Time To Talk

 

Living with mental health problems can already make you feel like you’re trapped by yourself. You convince yourself that no one could possibly understand the nonsensical brain rave that’s happening inside your own head. You can feel ashamed, scared, terrified that your brain is a uniquely baffling and fucked up organ compared to a population of ‘normally’ functioning human people. This is just another on the long list of rational fears that we live with. The mental health afflicted mind can be predisposed to introversion, an unwillingness to share, a fear to rationalise your the weirdness happening in your own frantic cranium.

If there is anything I have learnt from being on twitter for all these years, it’s that if you drop two hula hoops into a coffee it doesn’t look anything like an owl. It just ruins your fucking coffee. Oh, and that talking can be fucking magical. Trying to quantify the myriad of ridiculous thoughts running through your brain by yourself can be one of the most worrying things you can do. We’ve all sat and googled our symptoms when we hurt our leg or got a rash, but when you start to self diagnose your own mental illness through the internet, you will convince yourself that you are a one bad day away from imploding into yourself like a black hole appearing in a ham factory. That metaphor was terrible. Sorry. Imploding in on yourself like a… owl… in a…. fuck off you know what I mean with this.

Talking about my problems online, sharing my experiences, reading other’s experiences, listening to people, it convinced me to take my problem seriously. To go to a doctor, to face my fears, to admit that my brain chemistry is wired like a toddler got their hands on a pair of apple headphones, that my amygdala is pretty sure everything in the world is trying to murder me, so panics at the drop of a hat. It took me a while to realise that you don’t have to be ashamed of the way your brain works, it’s not a life choice, this is just who you are, and you can control it, you can learn to battle it, you can wrestle into submission.

If you feel like you need help, see your doctor, or talk to many of the charities available to you. You can try meditation, CBT, medication, what ever you and your doctor thinks is best for you. You can go for a run, or spend an evening colouring in or just write your thoughts down. I have endless word documents filled with ramblings that have expelled themselves from my brain. I have no intention on ever posting them, but seeing the words in front of you, reading through your own thoughts through in bizarre detail, can really help. Talk to your friends, talk to your partner, talk to the dog, just vocalising your turmoil can be a major turning point in how you approach these situations. Yes, it will still be utterly shit on some days, but you now know that you are not alone, you’re not the only one suffering with this, and there are thousands of us willing to chat about it. We are all in this shit together, so let’s kick its arse.

Work in progress

I wanted to go back to work with a bang, not with a whimper. To show them all that I was “fine, thank you. Absolutely! Really, really well.”
I looked well. So well, in fact, that old colleagues did a double-take when they saw me. I’d been off sick for eight months, during which time a neurological condition had caused me to lose seven stones in weight and gain some on-trend glasses and a (less fashionable) walking stick.
I looked like a new me. Well – not exactly ‘new’, but different. Definitely different.

I was nervous about going back. I dreaded all the conversations that I had ahead of me in our open-plan, anyone-can-listen-in, office. Cheery conversations like; “So you’re not dead then?” and “Oh, you’ve *really* been sick? We thought you’d just had a breakdown”. Just?
No, I hadn’t had a mental health problem and no-one  was more surprised about that than me. All through my illness, particularly the months when I was practically housebound, I kept expecting depression to wangle it’s way in. But it didn’t, and I was very conscious of that; cocky even, that i’d kept it at bay when things were at their worst.

What I didn’t know was that the old black dog was lying in wait, licking its balls and planning to cross my path as soon as I tried to make it back to the mythical place known as ‘normal’.
I had been longing to get back to work. I love my job. Unfortunately, in my absence someone else discovered that they loved my job too, and they took it.
Of course they told me that it was all for the best. That I needed to think of my health. That I couldn’t possibly work full-time for a while and, well, I didn’t need the stress of managing a team any more, did I?
I tried to protest. First I lost my temper, then I lost the plot. Finally, I started to lose my hair as well.
And I cried. A lot. All over the place; at work, at home, at the fish counter in Waitrose.

In between the bouts of crying, came the screaming, when I would completely lose my shit over anything and everything; imagined slights, insignificant asides, the kids taking too long to “GET IN THE FUCKING CAR!”
It finally dawned on me one morning, when I flew into a rage at someone for ‘being suspiciously nice to me’ that my long-forgotten depression had returned.
My GP wasn’t surprised. He wrote me a prescription for a stock-pile of ‘happy pills’ with almost indecent haste. “Take them” he admonished “and take any other help you’re offered as well”.
He meant counselling, which the Occupational Health team at work were eager to usher me towards. I wasn’t keen, but I went along with it anyway. I made an appointment with a therapist and cried on cue, just to make her feel like she was doing it right.

