This is where I’d like readers to be able to share their own experience, in whatever form, with mental health problems, and hopefully in the process help us all to realise that there really is no need to feel shame for who we are and what we live with. We’re like everyone else, just doing the best we can!!
|Image credit: Michael Leunig|
I’m hearing voices in my head
Aidan O’Connell, End the Stigma
I have had a variety of diagnoses thrown at me over the years. I was told I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I was told I had OCD. After I buried my girlfriend in 2008, I was clear I had PTSD. I have a Pain Specialist who has diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia. As a kid, Aspergers , High Functioning Aspergers was mentioned. I have displayed symptoms of Bipolar II with what could be called Hypomania. I now have a very definitive diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder / Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder which explains a lot and explains why I wasnt satisfied with the above diagnoses, given by various specialists. The concern now though is I am hearing voices. Read more.
A good girl goes to rehab
Caroline McGraw, A Wish Comes Clear
“They tried to make you go to rehab, and you said yes, yes, yes. I’m so proud of you for saying yes to life … to this opportunity to find healing, peace, and adventure.”
Sitting on my bed reading those words out of a close friend’s card, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. My friend’s paraphrase of Amy Winehouse’s famous lyrics made me smile even as her encouraging words made me choke up. The card arrived just when I needed it most. I’d already traveled from my home in Alabama to Washington State’s San Juan Island. I’d also spent several days as a full-fledged Participant in The Clearing’s residential rehab Program. Read more.
Exactly a year ago, I was all excited leaving my DBT Skills Group. I was on my way to collect a puppy. That same puppy is lying at my feet as I write this just hours after finishing my final Skills Group. That day, I wasn’t long into DBT. I was still working full time, feeling “fine” about it all, struggling a little to make sense of it. I was helping to organise a large fundraising event. I was doing a lot of overtime. That was about to change. Read more.
A different point of view
Michael Fox, Clinical Psychologist, mindproblem.com
I have received a lot of criticism from people experiencing depression for suggesting that depression is not a “mental illness”. I believe the term “illness” perpetuates the idea that depression is a medical/biological/ genetic problem, involving faulty genes, brain wiring or brain biochemistry, for which a medical solution needs to be found. That solution is always just around the corner. It my view that the medical view is completely wrong and it is the widespread certainty of this view that has prevented the mental health professions from reaching a true understanding of depression and actually being able to eliminate it. From my perspective the “illness” model promotes the hopelessness that leads to many suicides because depression is seen as a life-long incurable condition that needs to be managed, and continually struggled with. It promotes the idea of the incurable broken mind, or the broken unpredictable person, that fuels the stigma that is associated with it. I believe that the very idea of being “mentally ill” makes depression 10 times worse for many people and it crushes them. In the last 12 months I have treated 2 people who were experiencing depression and anxiety simply because they believed that they were still “mentally ill”, and therefore deeply inferior to ‘normal’ people. Read more.
I sprained my mental health
Daithí, Reeling in the fears
I recently sprained my mental health, twisted it badly. I’m on crutches for a couple of weeks, possibly longer. “What happened?” they said. Happened out of nowhere. I was driving home one day, pulled into the driveway and then BANG! It just went from under me. I managed to get inside and to sit down and have a look. It was swollen and ugly. Bruised and delicate. The slightest touch and slightest movement just too much to handle and I was worried I might cause more damage. Read more.
Letter to Fiona
Niall Breslin (Bressie)
Over recent times there has been a huge injection of positive and progressive interaction on mental health, on social media and various blogging sites. It’s important to take an objective view of this development and celebrate the gradual but very real erosion of an archaic and suffocating stigma. A blog that has been gaining much respect and exposure is the powerfully honest and personal sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers (a brilliant analogy and blog title).
Recently, the author of the blog, Fiona, made contact with myself over on twitter. It was regarding a Facebook and blog entry she posted regarding the portrayal of mental health in the media and the roles certain people play in this, including myself. Read more
The fight for my life
About 18 months ago I got sick. Very sick. I ended up in hospital, and was to stay there for almost nine months. I was embarrassed and ashamed and felt that I couldn’t tell anyone where I was. I told some people I was on holidays, others that I was away for work. But the truth was that I was on a psychiatric ward fighting for my life. I say fighting because that’s what I felt I was doing.
It all happened rather quickly. One minute I was bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding and the next thing I was inpatient on an acute psychiatric ward. It all happened so fast and in a number of weeks I unravelled in spectacular style. Read more
Mental health and Irish education
I have thought long and hard about writing this. Why, you might ask. Mainly I have never really thought people would be that interested in my ongoing journey with depression and anxiety (and I also have Asperger’s syndrome to boot). What has been going on in my life for the past few months as made me want to scream out at the top of my lungs. I feel like my head is on the verge of exploding, that there is a type pressure deep in my body that is about to explode. I fell like Violet Beauregard from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ when she eats the chewing gum she is not allowed to and turns purple and all her limbs start to swell up. You see, I am currently going through one of the worst periods of my illness in about seven years. Read more
Cuts to mental health services – a literal death sentence
We recently elected a new government, not that you could tell it in looking at our currently defunct parliament. In the 36 days since our votes were counted and those who were chosen by the people were officially elected, we have sat around watching them squabble like children, unable to pick their teams in a way that made anyone happy. They’ve racked up a whopping 1.75 million (and growing) wages bill – and that’s just the TDs – for their playground politics. Keep that figure in mind when you see the next one I give you – a proposed cut of 12 million from the 35 million budget ring fenced for mental health services. In our already fractured mental health system, the government is prioritising other things and taking funds away from helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I’m angry. Read more
Transition from child to adult mental health services
I am seventeen years old and attend the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). My mother works in the in-patients building, so I’ve heard bits about that. I was referred to this service by Jigsaw, and only had a couple week’s wait for either service. For this I am extremely grateful, you know the difference time like that can make. I know more than several young people attending CAMHS, Jigsaw, and other service like myself. Schools of late have been running workshops and events based around mental health and wellbeing. I am so fortunate to have all these services and things to help myself and others my age. Read more
Ramblings of an anxious mind
Every day is a struggle. Forcing myself to eat, not sleeping without strong sleeping tablets to take the edge off, and even at that not sleeping the whole night, constantly shaking, heart racing, a tightness in my chest, hyperventilating, sweating, eye twitching, zero concentration, jumpiness, a heightened sense of awareness, sounds seem louder, sensations more intense, smells seem stronger, worrying about every little thing, sometimes unable to even leave the house, leave my bed, did I mention constantly shaking? In a constant state of panic. But at the same time I feel numb. Like an outsider watching my life unfold. If you had told me this time last year that this was how my life would turn out I probably would have laughed at you. I used to laugh a lot. Read more
The girl, the wolf, and the Woodsman who never was
I’d like to start by asking you to step through this link to the beautiful stories and art of Emily Carroll. The Big Bad Wolf. I’ve been a fan of Emily’s work for a while now, but The Big Bad Wolf stands out as a fascinating piece work in a lot of ways. The first time I read it, my mind kept returning to the story, turning it around and exploring my interpretation of it.
It didn’t take long for parallels to appear with The Girl and Fiona’s weary battle with her own Wolf. Read more
We need to talk about………..suicide
Wait!! Come back!
OK, so it isn’t the most enticing headline ever and the first thing I ought to say is that no, I am not suicidal. Far from it. But in the past I have been. And I feel that I have something of value to say on the subject.
I have received a lot of comments on my blog, many praising me for being brave in sharing my thoughts and feelings in the way that I have. Such feedback is always a real pleasure to receive and it means a great deal to me. But to be honest, doing this has never felt brave; this is who I am, and I am happy and secure with who I am, regardless of what happens to be going on in my life.
But this post is different. This is tough. This is uncomfortable. And that’s why I feel that it is important that I write it. Read more
A letter to my son
A year ago, you decided to enter into this world. You weren’t due until the end of March, but you arrived early for a reason. You knew that I was struggling. My anxiety levels were worryingly high. Let me explain why.
