I will just end up hurt and then I will be the fool?

Whilst this is all going on and I’m drying my hair for tomorrow (very distracted fashion, likely to be bird’s nest in the morning), an epiphany makes an appearance. “What if,” I think to myself, “what if it’s okay to give a fuck?” Cue clonking myself on the head with hairdryer.

Not exactly earth shattering is it? Except it is, because in this one moment the permission to unashamedly give a fuck, a huge big fuck, about what is going on, means that the inner diatribe can have a night off and get some sleep! Hallelujah.

And so, in conclusion, henceforth and forthwith I say fuck it to not giving a fuck, because actually I give a fuck and that’s okay.

Outstandingly profound yes? …

The Not Good Times

Here’s the thing – I am not having a “good” year. I’m not. That’s not to say that on the surface things aren’t peachy – they are. On the surface everything looks just great.

However, a few millimetres below that, things are not just peachy. That’s pretty much it. Not a good year.

I have been consumed with doubt about so many things. I’m struggling with relationships around me and with myself, feeling conflicted about so many things. Then there has been so much sadness, and what I can only assume is grief about all sorts of things, loneliness and many tears. I don’t list these things in the hopes of sympathy, empathy or any solution. I list them simply because they are real and they are felt daily and they exist mostly in secret, just millimetres from the surface.

It’s tough, not one day goes by that I’m not searching for a “solution” or a way to help myself or make things better. I am constantly trying to find ways to try to make this hardness go away. I do not roll over easily… Then recently, in what were probably the very best of intentions, someone made a comment about how all of this is affecting me and they linked it to my sense of self worth.

It sure as hell touched a nerve. It both infuriated me and made me feel inside out and, besides the complete and utter inappropriateness of it, and once I had spent a long time writing down swear words joined up by other words, I realised this – This. Is. Where. I. Am.

Cue a moment of instant calm amongst the turbulent emotions. Sweet and utter relief. The realisation that sometimes things are just hard. Sometimes, the least helpful thing I can do is to look for a solution or figure things out. Fighting it bypasses the instance of self acceptance that is the ultimate essence of compassion. Besides, what the fuck is so wrong with having a hard time? Are we not allowed a few months of less than average to good times? When did it become compulsory to feel bloody delighted all the time?

Please do not misunderstand, I fully appreciate that people have the very best of intentions when they’re trying to move you on from the hardness through sympathy and helpful suggestions. They clearly empathise with the hardness and wish it wasn’t so for you. But sometimes there is sweet F.A. that can be done apart from sit back, accept that shit happens, you feel like shit, you probably look like shit, you’re most likely quite difficult to be around because of all the shit that you’re dealing with and such is life. It is, plainly, where you are at for now, so sit back and relax about it. Fighting it is only going to take out of you what you need to deal with all the rubbish going on. Life will move on from this hard place, it has to.

PS it is totally fine to absolutely fucking hate that that is where you are. It is a pile of doo after all.

PPS: It’s also fine to want to tell everyone who just doesn’t get it to do one.

PPPS: It is not fine to post anything trying to remotely helpful or resembling advice in response to this. It is highly likely to incur the response of above.

Crying

Today has not started as a good day. At least it doesn’t feel that way. There is still the cloud and overwhelming desire to cry and cry which just won’t go away. It seems an absurd reaction to nothing. I am terrified that it is depression making a come back (frankly to slip away from it all unnoticed feels very, very attractive today) and I am hopeful that it is hormones instead.

My horoscope urges me to positivity today. How on god’s earth that is supposed to happen I have no idea. I can’t see any gifts, simply loneliness overwhelming me and urging that I am worthless and what is the point?

A little voice whispered to me that you don’t get up because others love you, you get up for yourself. I think this might be truth but I am feeling too swamped by this grief to comprehend and for it to bring relief. Perhaps if I just write it down it will help.

I don’t want to be this mess. I really don’t. I just want to be loved. That is all. To be loved and to know it. For the whispering voice that thunders,”WORTHLESS,” to disappear, given a hug and replaced by one which knows it it loved dearly. For the daily reminders which show me how little value I am of to anyone other than myself to be held up to the light and burnt off, shown to be false; being out of context interpretations which have been twisted in my own mind to make an impact. Wanting instead a calm and steady sense of value to root me and guide me through the maelstrom of life.

This is my act of kindness to myself today. To take the words out of my head and to put them down on here so that there can be some stillness. I have lead myself back from here time and time before and I can do so again today. Out of love. For myself. Because you get up and you show up, for yourself.

The Great Marathon Adventure

Well, it has been a long time hasn’t it? What’s that you say? A good few years… Well yes, I have been very busy doing things, mundane things, but now I’m back to tell you about my adventures!

I’ll start with the story that lead me here, to telling you about what I am doing and why. It links with many of my previous posts from when apparently I had M.E. – like this one.

I didn’t have M.E.; what training for that half marathon taught me is to ALWAYS trust my gut feeling. Always. Because I realised that if you can train for a half marathon and still function, whilst apparently having M.E., then you probably don’t have M.E.

I changed my doctors’ surgery and spoke to a very understanding Doctor. He actually listened to my story and took me seriously (which in my experience in the UK is the exception rather than the rule) and yes, he filled me with more holes and stole my blood, but in the end was a proper, real diagnosis. Coeliac Disease.

I do not know how many times when I had been told I had M.E. that I had just wished for there to be a way for me to make it simply better. Having an answer was incredible and from that moment in I embraced having to go “gluten free” because here was a simple way to make myself well.

It wasn’t so simple though, which is where Coeliac UK come into play. Coeliac UK are an absolute boon to the newly diagnosed. They’re the oldest and largest charity which helps to support, campaign, research, you name it, for people with coeliac disease and they were so helpful in my steep learning curve of going “gluten free”.

So on the 6th of April 2014 I’m not running a half marathon, I’m running a full marathon, the Brighton Marathon, to help raise money to support Coeliac UK. That’s 26.2 miles of sweat and probably tears and I’d dearly appreciate any and all support in doing so. I’m loving the adventure (yes really!) and the challenge and I hope to share a bit of it here with you, if you’d like to join me.

raise money for Coeliac UK. That’s 26.2 miles of seweat and a few gallons of tears