I’m about 12 weeks on now. I’ve taken the tablets and completed my counselling course. Ironically, the depression has triggered a recurrence of my physical symptoms and led to me agreeing to take more time off sick “so that I can *really* get better”, so eventually I will have to face the trauma of returning to work all over again.
Not yet, though. The depression may be off the menu, but it came with a side-order of anxiety which I definitely didn’t ask for.
It’s interrupting my life like a needy newborn, stopping me from doing anything productive during the day and preventing me from getting any meaningful sleep at night. Why – my raging brain asks – would I want to sleep, when I could be designing tiny trampolines for cats, or writing a Netflix blockbuster starring John Barrowman as a hot priest with a shady past? Why, indeed?

Some days – the good days –  I remember how bloody brilliant I am at my job and that I still have something to offer, even if I can only work part-time for a while. Other days I tie myself in knots worrying about how we’re going to manage on my smaller salary, and how my colleagues will react to my drastic drop in status.

Family members tell me to focus on getting better; the work will still be waiting when I’m ready to go back to it. Friends suggest that I walk away and “try something different, less stressful”, as if I can magically conjure up an entirely new, dream career that can be managed from my kitchen table.

I don’t know which way to go. I just know that for now, I’m not going anywhere. And that’s ok. Maybe the world *does* need those tiny cat trampolines after all…

Yeah, I Don’t Think I’m OK

I’ve had this post in my drafts for a while now. I say drafts, that weird part of my brain I store shit ideas and hope I can do something with them at some point. The weird thing is, I wanted to write this post on depression and anxiety, but I’ve been too depressed and anxious to write it.

I’m not doing ok. I spend most of my time when I’m not TITS DEEP IN MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS saying to myself that I am ok. But for about a month now I just haven’t. I’m pretty sure my brain hates me. I spend my days arguing with it, battling with my own mind just so I can present myself as a normal functioning human member of society instead of this weird neurotic panicked mess I have been recently. You know how knackering this can be? I am tired ALL THE TIME because my brain is trying to destroy me.

Let’s start with a story. Settle down, get a coffee and listen to the crazy man. I was sat in a pub on Friday with my wife. We just fancied a couple of drinks so went to our local. I hadn’t been having a good day anyway, so thought getting out of the house would help. Whenever I feel like this I tell Lex that i’m having a ‘bad head day’, for which she understands entirely, makes me a coffee and leaves me to my own thing, which is exactly what I need. I got our drinks and we sat at our table, conversing in-between staring at our phones as modern human people do. At the other end of the bar was a large party of people. They loudly screamed how much fun they were having into the rest of the bar through a myriad of bizarre cackling laughter and spilt drinks. I started touching my fingers to my thumb counting between 1 and 5 slowly. Lex asked if I was ok, I nodded and we continued to look at our phones. I wasn’t ok, I was a couple of seconds away from having a full on panic attack. I kept touching my fingers to my thumb trying to get my breathing under control. The level of noise, the level of people in the bar, was just too much. I concentrated on my phone, I drummed my fingers, I got my breathing under control. I calmed down. My mind then turned to the fact that I am now an (almost) 30 year old man who can’t sit in a pub without almost having a breakdown. That’s not normal is it? Sometimes I wish i was just normal.

Over the last few months I have noticed my social anxiety dictating my life. I find it hard to talk to new people. I find it hard to talk to people I have known for 10 years. When I open my mouth I am so petrified that I am going to embarrass myself, or not be interesting, or not be funny that I would rather say nothing than say anything. Then someone will say “You Ok? You’re awfully quiet?” And instead of saying “YEAH I AM OK I AM JUST REALLY WORRIED THAT IF I SAY SOMETHING YOU’LL THINK I’M AN IDIOT OR A TWAT AND YOU SEEM REALLY COOL AND NICE SO I’D RATHER YOUR OPINION OF ME REMAINED NEUTRAL AND I DIDN’T FUCK IT ALL UP” I say “Yes sorry just listening” because you know, LYING IS COOL.