I had had a tough six years before your creation. I had succumbed to the Black Dog of Depression, time and time again, culminating with a hospital stay of four months in St Patrick’s Hospital. I had missed six months a year for longer than I could remember, as my Generalised Anxiety Order controlled my thoughts, and ultimately my mood. I have a worry problem, as oft people do, but alas, mine used to get out of control. I would worry about things that were unrealistic, and often, untrue. The mind is a powerful thing, and when I was anxious, my brain would convince me of the most horrendous things. When my worries became so great, and I revelled in catastrophising, I would shut down. Read more
Fear and yearning
Nick is Founder and Facilitator at SHARE, a Mayo based support group for adults survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
I came across one of those quotes that fly around Facebook. It read “Some days you’ll feel sad without knowing why. Like you lost something very precious but forgot what it was, or like you miss someone you’ve never met” Whether intended or not, this is a very accurate description of my underlying feeling of having BPD, except that it is not “some days”, rather every living breathing moment. It is this feeling of intense desperation combined with such a deep gut wrenching yearning for this something that although you don’t have any idea what it is, you believe it will make you a whole person; it will make sense of who you are; It will breathe life into you and give you a name, give you an identity. Every moment of your life is fuelled by this aching sadness as you look for that something; that meaning; that thing you cannot name. With the realisation that it or they never existed you desperately try to ignore, try to bury the yearning deep down so far that you can no longer hear the voice telling you that all this is a result of chemical imbalance in the brain or childhood trauma. With that voice comes complete and utter despair. You know that this sadness will always exist without it ever becoming bearable. You are continuously pulled apart by the conflict between the sadness of the loss and the knowledge that the thing or person you miss more than anything in the world, does not exist. Read more
My story has never been completely told. Most of it I blocked out for many many years. It was only after falling to pieces a year ago July 2014, and being hospitalized that I started to let the pieces of the story come out. I was put in hospital for not being able to promise that I could keep myself safe. I was self harming to the point that permanent damage was a real possibility. Once hospitalized I was diagnosed bipolar, with major recurring depressive disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don’t even remember all of the medication I was put on. Prior to being hospitalized I had been in therapy for well over a year, on medication for equally as long, but had become resistant to everything. Whilst in the hospital I still managed to continue with self harming behaviors, which was not taken to very well. Read more
We’ve talked a lot about stigma in recent years. Thinking back to my teenage years, I wouldn’t have known what the word meant in the context of mental illness and yet I know how desperately I tried to hide the symptoms that terrified me. Looking back, it seems so obvious that I should or could have talked to somebody at home or at school but that was just not even remotely an option. I hid them. The more I hid them, the better I got at hiding. By the time I was twice the age of that teenage girl, I deserved (so my counsellor tells me) an Oscar for my many performances. Read more
On being a therapist and a client
Nick Groom, 17/6/2015
Life in a Bind 6/2/2015
It can be the simple things
Gabhain Ó Donnabháin, (Running for Sanity) 15/10/2014
It can incredibly difficult to be a young Irish male these days, let alone being a young Irish male living in a rural area with mental health issues. Without going into it in a whole lot of detail, I had a very traumatic upbringing, with major grief and loss on a personal level, to put it mildly, along with growing up in a household with addiction in it, I also survived stage 4 cancer. As I got older I tried and tried quite successfully to bury pretty much every memory of childhood that I could, almost to a stage where I was not sure if had very had a childhood. Read more
Making friends with the black void
Kate Phelan, 20/9/2014
Last October, Conor Cusack wrote a blog post titled ‘Depression is a friend, not my enemy,’ about how he came to see depression as “a message from a part of your being to tell you something in your life isn’t right.” He acknowledged the damage depression can do, but said that for him it had ultimately created positive change. As unpleasant as it can be, I’ve come to agree that depression is your body and minds’ way of telling you something you need to hear.
It was an amazing piece and a brutally honest account of mental illness that was a long time coming, and it had and continues to have a huge impact on those of us who recognised ourselves in it. It was both sad and hopeful to read, in that the passages below led me to think about depression in a new light:
“I believe depression is a message from a part of your being to tell you something in your life isn’t right and you need to look at it. It forced me to stop and seek within for answers and that is where they are. It encouraged me to look at my inner life and free myself from the things that were preventing me from expressing my full being.
Once or twice a year, especially when I fall into old habits, my ‘friend’ pays me a visit. I don’t push him away or ignore him. I sit with him in a chair in a quiet room and allow him to come. I sit with the feeling. Sometimes I cry, other times I smile at how accurate his message is. He might stay for an hour, he might stay for a day. He gives his message and moves on. Lao Tzu believed that action was something that arose naturally from stillness. When you can sit and be with yourself, it is a wonderful gift and real and authentic action flows from it.”
Over the last two months, I’ve had every intention of sitting with my own ‘friend’ and hearing what it has to say. In order to do this, I felt I had to remove myself from the living and working situations I was in and just be with whatever is in there in a peaceful place where it would be easier to avoid distractions.
I’ve since learned that there is no end to the things I can turn into distractions. Mindful meditation is the ideal means for doing what needs to be done to get to the root of whatever my unnamed problem may be, yet over the last few weeks I’ve felt myself getting paradoxically closer and yet further away from the point of being able to sit and be with myself. I’ve created multiple seemingly essential tasks for myself to complete rather than doing the thing I’ve known for over a year I need to do: make friends with the black void.
I’ve thought and read and written about depression in those months, but always in an objective, impersonal way that doesn’t put me at too much risk of being exposed or made to feel vulnerable, which is what I fear the most. I’ve almost subconsciously sought to protect myself, even as I’ve begun to accept who I really am.
I’ve tried to be funny and light, because a lot of the time I am light, but I am also dark and terrified. I have chosen not to dwell on that side of myself, in part because I don’t believe it to be of interest to anyone else and in part because I haven’t fully embraced it myself, or even looked at it properly with any compassion.
I’ve told people I’m depressed, but I haven’t intentionally thought about why. If I’m being honest, I haven’t even let myself fully feel it either. I’ve allowed my medication to lift my mood to a very acceptable level and gone about my every day business without really addressing the actual issue or asking what it is my depression was trying to tell me. There is a subconscious aversion there to getting to know myself fully, and I continue to allow it to win out every day.
As a result, over the last few weeks I’ve felt myself becoming irritable, panicky and increasingly compulsive. I’ve spent entire days urging myself in one direction or another to the point of exhaustion. I’ve applied this sense of urgent compulsion to meditation and forced myself to sit or lie for forty minutes with supposedly mindful awareness.
I’ve found it very helpful and been able to do the practice without putting pressure on myself to get it “right”, yet I’ve spent most of these minutes observing rapid-fire thoughts. For the most part, instead of watching them come and go (as is the aim of the practise) I’ve felt myself being pulled in all directions except inward.
Initially the eternal pessimist within hypothesised that I wasn’t making much progress, but on reflection the noticing of the speed, forcefulness and sheer volume of the thoughts I was having was in itself a revelation. It’s been a cumulative process but I have realised, as if stepping back and suddenly seeing the dots join up, that there is actually recognisable pattern within the obsessive messy madness that is my brain.
There have been times when I’ve approached the black void. These are the times when my mind objects most strongly. As soon as I come close to being in the present moment in my body, and I find an awareness of the intense sensations of fear that make my body eternally tense, my mind throws up a thought of something to do, somewhere to be. Anywhere but here. It is the equivalent of the person in the cinema shouting “Don’t go in there, he’s behind the door!”
Yesterday I managed, finally, to push past it, not by forcing but just by acknowledging the intense urge to avoid and letting it go. I found the edges of what I affectionately refer to as the ‘black void’ and explored what they feel like.
It turns out it’s a sense of my stomach being hollow, but also raw. The sides of my stomach feel sore and raw. In my chest, it’s a tightness all around my ribcage and diaphragm, a sense of holding, weight and tightness. When I thought about how I would go about releasing whatever needs to be released, the sensations of fear in my stomach intensified and my mind went, “Hey, quick, get up and put on the laundry or the world will end!”
I can see that my mind thinks it is helping, but I’ve realised my body knows a lot more about what emotions are there than my mind is willing to admit. My mind is trying to help by telling me it would be much more sensible to go and make a collage than to go anywhere near the dark pit of unease in my stomach. It has not made the connection that the feeling doesn’t go away, and the more I ignore it the more uncomfortable it becomes.
I’ve concluded that there is a choice to be made, which is to resist the compulsive urges that pull me away from sitting with and befriending the black void. It is an idea that makes me intensely uncomfortable and afraid, but I think that might be the point.
On Saturday I have a full day of silent mindful meditation with my eight week course: the ideal location to try it out. I’m considering having a prep day of silent meditation tomorrow, avoiding phones and twitter and The Killing and chores, having my own little silent retreat. But I must also resist the urge I’m feeling at the moment to see it as a test of my willpower and yet another goal to focus on, instead of just being with whatever is going on in my insides and giving it a chance to get its message across.
You can read more of Kate’s work on her blog, bundle of compulsions.
(Trigger alert: this piece discusses the aftermath of losing a partner to suicide and may be upsetting for some readers)
“In the midst of winter, I found, there was within me, an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus
I found this blog recently and it has helped me to read the experiences of someone I identify with. I find myself in a unique, but sadly not unique enough situation. My partner lost his battle with depression earlier this year and ended his life leaving me three lines of explanation to read over and over as I struggled with all the questions and emotions that no one can truly understand until they have been through it. I didn’t understand. I never knew there could be so much pain. I was ripped apart and I had to start a slow and arduous battle of recovery, an incredibly lonely and personal journey, despite the great support I received from my counsellor, Console and my family and friends. All of the world put together wasn’t enough to replace my partner. Everything happened in stages. In the beginning there was shock and when I got a moments respite from my mind I seized it knowing that it would be short lived. I couldn’t eat or sleep but I believed that I would recover, and despite going through the most torturous range of emotions and thoughts, that belief meant that I accepted the journey. I still knew him at this stage. I began by going back over every detail of our time together. Starting with our last week and working backwards. My view distorted. I wasn’t thinking about the happy moments we shared but dissecting every clue, every word, every mistakethat I made. Guilt. Guilt had the loudest voice. The what ifs, the if onlys, the whys, circled until eventually the anger came. I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was, all I knew was that I should have been better. I found myself defending our relationship uneccessarily. We were happy, so genuinely happy, but who would believe that after what he did? Nobody doubted it except me. I read other people’s stories and researched suicide. I found out I was a ‘survivor’ of suicide. I got every bit of help available to me. I had a wonderful counsellor who I had seen for four years, who knew me and the intriciacies of my relationship. I rang the Console helpline, a gift during that time, to help me in between my sessions. My friends came and sat with me in bed. My family didn’t leave my side. One day my counsellor said something to me which got me through the first few weeks. She told me the emotions would come in waves, that each wave would hit like a tsunami and then lessen each time. She told me to feel it all and when I had calmed I could rationalise it. She suggested I write as that appeared to be helping me. For six weeks, day and night, I asked why. Every time I thought I had finally gone over everything in my head something else would hit me. Each one appeared to be worse than the last. Looking back they were all as bad as each other.