I’m not a particularly social person, I’m not the funny one, I’m not the life of the party, I’m the guy who makes sure that everyone has a drink in their hand and that everyone else is having a nice time because that means I don’t have to talk to anyone because THIS IS WHO I AM NOW APPARENTLY.

I hate making excuses for not being able to go out, so I am honest with people when I need to bail on an event. I just want to get to a stage where I can go out, with a drink in my hand, and maintain a human conversation without my brain screaming “OH THIS ISN’T GOING WELL, LOOK HOW BORED THEY ARE, GOD THEY PROBABLY HATE YOU SO MUCH”. It just seems easier to avoid interactions all together.

Just in case the almost crippling fear of talking to another human being wasn’t enough, my brain just doubles down and decides now would be a good time to have a depressive episode. So not only can I not speak to anyone, but on top of that I am too bloody miserable to have anything to say even if I did want to. So I have that going for me which is nice.

You’re probably thinking I JUST READ A MASSIVE RANT THIS GUY IS A DICK and, well, yes sorry about that, both parts are true. The resolution here, because everything needs a resolution otherwise you end up with the fast and furious films, ok bad analogy, the resolution here, is that I am admitting I need help. After bailing on CBT for a while, after several months knowing that my current dosage just isn’t cutting it, I am going to admit I need help. I miss being me. I miss being someone people want to hang out with. I miss doing things. I’ve written before that saying that you need help with MH issues is one of the big steps, and it’s taken me this long to take me own fucking advice.

I have friends who also have social anxiety, and I’ve never understood it. I’ve been that guy saying “Are you ok? You’re awfully quiet” and until now I haven’t realised how patronising or terrifying that can be to hear. It’s easy to forget that for people who suffer from depression of anxiety that going out of the house can be a massive ordeal, that speaking to another human being can be a gigantic undertaking. I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling like a complete outcast, a boring uninteresting idiot who’s about as much company as a carefully positioned mannequin.

For people that find it hard to go out, find it difficult to interact, I can’t offer any advice. It’s not that sort of blog sorry. I know what I am going to do though. I am going to take it one day at a time. I am going to try to have a conversation with my friends. I am going to try and go to a pub. I am going to try.

Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be the guy at the party drumming his fingers together and staring at his phone.

Anxiety, depression and fatherhood

Anxiety has played a large part in my life from my late teens onwards, and in particular during the last 10 years or so. I didn’t realise what it was until my first proper ‘breakdown’; I hadn’t seen any literature, any online articles (the internet wasn’t really a thing for me until University really) or any programmes about it. No-one had said “hey, that’s not a bizarre recurring sickness or bowel problem, that’s anxiety manifesting itself”. There just didn’t seem to be much of a focus on mental health at the time, and no Twitter to help.

About two and a half years into my first ‘proper’ long-term relationship, we had recently moved into a new flat, our second place together. A few weeks after we had moved, we decided to get a kitten. A colleague at work had one to give away so, after buying the requisite supplies, I picked up the kitten and brought it home. My family came to see the new arrival, and we spent the day watching the kitten dash back and forth across the living room. We decided on shutting her out in the kitchen/hallway overnight. Thus followed hours of the kitten crying, so we opened the door and let her roam around the house before deciding that shutting her out again was the best option. I did not sleep at all during this night due to concern for the kitten and her crying.

The next morning I felt sick and anxious. I veered between wanting to stay in bed or go outside gasping for fresh air. I spent ages hunched over the toilet, dry-retching. After a discussion with Mum and the other half, none of us could really fathom what was going on. My brain had started saying ‘get rid of the kitten, return things to their normal state’. There was a real ping-pong in my mind between supposed rejection of the kitten, and thinking ‘it’s fine, I’ll be ok in a minute’. I took the next day off work, still feeling sick and brain still pogoing between the two states. Later that day, my girlfriend and I had a long, emotional discussion that ended in our separation.

I drove to my parents’ house, quite frankly in a bit of a state. They were leaving to go on holiday the next day, so my sisters arranged to spend a few days with me until whatever it was passed. The next day, I made an appointment to see the doctor and tried to go to work despite the fact that my ex would be there. I spent most of the day going into a private office and crying, and eventually went home, picking up my eldest sister from the station on the way. She talked about dinner but I had no appetite, feeling sick after starting to eat anything. We grabbed some of my stuff and stayed at my parents’ house because I just couldn’t face being in my own house, full of reminders of the broken relationship.