Finally I saw I was going in circles. There were two pages. One with my partner’s pain and one with my own and no matter how hard I tried they would not sit together. I started to look at myself, my life, my experiences, my illness. Myself and my partner were bonded in many ways, one of which was in our depression. We understood without asking questions. When he died, the depression I had fought and hidden for so many years, was finally unleashed. I was broken and I didn’t have my usual control mechanisms to get me through. My anxiety reached new heights that I never knew possible. I could not go anywhere without driving so I could make a quick exit if I needed to. I had to push myself to get out of the bed. I felt unsafe all of the time. I could not be in a crowded place. I was extrememly sensitive to noise. The world seemed to enter in on top of me. I felt safe in my bed but when I realised that was what I was doing the fear even entered there. My trust had been shattered. The person I loved and who loved me had left me in the most horrific way. I persevered. I found there were people who I felt safe with and I calmed when with them. These were the people who listened without judgement, who didn’t pretend to understand but allowed me to share my darkest thoughts and tell them the same story over and over again. They were then able to tell me my own rationalisations when I was unable to find or believe them. Surprisingly there were new people who I trusted in my support system. I talked and talked and talked. I wrote and wrote and wrote.
I had always accepted the highs and lows of my life, believing the lows were worth the highs. That was until my ultimate high was followed by my ultimate low, my relationship with my partner and his death. The truth of my depression was opened up to me. I had been hiding it from myself, only ever dealing with it on a surface level, just enough to get by with. I used escapism, perfectionism, control, personas, rules, change, excuses and blocking quite effectively to keep tumbling through life until I met my partner. He encouraged me to be the real me, warts and all, and loved me for it. He told me I was beautiful and intelligent and he loved the way I looked at the world. I started to believe him. I had always protected myself. I was always sociable and had loads of friends and a few boyfriends but I never let anyone in to my heart. I feared getting too close to someone because they would find me out and reject me. I feared expressing emotion because I would scare them away because after all, I just wasn’t good enough. That all changed. My heart opened and I fell in love for the first time. I finally had my one, my person to share my life with and it felt amazing.Then in one day my future vanished. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said ‘I used to build my dreams about you’. My life ended that day and I had to rebuild it from scratch with little desire or motivation to do so.
I am six months in now. I have made massive progress but when I slip I forget it all. I am able to do most normal things again. My anxiety is still present but is much more manageable. I laugh, I joke, I spend time with my friends and family, I still write, I still see my counsellor, I still see my doctor, I even think of the future. I went on anti depressants after years of fighting against taking them. At first I felt a failure but I needed them. I found the traffic lights and did up my own. It was after my first dip into the red that my counsellor suggested medication. I tracked my mood by the traffic lights and I realised I jumped from green to orange regularly but as I became more self aware I could find new ways to fight to try to stay out of the red. I have slipped into the red four times, during which I have fought for my life trusting only my counsellor with that level of vulnerability. I shut myself off to the world and stayed in bed to stop from harming myself. People have told me to go on a mad one to get my mind off it (worst route to take). People have told me that negativity breeds negativity and that I control my mind and my path. They are good intentioned but they cannot understand the battle that ensues when you lose all hope. Every time it has been different but what remains the same is the despair, the black and white thinking, the loss of perspective, the illogical mind making you believe you are thinking rationally, being unable to remember ever being well or happy, the loneliness and the feeling of being trapped. The first time I didn’t know what was happening. The second I knew but there was nothing I could do about it. That was when the most powerful thought began, it will pass but it will return. As I grew stronger the next two times I was better able to fight it. The traffic lights helped so much in this. I am much better at staying present in the moment. I found however that when I let go and was happy and living I would dip soon after. I realised I felt guilty for living and being happy without my partner. Now I have discovered that revelation I can start the hard work on alleviating that guilt.
I wanted to write my story as my eyes have been opened to the stigma surrounding mental health. I was always open and honest about my depression with my friends but now the world knows and I feel I am being treated differently. I am the same capable, intelligent woman I was before with additional skills of compassion, empathy and a desire to help others that true pain offers as a small gift of recompense. I feel I have to prove this at times. Some people understand. Some people think I am strong and brave. Some people avoid me. Some people pity me. Some people expect me to be over it. I feel the world has been split into three; people who understand, people who try to understand and people who don’t want to understand. There is nothing so incredible as sharing with someone and they do not flinch, they do not judge, they do not change. They still see me. I am not my illness. It is a truly amazing feeling and I hope that one day we get to a point where we can discuss our emotions and mental wellbeing with acceptance and without fear of judgement. I am a survivor of suicide. I have depression and anxiety. I am not perfect, I am human, I am me. I have come a long way with a lot more work to do but I will get there. I can honestly say there are moments of happiness to balance out the darker times and they are getting longer and stronger. I can see my partner again. My view has regained its balance. I will always miss him but now I have to live, for me, for him, and for the wonderful people in my life who have helped me tirelessly.
I wasn’t fine
Hannah Hennessy, 5/9/2014
It’s been over two years since I was first admitted into hospital, away from my friends and family, not that anyone even knew I was there. Over 3 months was spent trying to make myself “well” again.
Of course I thought I was fine. Turns out having such dark, dark thoughts, not sleeping, constantly crying for no known reason, not wanting to breathe anymore & wanting nothing but total isolation wasn’t fine. Supposedly you’re not supposed to live your life wearing a mask. But I did, I still do but thankfully not as much now.
On went my mask. I wore it everywhere I went simply to cover up and to put on that brave face to please the rest of those around me. I ccouldn’tlet my guard down, although I often had no other choice at times.
I felt useless, worthless. I’d make plans with my friends then blow them off at the last minute because I couldn’t face them. I stopped doing what I loved. My love for GAA was as strong as ever but I couldn’t bring myself to play with my club anymore, I wasn’t good enough. My room was my sanctuary. I’d spend all day in bed if I could and wouldn’t sleep a wink at night. I felt and looked like a walking zombie. I made my parents’ lives hell.
From the time spent in the hospital right up to this very moment I’m still learning, still making mistakes. I’m not as afraid of mental illness any more, I am not a monster, I am not a “crazy person” even though I often think I am. I simply am not as well as I’d like to be. Some days are harder than others.
I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs in the last few years, thankfully I have just as many ups of recent as downs. I completed my Leaving Cert successfully and am now officially a college student! Something I never thought I’d be able to say considering I didn’t think I’d make it through secondary school. I proved myself (and a few others) wrong, with the help and support I so luckily got from teachers and especially my principal.
Having depression is like falling into a dark hole that is getting deeper and deeper and not being able to find a way out. It’s like someone is sitting on your chest and you can’t breathe. It’s a never ending battle against yourself. Depression destroys you. It destroys your energy and turns you inward. It takes over your whole body. To someone who has experienced it there aren’t many words needed to explain, for someone who hasn’t hopefully you’ll never fully understand.
Even though I am only 19, having gone through what I have and what I’m still going through every day, I believe it has set me up for life with a different perspective compared to other people my age. I appreciate things more (at times you might not think so!) I look out for other people so much more and try to be there for them in anyway I can. It’s important for me to do so because I know the feeling of loneliness and thinking I have no one to turn to for advice. In a way I am thankful for my difficulties because now I feel like I can face whatever life throws at me. It made me a much stronger person than I was before. Instead of dreading tomorrow I am looking forward to the next step for me aware that it will no doubt be a winding road for me to get there. I’ve learned to both accept that and learn how to deal with it so not to get bogged down with it. That’s where my doctors, counsellor, support groups and of course medication come in.
No matter what you think, help is always there. Never be afraid to reach out your hand and ask for it. Do not be afraid of what people think or worse what you think other people think. We need to be there for each other. Everyone will make mistakes & mess up, life is a learning process. Most importantly believe in yourself & have faith. Remember: the best is yet to come.
Being honest I have sat down to write this piece on a few occasions and each time I get a few paragraphs in and have to stop. I feel like when I am writing about my wife’s depression I am betraying her somehow. And yet she is one of the people encouraging me to write this.
On reflection she has struggled with her mental health long before I met her but I just was blind to it years ago. She was better at covering it up back then and to be honest people’s reactions back then gave her more reason to hide it. Real stigma reactions.
I hated seeing her struggle and I was powerless to help. I could see her doubt in her grow worse. I could see every time she was abrupt with the kids she would think less of herself. Intellectually she grew to know it was her illness and not her, but emotionally she carried the weight of it all. Her thoughts were regularly negative and bordered on the paranoid at times, she believed others thought negatively about her and nothing I could say would change that perspective. She pushed me away at times, pushed others away or at the very least found ways to keep her out of others’ lives.
I know she cried a lot, mostly she wouldn’t let me see it but I knew. I found her sobbing to herself on more than one occasion but I couldn’t make it better. I wanted to hold her but when feeling this way she couldn’t bear to even be touched. She would balk and shudder if I tried to.
It’s my job to help as a husband, right? And like a lot of men I tried and still try to be the fixer. To have all the answers, suggestions, solutions and fixes. But I couldn’t fix this and more often than not she wouldn’t let me try.
Soon after our second daughter was born there was a significant change. And it wasn’t a sudden change I could easily identity. It just sort of evolved. Each day getting harder and harder for her. And as the days went by she had less and less interest in life, in being around others, or even me. Her interest in the children has never waned and has probably being the thing that kept her going at times. Her confidence disappeared, her ability to focus and concentrate too. The kids would go to bed and not long after so would my wife. Retreating to her bed and there I would be sitting on my own with the television all before 9p.m. I didn’t know what was happening. Arguments became common and I just learned to say as little as possible. I was feeling so powerless. It tore me up inside to see her retreating like this.
She would have fears and anxieties about being the house at night, she needed me to stay downstairs while she fell asleep but she couldn’t sleep well at all. Often she would say she would sleep better knowing I was downstairs so I slept on the couch that night. She would sleep, the next day she was better for sleeping but we were further apart. This went on longer than I want to remember.
I am ashamed to admit I started to resent her. I knew it was the illness but this went on for so many years I couldn’t help but have self-doubt creep in. I started to blamed her and felt it was me she was rejecting. I know it wasn’t true but still the thoughts came, ‘she doesn’t like me, doesn’t love me’. Then my negative unhelpful reactions would make this momentarily true and the cycle was perpetuated.
I am a mental health professional so I understand all the theory around depression and anxiety but living with it is a whole other entity. I worry I am sounding like a martyr but the reality is, more often than I care to admit I made things worse. I was no angel and could be impatient, irritable, selfish, and snappy and didn’t show her the respect and understanding I could regularly show my own patients. This was personal and completely different to me.
Her depression enraged me inside and I didn’t know it, I resented it.
I begged her to talk to someone and but mostly it was medication she received from doctors and not a listening ear. That suited her at the time though as she didn’t want to talk to anyone.
The irony isn’t lost on me now, there I was asking her to talk to someone and I never thought I needed help too. A partner or family member living with someone else’s depression is in need of support too. And while the medication worked sometimes, mostly it just numbed things for her. So for her and then for us things were just ‘so’, a ‘status quo’ where things just stayed the same. Nothing great and nothing too bad either. And there we were neither one of us talking to each other about what was going on and the emotional distance just grew.
So for me, my days had their own heaviness. This all became a weight I was silently carrying.
I would say ‘I’m fine’ when asked how I was, how often had I heard that myself?
And here, yet again I felt I was betraying her if I spoke up. I had to eventually though and confided in a few close friends. They didn’t judge me or my wife. They just listened and understood. I should have spoken up earlier for the relief I felt helped, it helped to share the weight of the problem.
Spending the day trying to focus on work and the wellness of my own patients was difficult when my mind is elsewhere. Thinking what drama would occur today, what small problem at home would seem huge to her, and leave me feeling powerless to help.
Texts and phone calls that told me things are bad at home, that today is a rough day, knowing that when I get home today I will be met by a wall of silence. I would dread seeing the number pop up on the display at times. And yet I needed to hear from her. It was my only way to help, to be her sounding board, her listening ear.
When home I will walk in and say hi and ask after her day, all in a poor attempt to make things positive and ‘normal’, not that I knew what that was anymore.
I sometimes felt like a fire-fighter. And just when one fire is out up pops another.
On the drive home, the dread in me grew as I didn’t know which personality I was going to meet today.
I felt alone for a long time. You know that feeling of being all alone even in a crowd of people? We drifted further apart from where we started many years ago. She wouldn’t / couldn’t touch me, not hug me, not hold my hand. I spent a lot of my time making excuses why she couldn’t come to the door, attend this family or social event, why she had reacted the way she had. I realise it wasn’t my job to do this and she never asked, needed or expected that of me but I felt the need to.
I have to take responsibility for my reaction and what I was like and what I can still be like. I used to have this internal rage that would build and build until it exploded somehow. This of course just made things worse and now I was to blame in part.
Why could she answer the door to a stranger asking about ‘are you happy with your phone service?’ Where she would be mannered, polite, appropriate, responsive and good humoured but when the door closed her head sank, her tone changed and the anger or glazed look returned. What made me less of a person that I didn’t deserve on occasion the ‘front’ or ‘mask’?
I know I am her husband and therefor she didn’t need to be like that with me. I needed it sometimes though and never got it. I know putting on the mask took huge energy for her and obviously I wanted her to be real with me. But the selfish part of me just wanted things to be ‘normal’. Even the kids would get the mask and I wouldn’t. But then I think even they saw past that mask at times.
Ya big girls Blouse man, grow up and be the man, be the husband you are supposed to be.
What is ‘normal’? I certainly don’t know and don’t even crave it anymore, and over the years my wish has changed for things to just be ordinary, for us to take pleasure in the simple things in our life together.
The medication is over for now and the woman I knew is returning. Now she can sense the world more acutely. This means she still has bad days on occasions but has become more mindful of what works for her to keep her wellness on track. We both try to watch our wellness and how we maintain it. Eat right, exercise more, talk more, have a social life, value family time and generally find a balance in our lives. If anything she is better at this than me these days.
I have learned to reflect on mental health, my own mental health, all of our mental health. I laugh inside when I hear statistics like ‘1:4 people will experience some form of mental health difficulty at some point in their life’. I believe we all will. Why do I believe this? Because I have lived with it, worked with it and seen that I have mental health too, we all have mental health or as someone called it ‘mental wealth’. Those living with someone else depression or anxiety need support too. They need to take responsibility for their own mental health and seek out the support of friends, family or mental health professionals.
My wife’s post natal depression didn’t just happen for a short ‘baby blues’ period after our second daughter was born. It lasted years and was probably there after our first child too. I don’t believe in labels though. Why do we say ‘I am depressed’? , when we don’t say ‘I am a broken leg’.
My wife is more than a label, more than her mental health and the good days are when she doesn’t let it define her. And while I know she lost sight of this frequently she is also a woman, a mother, a singer, a dancer, a daughter, a daughter in law, a wife and my friend.
Make up your moods
Rowena Ruth 6/8/2013
I will start by saying that if you are thinking of taking your own life of harming yourself DON’T DO IT. Talk to somebody. A family member, a friend, a colleague, anyone. Talk to the Samaritans if you have to. My advice would be to get yourself to the A+E unit of a hospital that has a psychiatric unit as well if you can. Even if you have to travel a long distance. If you are not successful, and thankfully most attempts are not, you could do serious permanent harm to yourself. Also, avoid alcohol and drugs at all costs if you are thinking of making an attempt. I was so lucky to have survived and not to have done any permanent harm to myself. It was not my time to go though. Remember, the night is darkest before the dawn.
The post Dear HSE really struck a chord with me. I once tried to take my own life by taking a huge overdose of a cocktail of psychiatric drugs washed down with Absolut vodka. I’m not a great believer in God or anything like that but something came to my rescue that night. I don’t recall with exactly what happened over the course of the night presumably because I blacked out under the influence of drugs and the alcohol. However, I must have managed to get upstairs, undressed and into bed because I woke there the following morning. I don’t know what time that was exactly. I spent the following day in bed all alone feeling a mixture of remorse and terror wondering what I might have done to my body. I couldn’t really speak for some reason so I dreaded that the phone would ring. It didn’t but maybe I would have ignored it anyway. I didn’t text anyone at all. I was totally alone that day. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror at times and my pupils were extremely dilated. I tried drinking lots of water to flush the substances from by body but I couldn’t urinate. I wasn’t in any internal pain but I had a few external injuries and bruises. I couldn’t walk properly. I can’t remember now if I slept the following night. Perhaps I did. I presume that my memory is foggy due to the drugs etc.
The following day I decided to get medical help as I was very worried about myself. I called a relative and told her what I had done. I then had a shower and put on some clean clothes and got a taxi to the nearest A+E. I was seen relatively quickly and bloods were taken, then an ECG and I was put on a drip. The relative I have mentioned came and spent some time with me but eventually it got late and I told her to go home. I was left sitting in a chair in an interview room all night with somebody outside the door. My phone battery had long gone dead so I was totally isolated. Eventually a nurse brought me a pillow so that I could put my head on the table and try to sleep. I couldn’t.