The doctor seemed fairly disinterested and diagnosed the problem as stress, and prescribed Citalopram. There was no further insight into what caused this, and no follow up. The first week of taking the drugs I couldn’t keep food down. I remained on the sofa for most of this time, watching television that didn’t make me feel anxious. In the second week, my other sister visited. The drugs had entered the system, I started to eat more, and the anxiety lifted slightly. After a few weeks, I felt much better and stopped taking the drugs but the events of the night we had the kitten still baffled me, for months afterwards.

A few years later, when living with my future wife, we decided to get a puppy. The memory of what happened with the kitten occasionally nagged, but I thought that, being in a much better mental state (only having had some mild anxiety prior which, after a course of Fluoxetine prescribed by another disinterested doctor, I felt ‘cured’ from), it would be fine.

We picked up the dog and, that first night, she was crying in the room where we had left her. So again, a sleepless night, and the anxiety started to creep back in. I had the same ‘get rid of the dog, make things the way there were’ see-saw thoughts. Over the next few days, I was feeling sick, retching, not sleeping and after being prescribed Fluoxetine again, the initial period where the drugs ‘bed in’ to your system led to the symptoms becoming worse, with more sickness, sleepless nights, and uncontrollable sobbing fits, as well as some fairly frightening suicidal thoughts. The most helpful element this time was finally seeing a doctor at the GP surgery who had a keen interest in mental health issues. They described / diagnosed what was happening to me – a chemical imbalance, i.e. a very low serotonin level, was causing a part of my brain to act irrationally; a part that the rest of the brain was reliant upon for logical, rational decision-making. He asked to see me for follow-up appointments and prescribed other medication to help with nausea and those very low, suicidal moments. I was trying to work while this was going on, commuting from Wales to Bristol, and after a while, between medication and work, I returned to a more even keel again. I’ve had one or two ‘moments’ since getting the dog but have been building up a stronger resistance using resources such as breathing exercises and literature about mindfulness and meditation. Counselling has since established that the arrivals of the cat and dog were ‘triggers’ for anxiety attacks during times where there were aspects of my life that were causing that low serotonin level in my brain.

Recently, my wife and I decided to try for children, and once she confirmed she was pregnant, I was immensely happy. But there was still that nagging about whether I would have another breakdown – that somehow the responsibility of this new life, the sleepless nights etc would cause an upset in the balance I’d achieved in the past couple of years. Other doubts concerned whether my children might inherit any of my mental health issues? The doctor had suggested it could have been a genetic predisposition to lower serotonin levels.

The pregnancy was possibly the smoothest it could have been for the majority of the term. My wife was the archetypal blossoming pregnant woman, there was no morning sickness, and only a few hormonally emotional moments occurred. The most difficult part at this point was my poor wife going through five days of continuous contractions – between 2 to 10 minutes apart for the duration – neither of us slept for this five days, and travelling to the midwife-led unit we’d opted for was even more difficult. We somehow endured this, and ended up being admitted to the birthing unit at the main hospital in Newport because they had intended to induce her. As it happened, upon examination the midwife decided that she was dilated enough to be sent up to the birthing unit. We felt relieved that she was finally in labour, and that a baby might be with us soon after almost a week of such hard work for my wife.

After 14 hours of labour, the midwife decided that labour wasn’t working. She arranged for us to be sent downstairs to be examined and to discuss the options. At this point, my wife was delirious after all the gas and air, exhausted from contractions over almost a week, and I was so sleep-deprived I’d entered a bizarre, twitching limbo state between falling asleep and staying awake. When they started plugging my wife in, putting needles into her, I became overwhelmed. We called for her parents to come down to the hospital. After trying drugs to expedite the contractions, and an epidural, still nothing had happened, so the decision was made to have an emergency C-section.

During the C-section, they discovered that the baby was absolutely wedged where he shouldn’t have been, and would never had been born through contractions and pushing because of just how far he was wedged in. My wife lost a huge amount of blood, which they had to collect and gradually give back to her over the next day or so. Our boy was finally born 7 days after the contractions started. The elation completely overcame any stress or sleep deprivation we had felt. She was in recovery and the subsequent maternity ward for almost three days, while I was going back and forth between the house and the hospital to bring her stuff and make sure the house was in order for their return.