The following morning I was put on a trolley in a cubicle. There was a security guard at the end of the cubicle the whole time. He was making me feel quite paranoid. It was only when I asked him did he say that he was watching over me, for fear that I would do something irrational I suppose. I wasn’t going to. I was seen briefly by a medical doctor and then a psychiatrist. I was asked if I felt remorse for what I had done. I said that I did. I was asked if I would attempt anything like it again. I said that I wouldn’t. I spent the following night on a ward unguarded.
The following day bloods were taken again. Later on in the day another ECG was done and my heart was found to be beating normally. The psychiatrist met me again that day and asked me if I intended on making another attempt. I told him that I didn’t. Then the blood results came back from the lab and they were normal so I was discharged and allowed walk out the door unaccompanied. I got in a taxi and made my way to the A+E of another hospital with a psychiatric unit. I was eventually seen by a medical doctor at 3am. I won’t forget the conversation that I had with that man. He gave me a sedative and put me on a trolley. Early the following morning I was woken by a psychiatrist. I was interviewed and admitted to the psychiatric unit.
The whole experience was just a nightmare. What is worse is that I have rarely spoken about it since except in therapy. I can just feel so ashamed. Some of medical staff that I encountered were amazing but some of them were quite unsympathetic. At the end of the day though they are trained medically and don’t know how to deal with psychiatric illnesses. However, there is so much ignorance surrounding mental health in this country and I presume that a lot of medical doctors are not immune. It is the dark secret that people are ashamed of. I have had mental health issues in the past but am generally well today. However, I never reveal the fact to people readily for fear of being judged or labelled as a bit queer in the head or something. I left the last company that I worked for and one reason is that I made the suicide attempt while I was working there so I was off work for quite a while without an explanation. Of course I couldn’t tell the truth about my illness to anyone at work when I got back. I just had to make something up in case anybody asked. Why is that? In the current job nobody has a clue and I am happier with that. You know, it is amazing the way that comedians will sometimes respond to a heckler with something like “did you forget to take your medication today?” and so on. Ignorance and misunderstanding
I write this as I lay watching my son fall asleep. I have been mulling it over since I saw this post yesterday. In the spirit of mental health month I see this as an opportunity to help stamp out stigma. I am sure that the lady who said this is lovely. I just think that it is very fortunate that she never suffered with mental health problems. But it is comments like this that I have heard once too often.
‘If you had to give advice to a group of people what would it be?’ ‘When life knocks you down, suck it up and get on with it.
It is not the major life events that get me down. They alone don’t wear me down. It is the little things that get me: the comments that I over analyse, the fear that my child will go through the same thing that I did. Sometimes I don’t even know the reason. But whatever the cause, when it hits me, it can be paralysing. It is like a heavy weight holding me down and kicking me. Ever since I can remember I have identified it as a dark cloud. It blocks out all the light, the positivity. These are the hard times for me. In these moments I cannot suck it up and get over it. It is like being on an express train and I don’t know how to get off, and more and more passengers get on. These passengers are my fears, my critics.
How do I get out of this? I can’t do it on my own, or at least I haven’t fully figured it out. If the train is going slow I can hop off, but I keep getting back on again. If the train is going fast, I have to crash and scream for help.
My faith is important to me. Knowing that I am loved and that it will work out. Family is important too. No matter how crazy things get I can count on them to be around. Friends are important too – they make me laugh, smile and keep me sane.Weekly counselling, medication and getting outside all help me to function for the most part. And I do most of the time.
I am just not functioning right now as well as I’d like to be. I suppose hearing that I have to ‘suck it up’, well it doesn’t help, and it makes me feel weak for not being able to.
If I had advice to give to a group people, what would it be? Sucking it up is the worst thing to do. It will not go away. There is no reason to be ashamed of being vulnerable or asking for help. I wish that I spoke up a long, long time ago. If I had I wouldn’t be on this train now.
The Smallest Twine
Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite plays…. it really is an awful lot of fuss about a fairly flimsy bit of plot which would clearly never happen in real life – BUT – that isn’t the point ! I still like it and I watched the 1993 film version starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh just the other day.It was Shakespeare’s birthday this week and I choose to acknowledge that by stealing one of his quotes for this post. Leonato, the uncle of the lovely young Hero, is staggered to discover that she is accused of being wth another man the night before her wedding. It turns out in the end that she wasn’t but he doesn’t know that at first and he is absoutely beside himself with despair. The priest believes she is innocent however and suggests to him that they pretend she is dead until they uncover what has actually happened. ( ! I know ! ) Leonato, in his anguish says “Being that I flow in grief, the smallest twine may lead me”.Now, I’m no expert, but I don’t think ropey, deliberately concocted lies about a bride-to-be’s virginity are commonplace tragic issues any longer, but that evocative line really jumped out at me. For me, it totally descibes that extraordinary feeling in the grips of depression when I simply cannot think for myself any longer.When I’m depressed I have a really limited capacity for feeling. The hollowness and sheer desolation of depression steals that away entirely. I feel numb, blank and removed from myself. I have found that I become quite open to emotional suggestion. If a notion occurs to me that feels like it will relieve or change the living death in which I exist, I will follow it like a broken, unthinking, whipped animal .This suggestion, or “small twine”, can be positive or negative or even a psychotic hallucination, but it holds great power. For example, the notion of suicide …. the absence of positivity and the potential of a tortured mind is a lethal cocktail. The desire for an end to the pain is so strong that it doesn’t take much to get lost in the idea. Or, the promise of healing and disease management from flower essences, homeopathy and various alternative therapies when anything seems worth trying. I tried but to be honest my terrifyingly immense waves of mania black holes of depression have overpowered any and all alternative methods. I always end up hospitalised and drugged to the gills. I know that there is value to alternative treatments – I desperately wanted them to work for me, but they never did. Or I will simply heap all my faith and hope at the feet of some perceived “guru” who I imagine to hold all the answers and explanations to my problems. I have gone after bits of twine all over the place – good , bad and some truly fantastical. There is limited, dubious and often totally absent judgment in the mind when it is ill, suffering and in pain. That is when questionable and dangerous choice are made.So I call out to those who care about us. I call out to the husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, partners, lovers, daughters, sons, friends and colleagues of the 1 in 4 people in this world who live with the daily soul-destroying erosion of the spirit visited upon us by illnesses NOT of our choosing or design. When you feel you simply cannot understand, when you feel frustrated, confused, rejected, lost, manipulated, abused, taken for granted, forgotten – when you feel we make too much out of it, when you feel it has no substance or is some modern indulgence (after all, people never had mental illnes in the old days) … when you feel powerless, helpless, ineffectual and alone and you want to escape it all too….. please know that the smallest things can lead the way. For you and for us.We don’t need superhuman, epic feats of heroism. A simple inner resolve on your part to keep trying, listening and learning may be the small twine that we can reach for. You do not have all the answers and you cannot fix us. But, there may come a moment when you are the sole reason we choose to carry on. For that, we thank you.And as we flow in our grief and confusion, may we yet find the twine that draws us to safer shores.If you’d like to read more of Miranda’s writing you can visit her blog here
A Dublin Dysthymiac in his 40s!
I had never met my father. That summer I managed to locate him and his family but I did just meet some of the family first. I didn’t actually meet my father in person until the winter of that year. I met a girl that summer also. We had quite a short relationship but I think that I did fall in love with her, or at least it felt like love. I suppose that it may have been the closest I have ever come to being in love anyway. The relationship ended unfortunately and I was deeply hurt. I became quite depressed and suffered other symptoms of mental illness as well. I was behaving very strangely now on reflection. I was carrying on with my work and my life though but I was very unwell when I think about it now.
I did eventually meet my father in person. We met one afternoon and spent a few short hours together. We did plan to meet again but he cancelled our next meeting claiming to be unwell. I never did see him again after that. The following spring I had some difficulties at work. I wasn’t really performing at my best. I am normally a very good worker, very diligent and committed. I had been put in a very difficult situation though and I made a mess of something and tried to cover it up. I became extremely anxious and stressed about that. In the end I had a breakdown. I was shaking and felt absolute terror. I was hospitalised with a diagnosis of psychotic depression. I spent several weeks in hospital, a time which was awful. I was very delusional with all sorts of crazy thoughts. In the end I was discharged and eventually I went back to work and carried on with my life. Whilst in hospital I was put on venlafaxine (Efexor) and risperidone (Risperdal). I have been taking these drugs for 6 years now.Roughly two years I became ill again. I was living alone at this time. On this occassion I attempted suicide by taking an overdose. I survived the attempt fortunately and brought myself to accident and emergency. I ended up in a psychiatric unit for a few nights afterwards without my belt or my shoelaces. I was discharged and sent to a day hospital for a few weeks. They gave me back my belt and shoelaces! I was put on pregabalin (Lyrica) in addition to the venlafaxine and risperidone when in the day hospital. I had asked the psychiatrist for something that would deal with anxiety specifically because I was feeling so much of it. The doses of the other drugs were increased dramatically also. I was told that I had had a relapse of the previous condition. They had got my files from the first hospitalisation. I felt that this relapse wasn’t quite as severe as the first episode though and I recovered a lot quicker. It did feel quite different and I didn’t so many of the delusions, just an awful lot of terrible anxiety. I recovered a lot quicker this time also. I’m not fully sure what brought me to attempting to take my own life by the way. I think on reflection that I was quite out of my mind though and it seemed like the only option available to me then. I had been reading about means of disposing of oneself on the Internet for a while. It wasn’t a cry for help or anything by the way. I was living alone and I was off work for a few days so I would not have been missed or found for a while. I wasn’t going to be rescued by anyone at the last minute.Bringing this up to the present, I still live alone and I am single. I met someone last year though and we had a brief relationship. I was quite optimistic about all that at the time. It was nice having someone to e-mail during the day etc and there was companionship and the intimacy. The relationship ended abruptly though. Circumstances brought me to confessing that I had had difficulties with my mental health in the past and that I was seen every so often by a psychiatrist and taking medication. I see a therapist on a semi-frequent basis too by the way. I had kept all that secret for fear of being rejected. The relationship ended shortly after my confession.Regarding my illness, it is rather questionable how ill I actually am these days. Until recently I had been suffering with insomnia for many months and certainly had some symptoms associated with depression such as irritability/short temper plus a lot of anxiety and paranoia. My life circumstances have changed for the better however. I moved jobs not so long ago. There used to be a lot of stress and long hours in the old job. There is no stress in the current job. It’s a much better environment and the hours are regular. Since the move the insomnia is totally gone at least and I feel a lot better generally. With the help of the Internet I have done some self-diagnosis though. I believe that I am a dysthmyiac to some degree. Apart from the couple of acute episodes I feel that I have suffered with dysthymia for many years. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia. I can relate to an awful lot of this, in particular “a low capacity for pleasure in everyday life”. Like Mick Jagger, “I can’t get no satisfaction”! I feel that I just don’t enjoy things as much as I might. Even though I can get lonely I don’t get always as much pleasure from social interactions as I feel that I should. While everyone in a room is laughing very often I am not. I don’t think that I have ever never got much enjoyment from life. I find it very hard to have fun sober.I may as well say a few words about my drinking now. I didn’t really drink until I was in university. From the very beginning I was drinking excessively and blacking out when I drank. I was a total binge drinker. I used to binge at least once a week. I continued this way for many years. There were periods also when I would drink almost every day. I used to suffer intense anxiety and paranoia as a result of the drinking. This could last for days. Very often I would be totally paranoid about what I might have done or said but just I couldn’t remember. I don’t drink at all now and I hope never to touch alcohol again. I call it Satan’s piss! I didn’t mention that I take disulfiram (sold as Antabuse) now along with the other drugs. This is to prevent me from drinking of course. Even though I have no real desire to drink these days it is there in case I am ever tempted. I think that I actually hate alcohol and what is used to do to me.I would like to come off the medication entirely though, except for the Antabuse. I am on a very high dose of venlafaxine for example and I feel that it is excessive. I worry a lot about the long term effects of these drugs. As I say, I have been on constant medication for 6 years now! Right now I feel quite normal, apart from the dysthymia and that to be honest is quite normal for me. Sometimes I can get a bit anxious about things but who doesn’t? I really wonder if I need to be taking these drugs any more. What’s the plan? Am I to take medication for the rest of my life? Sometimes when I see my psychiatrist we will make some changes to my prescription. The doses can be changed, normally reduced but sometimes increased also depending on the drug and how I am feeling at the time.It is my personal feeling that some psychiatric illnesses may have psychological origins. I would tend to doubt that there is something fundamentally different in the neurochemistry of all those who are mentally ill. I feel personally that environmental factors can play a big roll. In my case I didn’t have the most ideal childhood. I remember suffering from a great deal of anxiety from a very early age. A friend of mine had similar childhood experiences to my own and she has had difficulties with her mental health also. Can it really be true that we were both born different? I am not saying that every psychiatric illness has a psychological origin but I think that in a lot of cases this may be true. That’s all that I wanted to say.Thanks for reading 🙂
So I decided today to write to you.
So after that I felt totally alone. Was I depressed, or was I not ?? Was I imagining all this stuff in my head. Was it real? Am I sad or just mad ? I had so many questions, but in true “depressed person mode” I put it to the back of my mind and just got on with life.
But he lived in a different part of the country. So more stress to add to my stressful life. Work, party, travel, bed. Work, party, travel, bed. That was it for a few years. We had our honeymoon period. We then had our “we’re killing each other because we are starting to find out how the other person really ticks” period. Then we had our “I love you and want to be with you” period. This was going to be for life, oh dear !!! So we had to make the decision who was going to move. For financial reasons, it ended up being me. So plans were starting to be made for this, when my Mum had a stroke. A very serious stroke that had her in hospital for a long time, but thank goodness she survived all intact with just a bad memory, as bad as anyone her age would have.
But it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was back home, saving on rent to save for a house. I was working eight to eight Monday to Friday. I then went to the hospital to visit her each night. I got home most nights at 10 or 11, and then had to do all the housework, wash clothes for her etc. My Dad couldn’t cope. He melted and I had to support him and my Mum. Sometimes I didn’t have time to wash and dry her pyjamas so I had to buy new ones on my lunch break. When she came out, we had months of rehab at home.I called on my brother to help me but he was too busy with his new family. My other brother lives in a different country, so I was pretty much on my own. At the weekends I escaped to my boyfriends, in the country. I just slept. We had dinner, wine and I would sleep for the whole weekend. So then my Mum got better and better and eventually things were looking up. We decided that now was the time for me to move. I had done my daughterly duties and I needed time to focus on my own life.And that’s when I hit my lowest ever. In the space of less than a year, my Mum had a stroke, we bought a house, I moved from my home town, my job, my friends to a new place where I knew no one. I didn’t have a job, and don’t drive so I spent my days in our new home, online trying to get work. Or watching TV. Or cleaning. Lots of cleaning, so much cleaning that I would argue with my man for walking on the floor I just washed, or not putting the towel back in the right place. You know, normal things that people with anxiety get totally obsessed about when they’re depressed.I started crying a lot. At movies, at ads on TV, reading books. But really crying, a LOT. I then started crying during the day. I then found myself constantly crying. I remember sitting one day on my back doorstep, smoking a cigarette with the snot running down my face because I was so sad. I sobbed like a baby. Full on sobbing and crying, as if someone had died. But of course, no one had died, I was just majorly depressed.As I was new to the area I had no one to ring to meet up with. No one to go to the cinema with. No one to have a coffee with. I felt so lonely and alone, yet I was so happy to be with my boyfriend and we were starting our new life together. My happiest and my saddest time, running parallel to each other.But I knew this time it was worse. I felt hopeless. I felt desperate. I felt claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the tiny bit of the sky when I looked up. The barrier had a roof that was shutting out everything. I felt like that was it, for the rest of my life. I was doomed to feeling this way, forever. How could I ever bounce back from this one ?? I knew I needed help. I was recommended a local GP by my boyfriend’s best friend. He knew nothing of my mental state, but I just asked him for the name of a GP as I needed to talk to someone about women’s things. Say that to a man and they ask no questions and don’t get involved !!So I went to this new GP and told him everything. I cried and sobbed and cried and sobbed and cried some more, just in case he didn’t get the idea !! He got the idea, and he offered me anti-depressants, again. Again, I told him I really didn’t want to take any. He insisted, so I reluctantly took them, but he also referred me to a community mental health nurse.All I can say is THANK YOU Ms Nurse. I went to visit her. I called her my counsellor, but she is so much more. This woman saved me, saved my life and saved my sanity. The day I went to see her, she properly diagnosed me low feelings. She never once mentioned anxiety, depression, self esteem, body image. She told me that number 1, I was not mad, even though I thought I was. And that number 2, all those years I thought I was feeling depressed, that yes, I was. Very much so. For my whole life, from about 16. WOW, wow, wow, wow, wow.Suddenly EVERYTHING made sense. Everything fell into place. I’m not mad, I wasn’t imagining it, and I will be OK. The “I’m not imagining” it is the most important part for me.
For years I thought I was just being silly. How could I be depressed? I’m funny. I can make people laugh, after a few drinks. I have a good life, a good job, parents who love me, a man who loves me, a nice home. But depression doesn’t work like that. It can be genetic, hereditary, brought on by alcohol, drugs, stress, anxiety. There is no one reason why people have depression. They just do. So the day she clarified it for me, was the happiest day of my life. I was normal. I am normal. I am not mad. I am normal. And other people like me are normal too. During the years we started putting names on my low feelings. Depression, anxiety, I can say it now.
So I went to my counsellor every week, for 5 years. She became my friend. Someone who always had my back. She was always on my side, fighting my battles. Helping me fight my battles. She was my Mum, my sister, my friend, my teacher, my cheer leader, all wrapped up in one wonderful person who helped me through some of the most awful times of my life.