When we brought him home, the job of doing everything to keep things ticking over and look after my wife and baby began. There was no time for any thoughts about myself, and any anxious thoughts were long forgotten. There was no see-saw of ‘take it back, make things normal again’ – and frankly, there’s no way to take a baby back but this didn’t worry me. I’m still amazed to this day that the experience, while far worse for my wife (she’s far stronger than I am), didn’t bring me to another breakdown. I can only attribute it to the fact that I’d made so much effort to build up a resistance to any anxiety beforehand, that my wife’s wellbeing was my main priority, and that subsequently, parental instincts took hold as soon as he was born. There have still been very mild moments where I’ve daydreamed about escaping it all, but I know within myself that I’d never have acted upon these very fleeting impulses. From talking to friends who have babies, those are perfectly natural thoughts to feel at the most challenging times.

Nowadays, the dog is fantastic for my mental health and fitness. The baby gets cuter with every new noise and smile, and while at times the constant care and attention can be tiring, I wouldn’t be without him. I can’t wait to see him grow up, to see what kind of man he will become. Do I worry about anxiety being part of his life? Of course, but I will do everything I can to read any potential signs, and support him in every way I can.

Joe Purse @Joetele

A Day in Anxiety

One day last week I woke up feeling anxious. This day I decided to note down what happened, when I felt anxious, what I did and what I could learn from it.

It’s 7:45am, I’ve checked, re-checked and then checked again to make sure I’ve got everything in my bag for today. I already know it’s going to be one of those days where I’m constantly anxious. I’m used to having these days periodically and I’ve got better at managing them. Still, managing a day of constant anxiety feels like, what I imagine, tight-rope walking feels like. Constant, tiny adjustments have to be made to make sure I don’t fall off into some kind of anxiety canyon.

8:10am I’m on my bike and halfway to work. It’s biblically pissing it down and I’m canvas shorts because I’m a bloody idiot. Cycling generally helps me deal with anxiety and depression to boot. Cycling in London especially helps as I’m constantly on high alert to make sure no cars, taxis, buses, trucks, fellow cyclists, pedestrians inexplicably wandering down the middle of the road, kill me. Concentrating on this really helps as a distraction plus the added boost of testosterone always makes me feel better. I’m finding it more difficult today to switch off my anxiety and concentrate because it’s pretty shitty conditions today.

9:15am nearly everyone on my team at work has called in sick. I work in social services and today is the day we usually have our 3 hour team meetings to go through all our cases. Since it’s only me and one other person I’ve cancelled this meeting. This has left a 3 hour gap in my schedule and although I’ve got plenty to do I have no idea where to start. I generally have a set plan in my head for my work day, when I’m not feeling anxious I’m much more flexible and find it easy to re-arrange tasks in a second. Anxiety though makes the thought of doing this seem like trying to build a house based on an Escher painting.

10:00am I’ve got myself a coffee. I know it won’t help but I’m cold and tired and it seems like the thing to do.

11:00am I’ve done a couple of smaller tasks to try and get my head into the right kind of mind frame. They’re done but they felt ridiculously difficult to complete. On a good day I’d have flown through them, barely having to think about the steps I needed to take, no problems. Today though it feels monotonous, every little step I usually never have to think about I analyse and rethink in great detail in case this time I get it wrong. I’m terrified that what I’m doing is wrong and will screw everything up making everything in my job fall apart.

11:25am My brain’s spiralling. All my work/personal tasks are going through my head on an infinite, quickening loop. I’ve taken a 10 minute break to go for a quick walk outside. There’s no particular point to the walk I just need to change my environment.

12:00 I’ve started making the phone calls I need to make today. A lot of my job involves persuading people to do things they don’t particularly want to do and these phone calls are all about that. I’ve been dreading these, if the first goes badly I’ll feel like shit for the rest of the day and get nothing done. Luckily it goes well and now I’m suddenly king of the world.

1:10 – 2:00pm I was too lazy to make a packed lunch last night so I’m wandering around deciding what to eat. I like to wander around slightly aimlessly at lunchtime. I go to the nearest park, I wander around playing Pokémon, I sit down and look at all the dogs, in short I distract the fuck out of my brain for an hour.

3:00pm One tough phone call has kicked off an hour of tough phone calls trying to sort something out. Luckily it’s just after lunch and I’m full of energy after being outside and walking around for most of that. It’s only after the phone calls end, when I start writing them up as case notes, that I worry if I’ve done the right thing. I go and speak to my co-worker to go over what everyone said, make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed. It pays to be meticulous but I go over and over inconsequential points thinking if I could have done anything better. I can feel my brain going into overdrive again so I go and get some water.