Time went by and I have been lucky enough to learn the tools to help me live my life. We did CBT, which helps me. It doesn’t help everyone, but then everyone is different. I came off the medication as quickly as possible as I really didn’t like the numb feeling I had on them. And I’m very independent so like to do things my way, on my own terms.
One thing that helped me so much was spotting the triggers that set me off on my little journey into oblivion. That has been hard work, and you have to face many things that you would rather not, but it’s essential to acknowledge what can be good for you and what can be bad for you. So eventually I was deemed suitably brainwashed to be able to go out and face the world on my own. Scary, very very scary. But I have done it.
I had a blip after I had my son and suffered PND. I went back on meds for that and back into counselling. Six weeks of meds and a year of counselling and I was all set to go again.
So here I am. Depending on myself to make myself better when I have moments of low. It’s a very tough thing to do. Every day is hard. Life is hard, for everyone. But a simple thing like packing a suitcase for one night away, or knowing I am going to a wedding in a posh place can have me wanting to crawl under that duvet so fast. But I try not to. I take it, each day at a time. Some are good, some are bad, some are awful. But that’s ok. Even the normal people have bad days. Normal people like me and you.
Never Too Late To Talk
16/02/2014It is great to see the stigma of depression being tackled in such an upfront and honest way.As a marrried father of one i can recognise the same feelings that you spoke of when you mentioned guilt in relation to admitting to having depression. As a fellow (30ish!) aged person i have only recently in the last few months finally admitted to my wife,family and (myself!) that i have and have in the past had depression. In some ways i think that it may have already been suspected by others- but i guess i always wore a good mask and was able to hide it well. When i first developed symptoms during my teens,there was an aspect of avoiding the issue within myself,but the coping mechanisms i developed to battle this ( isolated myself from friends,bury feelings deep inside) consequently caused me to question myself,become anxious and foster guilt that it was my fault and that i should definitely not reveal how i was struggling. But as i have come to realise from going to counselling, i need to look back and forgive myself on this and realise that at that age that was the best way i had of coping.My wife has been amazing in helping me since i’ve revealed my depression. She has helped me with contacting Aware, going to GP, finding a counsellor and generally being a rock to me.In some ways these things were never talked about growing up,and it was an issue that was avoided, but i really wanted to take action now as i wouldn’t like this to be the way when my daughter grows up- i want her to be unafraid and able to talk to me about anything no matter how hard.Another aspect of the depression was the fear i had- if i admitted to struggling (i have had it on and off for 18 years)- then i would lose everything,would be seen as weak….and all those other great catastrophizing thoughts! In some ways i am in awe of my wife,she has the power to ask and look for help and speak openly about feelings,where i guess i’m just learning not to keep things to myself. Some people are willing to tackle the stigma,address the issue and i really think this is why your story is so powerful to me,you have really made a difference.I can relate to so many of your points that i will just list them: anxiety/social situations,hard to take compliments,comparing to others,kindness to oneself,the daily rush to work,not at home with my daughter guilt, looking for validation (pat on the back from others) to feel i’m good enough. Sometimes the littlest thing can trigger a feeling and the spiral of doubt etc kicks in. But using CBT with my therapist i’m working on catching those thoughts and other techniques. Am going to the therapist weekly and finding it really helps- kind of look forward to it,never thought i would say that. Am also on medication,they seem to be helping and not having any side effects.However am having the whole “am i becoming over reliant on them?” self conversation.In terms of where i am now- will continue with counselling,maybe do group work. Have signed up to mindfuless introduction evening and am also doing meditations daily. Am also trying to take more time for myself,more exercise etc My daughter and new Jack russell are really helping on that!!I guess the main message i have is: It’s never too late to talk,believe me.If you’re a teenager and don’t know what it is you are feeling. You are not alone. Talk to a friend,relative, someone close.They will understand.I know that having someone when i was that age would have helped and that revealing how i was feeling would have benefited me- i know it is helping me now for sure.If you are older and have kept your depression or feelings to yourself it is never too late to open up. Believe me there is relief in it. Years of bottling things up and struggling by myself caused problems for me and those around me,but opening up and communicating with those around me was the best decision ever. It will be hard,i won’t lie, but you will feel an inner peace when you do.As someone who waited and battled it alone for a long,long time i can say that it’s never too late. As i mentioned above i thought a myriad of thoughts- “I’ve waited too long.i’ll always be like this-no point admitting to it now”, “I will lose everything,i’ll be seen as and feel weak”,”the deck of cards i’ve kept hidden will come crashing down,and people will see that i’m no good”. But speaking from my own experience,revealing how i was feeling was the best thing i ever did.There is a feeling that i am now open with myself and everyone else and even though there are struggles now and then there is a great hope for the future presenting itself.
Really love the following quote from John Steinbeck i saw when involved in the vast hours researching depression: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect,you can be good”.
Here’s What I’ve Learnt So Far
“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” Theodore RubinEssentially, your mind when you are feeling depressed lies to you in the most seductive and alluring way about everything and everyone. And when you are used to trusting your thoughts and that whole thing of being self assured and confident, it takes a long time to realize that the torrent of negativity in your brain may not be an accurate representation of what is called “reality”. It’s hard not to trust your thoughts and it’s hard to sit and mull over what is true and what isn’t, but it’s an important exercise to become aware, even if you only do it in small doses. Like Morrisey said, there is a light in you that never goes out.“Embrace and endure. If you embrace, you will endure.” James Frey, “A Million Little Pieces.”There’s the fear though of saying that you are somehow broken, somehow not right, not fitting in and not fulfilling the role that is expected of you. Like wars and love affairs, being mentally distressed is a thing that is easy to get started but difficult to bring to a close. It’s a process, it changes and you start to manage what helps and what doesn’t. I try to avoid stress and that includes both people and situations that would sometimes be too much to be around. That’s actually ok; it’s really ok to do this. Television could overwhelm me sometimes so I switch if off. I can’t do alcohol or drugs and be around any sort of situation that involves lots of either of these substances. That’s not a judgement of anyone or anything, it’s just how it is for me and I know what works for me.This is what I have learnt so far.Accept what is happening. Acceptance is not surrender. it is simply the opposite of refusal and it is difficult but very powerful, especially in a world where taboos still exist around the discussion of mental health issues but it is crucial. Acceptance is taking back control.Disengage from those who make you feel worse. They aren’t your problem and they probably aren’t helping. While no one can fix your problems for you, those that can’t be helpful are a bit more likely to be hurtful. You know who those people are, you really do and you have to be ruthless in your efforts to put yourself first.Talk to people you can trust. When people listen, really listen, it’s so freeing. Whatever is happening is just another life challenge, not some deeply-seated, irreversible character flaw. I cannot emphasize enough the value of having blisteringly honest conversations with those you trust.Know when to get professional help and don’t be afraid to do it. My attitude towards psychotherapy used to be “that’s nice for people on TV shows, but it’s not for me.” It took awhile to realize that this was nothing but fear of the unknown steeped in a weird sort of judgment. I have come to see that speaking to someone about your darkest thoughts and fears is courage exemplified. Sometimes it takes a professional you have absolutely no other connection to, to help bust through the wall—so what ?! They are trained and have pretty much heard everything and the best of them, have a sort of integrity that is beyond words. We don’t think twice of seeing a family doctor for a sore throat so don’t spend too much time agonizing about the fact that you might need to see a psychotherapist.
Therapy taught me that I’m not who I think I am, that some of my reflexes and instincts are unhealthy and that they can be changed and that I can accept however I am right now if I really want to change.
Treat your body well. I hated this piece of advice when I came across it but it’s a fundamental must and it’s so practical and it is a daily thing to do. Exercising and eating well is like proper car maintenance and it helps.
I know what it’s like to be in the thick of things. I know it’s almost indescribable. It’s abstract and painful and heavy and horrible, and every other adjective in existence.
I wouldn’t wish any sort of mental distress on anyone and it has been the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me. But I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me. I kept things together – we all have different ways of coping and choices to make. It has been strange to write this as it’s almost like writing about another person. It seems trivial and indulgent but it’s something I really want to tell because it’s the type of thing I would have wanted to read when I was desperate for re-assurance. I just wanted someone else to say “it’s ok, I’ve been there and it changes”. I was lucky in that I had several people who did precisely that and much more.I watch myself and how I am and I’m always aware that I need to take care of myself and for that I’m grateful as I realise it’s something I didn’t do well before and it’s so necessary. As Prof Ivor Browne said once “in dealing with emotional problems, there is no therapy the psychiatrist or therapist can apply to the person to bring about real change. The person has to do the work of changing themselves, with the support and guidance of a therapist. This concept of “self-organisation” is synonymous with what it is to be alive. Anything that diminishes our state of self-organisation lessens our control over and management of our health and will be a step towards sickness.”The most important thing I have learned in all of this is that terrible things may befall us, but they are nothing compared with the misery we heap on ourselves. You can’t control events, but you can control how you react to them. When you’ve gone through any kind of mental distress, it truly does feel like being reborn again and again. As Stephen Fry said recently “ one in four people like me have a mental health problem. Many more people have a problem with that.” So I think it’s better to talk and be open, the more we talk, the more open we are, the less stigma there is and we realise that we are all just struggling to get through life in one piece. The one thing that bothers me is when people dismiss any kind of mental distress as something that you just need to snap out of. Trust me, it’s not that easy. It’s one day at a time and it all changes eventually and I know it’ll change again because it’s all a process and some days won’t be ok but that too can actually ok.