4:00pm Spent pretty much the last hour unable to concentrate, but slowly getting work done. Very slowly. I keep going in cycles of heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated, doing breathing exercises, getting water, calm down, heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated and so on and so forth. Unable to break the cycle this time. My muscles feel weak and faint. I’m actually snapped out of the cycle by suddenly having to deal with a minor crisis. A tiny re-set button somewhere in my brain has been pressed and all I’m left with is wondering how I let this build up to the point in became almost uncontrollable.

5:25pm I’m on the tube and it’s fucking awful.

5:55pm I’m in a pub and there’s a guy playing guitar, the sound’s bad so you can’t hear what he’s actually singing but at the same time it’s so loud I can’t hear anyone around me. I’m partially deaf so loud pubs are generally a nightmare for me anyway but this is impossible. I feel helpless and hate not being able to properly talk to people. I can feel my heart speeding up and I know there’s very little I can do to stop it now. I need to feel like I can make any situation better or bearable but there’s nothing I can do here.

6:50pm We’re in a different pub now, it’s much quieter, I can hear people, I feel much more in control.

8:15pm Me and my wife are on the bus home, we’re gathering pokemon and comparing what we caught that day.

8:45pm Home, at last, home. I’m cleaning out the bins and tidying up and working out how I’m going to cook our noodles. Being home, with nothing else to do, instantly makes me less anxious. My wife is here, my cats are here, I can do or not do anything I want here. There’s nothing expected of me which I can’t manage.

10:30pm Bloody hell Stranger Things is good.

What did i learn? Well, on days like this all I can do is distract myself as much as possible. When I absoluteloy had to speak to people, when I was outside, when I was exercising these all made me feel more in control of myself but conversely more distracted. Absolute concentration on one thing stopped the anxiety. This isn’t really a way to live but on these days when anxiety takes over they provided distractions, they stopped the anxiety from taking over completely.

 

@M0by_Duck

First, I was scared of everything

First, I was scared of everything. I had my first episode of severe anxiety when I was six. I remember it clearly because when you spend your whole day, from morning to night, trying to avoid things that you are certain will kill you, it imprints on your memory like no other thing. I wish I could remember happy days like the days I spent in the gym changing room at school, shaking and crying because I could smell bleach and I was certain that this would bring about my downfall. I was sure that germs could walk from things on to my hands and kill me so I washed them constantly. I thought even the smell of chemicals would kill me. I thought being in the same room as paint would kill me. I ate nothing with my hands. I don’t know what the treatments were but I don’t think it was the doctor. I remember my poor mum licking everything in the house to show me that nothing could kill me but then I just worried for her. I can’t remember how I got better. I was six.

Then came the fear of school. Obviously, the freak that was scared of everything was going to be a massive target for everyone. On top of all of this I was a total individual that was under no circumstances going to do anything just to fit in. The bullying was constant and I became scared of the building. I’m still scared of it now. Recently, I looked at it on Google maps and it still terrified me. I’m better now. I can’t remember how I got better but I know I went back.

Then I got scared of food. Terrified. I went on a diet and begun to fear myself and my lack of control even more. I know now that I am terrible at looking after myself and being good to myself. The only way I knew how was to feed myself nice things. Then I took all the niceness away from myself trying to lose weight. I had no coping mechanism at all. So, I ate but then attempted to undo the eating. I don’t know if everyone with an eating disorder thinks the same way, but I always thought that it would be borne out of some kind of desperation or being pushed into a corner. I thought about it completely rationally. If I want to feel better I need to eat this ice cream and if I want to eat this ice cream I will have to throw up afterwards. I took that decision consciously and in full knowledge of what it meant but I didn’t care. I needed to feel better. The thing is it didn’t end with the bad food. It ended up as all of the food. I asked a locum GP for help on a whim because it never occurred to me that help was something I deserved, but I hadn’t digested anything for about three weeks and I was exhausted. I spent nearly two years as a psychiatric outpatient. I got better but I wrecked my metabolism and I still wasn’t really sure how to take care of myself, but I wasn’t throwing up every day.

Then I became scared of being alone. I had left a long term relationship that took up all my time. I still had no idea about how to live my life or how to be. That sounds so odd to say now, but I had devoted all my time and energy in to keeping someone happy and I had no idea what to do with myself. This energy was put into worrying, self-loathing and really bad relationship choices. I barely slept and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I will always thank my friends for looking after me at this time of my life. They picked me up and dusted me off and showed me the world that I had been ignoring for several years. I was able to come off medication, I lived, I smiled genuinely.

Then I became scared. All of the other fear and lows paled in comparison to what was hitting me now. Days upon days of absolute alarm. I felt like Sonic the Hedgehog, back in the 90s on that level where he was underwater and you needed to find an air bubble. I felt constantly like the countdown had started. I had very few thoughts other than how I wanted to cease to exist. This is not the same as wanting to die, I want to make that explicitly clear, I just didn’t want to be. I wanted to be in a void. I wanted quiet. I wanted silence. The other thoughts were about how pathetic I was. I suffered on with this for months because I felt like going back on medication would be a failure. I cried pretty much constantly when I was alone. I was alone as little as possible because I couldn’t stand my own company. I developed IBS because of my level of stress.

What made me realise that I needed help was that I was grateful when my stomach cramped because it detracted from the pain I was feeling in my head. I started to wonder how I could cause myself pain. I realised that is no way to live or behave so I went back to my GP and started back on the anti depressants. It took a while to find the right dose but now I think we’ve got there.

Things look good for me now. My head is clearer. I laugh. I am not scared to be alone. I am not scared to tell people that I’m having a bad day because I understand now that bad days happen to everyone and that doesn’t make me weak or stupid. I treat myself well. I eat food that is good for me, I look after my body and I look after my mind. I care about myself. Everyone should find a way to look after themselves. Set a baseline. Mine is my nails. I always paint them. I decided a few years ago that I would always make sure that my nails look nice. That means that every few days I am forced to sit down and spend at least 20 minutes focusing on myself. The ritual is calming and is about nothing other than feeling good.

I am still scared of some things. I’m scared I’ll never find love. I’m scared I will always be in the same job, I’m scared people don’t really like me but these fears can be chased away. I can turn on the light and fill the darkest corners of my mind because the bulb is a lot brighter than it’s ever been. I’ve dusted the shade. I’ve cleared away a lot of the clutter and now my head is mostly a nice place to be.

@givesyouhel

Mental Health and Work

This week is Mental Health Awareness week. A week to help spread awareness about mental illnesses of any kind. Any week like this is important to spread knowledge of what mental illness means for the person affectewe q we d, to sweep away common prejudices and most importantly for people to learn more about often woefully misunderstood diseases. I have depressioeat I’m k ed we were w we e n and anxiety, I was diagnosed 2 years ago. Growing awareness about these illnesses in this time has helped people close to me help and support me. It’s kept me alive and functioning as a person. There is always more that can be learnt though and more that can be done to spread awareness and knowledge of all mental illnesses. My experience is of depression and anxiety just two of these diseases.

Work has always been important to me. How could it not be? I’ve had jobs working as scuba instructor where I’ve worked 100+ hour weeks. There was one job where I worked 3 straight months, 7 days a week, starting at 7am and finishing at 11pm. If I didn’t enjoy what I was doing there it would’ve been impossible. These days I work slightly more reasonable hours but I still view work the same way. If I’m not doing something I enjoy for something which inspires me I feel a bit lost.

Since I started suffering from mental illness work has taken on other meanings for me. It provides a routine, a distraction and gives me something my brain can focus on other than itself. In the last couple of years I’ve had three jobs and in each I’ve been open with them about my disease. In my latest job depression hasn’t been a major issue, I’m lucky at the moment that at the moment I feel in some kind of control. This doesn’t mean there aren’t days where the depressive part of my mind wins a minor battle but in the never-ending war I’m currently winning. The same unfortunately can’t be said of my two previous jobs. How both jobs handled the situation was very different.

Two years ago I had what you’d probably call a breakdown, I felt unable to cope with anything, felt I was just and only struggling through life. I told work what was happening and they told me they’d be supportive. I didn’t deal particularly well with the illness at first (who does?), I didn’t know how to cope with it and because of my fear of medication I’d refused to take anything to help me. I tried to exercise my way out of depression, this eventually had some benefits and eventually I got it under control but before I did I’d missed a week of work and not spoken to work throughout that. My manager was obviously concerned. This is where it all went wrong for me, work’s initial response was to dictate to me what they thought I should be doing. I was told I should go part time, take more time off, I should use these days to think and reflect. Sitting alone, feeling bad about not working, would’ve been disastrous. They may as well have locked me in a cupboard with an angry cobra and said

“I’ve heard that pets help. Let’s just see how you guys get along”.