Finding a new way. A way that helps.
For most of my life, I’ve had head chats with myself that I wasn’t good enough, that I should be doing better, being better, feeling better. I kept these chats to myself, masking them with a chirpy smile and assumed that this was normal behaviour. It became the norm to wake with a head full of criticism for where I was in life and to fall asleep with a bucket full of what I should’ve done, who I should be.Since I’ve been writing my blog www.theresarock.com, I’m amazed at the amount of people who have opened up to tell me that they do the same. Many assuming that it couldn’t be any other way. That this is the only way they can live.When we think we should be happier, better, it’s easy to get annoyed with ourselves, to give ourselves a forceful pep talk. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you be normal? Look at the guy serving up coffee/ the girl queuing in front of you. They seem OK. Why can’t you?We know this talk doesn’t work. We wouldn’t talk to someone else like that. We know if someone spoke to us like that, it would only make us feel worse. Yet for some reason we think it’s OK to do it to ourselves. You see, pushing and forcing yourself to be better, to feel better is cruel. Plain and simple. It just doesn’t work. It piles the pressure on and gives us the feeling that, as we are now, simply isn’t enough.It doesn’t help that we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we should be 110% all of the time. And if we don’t, well we’ve failed. Leaving us feeling even more isolated, more prone to putting ourselves down.When we let go of the fight to be strong, we become strong. But a different type of strong. We realise that it’s OK not to feel OK sometimes. When we gently encourage and support ourselves, regardless of how we are feeling, something changes within. When we decide we’re done with chipping away at our heart, we can begin to breathe deep again. When we choose to gently support ourselves, to nurture instead of knock our growth, we can begin to flourish.Yes there will still be days where we struggle, when we doubt ourselves. And that’s OK. What matters is that we go slow, and consistent. That when we go back to the old way of self criticising, that we pick ourselves up. And start again.When I recognised how caught up in this pattern I’d become, I tried to find a way of overcoming the put downs. Now here’s what I do. I write. For 10 minutes in the morning. 10 at night. To get the stuff from my head onto paper. To show myself what I’m saying to myself. To see if it’s helping me or hurting me. Because we can get so caught up in the cycle, it’s hard to recognise what we’re saying to ourselves. And then I use that same pen to write down what I do want to think about. The strong stuff. The good stuff. The friend you met for lunch who made you smile. The picture your child painted for you. The courage you had to help someone else today.The harsh pep talks don’t work. They only cause us to wilt. What we really need is kindness and encouragement. Starting with ourselves.
I wish people could try to understand what it’s like. It’s unfortunate but it’s who I am.
Coming off meds, my story.
As no one I knew had gone through this, I had no one to ask was it normal. Until I went onto a chat forum and found one other person going through it. They were 2 weeks ahead of me which was a great help. This person will never know how much of a help she was to me and I have no idea who she is. I googled it too and found there were others who had suffered like I had and someone said it was like coming off heroin. This in a weird way made me feel ok, it made sense (not that I’ve ever come off heroin!!).So after a week of what felt like hell, things slowly improved and I was off my meds. It continued to improve and very soon I was back to my post meds/depression self. My head was clear, not fuzzy or hazey, not one brain zap and one year later almost to the day, I have never looked back. Only a few close friends knew I was going through this and were fantastic but I didn’t tell my family and they probably still don’t know or realise how hard it was. I have bad days but now I know they are just bad days and everyone has bad days but hasn’t depression. I now know the difference and please God I’ll continue this way. I’m under no illusion that I may have some bad patches ahead but at least I can tell the difference now.My husband has been amazing in all of this, he didn’t run for the hills, in fact, he was a pillar of strength. He found it hard naturally but we came through it so thank you. My friends have been amazing too and some family. I say some because I didn’t tell a lot of people so it wasn’t their fault. Not a lot of people knew I had depression but I’m learning to open up a bit more now but it’s hard.When I decided to write this article, I was unsure if I’d get my point across correctly. I hope I have. I don’t want anyone to let this influence their decision to go on the meds but I want people who haven’t experienced depression themselves, to know just how hard it can be for the person weaning off.Looking back I am delighted I went on the meds even afer what I went through coming off them, I wouldn’t change what I did but I just wish I had some warning of how hard it could be. This is not normal but can happen so I want people to know it can happen and be prepared but it is NOT a reason not to go on them. They got me through a particularly rough patch in my life and I wouldn’t change a thing about my recovery. I just wish I had some support to help me through it. Fiona’s blog has been amazing and I hope this helps some others in a similar situation. Well done Fiona and keep up the good work.
Ton of Bricks
It’s hitting me like a ton of bricks. I cried tonight, I grumped, I got angry, I’m super tense, my legs hurt, my heart races, I shiver, I want to crawl under the duvet and never wake up. I’m so afraid of not being able to deliver. And I don’t even know what I’m supposed to deliver. I’m afraid I will fall back, I’m afraid of being not good enough. Not good enough, I’m never good enough.
And that is exactly where I need to stop and go into a different direction. I still need to confess and be honest of what to expect from me in order to function. But how? Much should they know?I also need to start writing constructive counterthoughts and evidence to show my fears are only fears and nothing else. But that seems to be so hard.
I call my depression the Sinkhole. That seems like a fitting name to me as it’s often unexpected, terrifying and it threatens everything that’s important to me. I feel like a vortex of negativity opens up inside of me and sucks all my positive energy and hard work down down down.
Depression by another name…?
Post Natal Depression
I’m not a writer so I’ll put this simply. My sister has had depression for a number of years. The hardest part for me is the silence. I always know if she stops replying to texts then things are bad. In a weird way, I’m relieved to even know this. It took a while to figure even that out.
That’s the problem, depression affects everyone differently. It’s hard to know the triggers and signs if people don’t talk about them. That’s why we need to talk.
YOU CAN NOT FIX SOMEONE WITH DEPRESSION. You can love them, be patient, you listen if they want to talk, you listen even harder if they don’t want to talk. I know that no matter what, I will always be here for her. Day or night.
Depression may make you feel like you’re alone but that’s just one of its many vicious talents. My sister is not alone. She never will be and neither will you.
Blogs like this prove that point.
Smartphones and skewed perceptions
Depression and Anger
(Sunny Spells note – this came in as a comment on the bottom of the page. With the author’s permission I’ve reproduced it here, because I think it should be seen and will get lost in the comments.)
I am sitting in bed feeling drained, having just had an anxiety attack. In bed, on a Saturday morning, next to my sleeping husband, with children playing happily in their bedroom (for once). I have no idea why, there is no obvious trigger, I’ve been fine for weeks and I’m writing it down to make it seem ridiculous (which it surely should be) rather than terrifying (which is how it feels at the time, the sheer randomness of an attack just adds to the feelings of failure for feeling like this for no good reason, as well as adding to your vulnerability as there is clearly no safe place or time to be in).
My immediate impression after the attack was the sheer physicality of it. It built from tremors like an earthquake, it twisted through me like a muscle spasm, it came in waves like a labour contraction. It contorted my body and made me twitch. And I was utterly helpless, despairing and alone in it’s grip next to my exhausted oblivious best friend who was having a well deserved and long overdue lie in.
And now it is gone, as quickly as it came and I feel calm, but slightly uneasy. Torn between wanting to forget it and move on (after all I’m ok now and it’s best not to dwell on these things and build them into bigger problems right?) and wanting to pin it down, dissect it, understand it, remove it’s power.
And the worst thing? As ever, not being able to discuss it. How do you drop into conversation that you spent 5 minutes lying in fear shaking in your bed with silent screams in your head for no apparent reason.
But I remembered this site, that you asked for others experiences, that you said you didn’t know much about anxiety, and I fought off my feelings of unworthiness (after all I only have mild anxiety, I’ve never been hospitilised, the one time I saw my GP he sent me away with a web address and some book recommendations, so what right have I to moan when others have it far worse than me) and I think writing it down helps, bizarrely in public helps as it means I’m not just talking to myself, even though I don’t want an answer.
05/08/2013(Sunny spells note – some readers may find this post triggering – if you do, please either take a look at the supports available here, contact your GP, or in an emergency, head in to A&E)
One night in late September, the feelings I had been feeling vanished, but it took every other feeling in my body with it. I was left with nothing. I was numb. At first, for a mere minute or two, it was nice. It was quiet. Pure silence. Of course, with that sort of silence, it doesn’t take long before you begin to go insane. You just can’t take it anymore. There has to be something to make you feel something, anything.
Im Georgie, and I believe it’s ok not to be ok!
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – not just for veterans!
The Great Big ‘Men Don’t Talk’ Lie
Men don’t talk. Let’s have a campaign to get men talking. Because men don’t talk. Women talk. Men don’t.