On top of this I was earning very little, just about struggling by each month to pay rent and bills, money (or lack of) was probably my main cause of anxiety. At one stage I was told “it’s only money”. Being told that by someone earning twice as much as me was, to put it mildly, not exactly helpful. I hope they believed what they were doing was best for me but their approach made me worse. Eventually I did get better, my work improved but it never felt there right again. About this time last year I was made redundant, at the time this seemed like a disaster but looking back on it I’m glad it got me out of there and into a much better job.

In November last year I suffered a major depressive episode. My friends and family immediately knew about this but I had serious concerns about telling work. I loved my work and the people I worked with where brilliant but I’d felt that about my last job and my illness has destroyed my enjoyment of there. I shouldn’t have worried, after a while I told my manager and she said she’d support me however I needed it. This time however the support I received was very helpful, she listened to me, understood how important keeping working was to me and supported that. We had regular meetings, she asked what would be helpful and helped me when it became obvious I was struggling to cope. It was a world away from my previous job. I took this job on a gut feeling, and it only lasted 8 months as it was working on a specific project. Unfortunately no further funding materialised and I started working at my new job almost immediately as it ended.

The difference between jobs was remarkable. The main difference, for me, was feeling treated like an actual person. In the first instance I felt like I was treated as if I was the disease. Any human aspect of me was ignored and replaced with my manager’s view of what he thought depression was. I wasn’t listened to, my opinion counted for nothing, it was like I couldn’t be trusted to know what was best for me. Being treated as an actual person, albeit one who needed considerable help, helped me immensely. It helped me feel better at work, it helped my work improve and, most importantly, it helped me recover.

What struck me the most in the 2nd job was the sheer pot luck of having somebody who knew the appropriate way to act. Having someone like this was incredibly important to my recovery but also incredibly lucky. She could’ve reacted as my previous manager had, another job for me could’ve been ruined very easily. The difference was that one manager was aware what would best help someone in my situation the other was not. They were aware of the problems I was experiencing, aware of what might help. Most importantly they were aware that mental illness is a very personal disease, aware that although people experience similar symptoms how best to respond to these symptoms may differ wildly from person to person. How I was treated by the 1st job may have helped someone else with the same symptoms but their inflexibility when it didn’t help me in the way they probably imagined it would made my illness worse.

Mental Illness in any form doesn’t have an easy, one size fits all, solution. It isn’t like a broken leg, you don’t put on a cast and send someone on their way with crutches it requires more attention, more knowledge and more effort. Awareness of what people with mental illnesses experience is so very important and it’s up to everyone to help and spread knowledge. More awareness would’ve helped me, I’m sure it can help many many more.

Tomas GW Shore
@m0by_duck

Getting to grips with who I am…

Bloody hell where do I start with this!? Well, here goes nothing…

I guess I’ll lay it all out while I’ve temporarily got the guts. I got diagnosed with depression and axiety 6 months ago and haven’t adjusted. I’ve (for now) declined medication and the idea of therapy scares me senseless! Telling anyone this side of me terrifies me. Nobody knows.

I guess I’m writing this for two reasons. Firstly, any tips from anyone who’s been in my situation would be amazing! Seriously I really mean that! Secondly, for what it’s worth, I can offer a few tips from what I have learned to help me

1- It’s absolutely worth seeing a doctor if you think you need help! I pinpointed where it all began for me but went 2 years without seeking help. I left the doctors strangely relieved to actually put a label on what I have. I remember thinking “ok let’s sort this out!”…naive maybe

2- Conquer little things. From a little bit of housework to actually leaving the house for a walk. Borrow a dog! Take it to the beach/park! If I’m in a crowded place I struggle. I basically think MOST of the general public are arse holes! But finding a quiet place where it’s just me, my hound and fresh air (phones only allowed for photos of him) seems to re-set me and clear my head from over-thinking every little damn thing

3- Music. Find a song, an album, an artist that you play just for you! Trust me, it’s there! Even the journey of finding it can help!

4- The Internet! A six month younger me would be saying I’m a jackass but what does he know? He’d never think I’d write something and share it! (Albeit anonymously).

Sites like this have helped me…A LOT!

Strangers telling their stories and offering advice are really helping me believe it might just be ok to be me….

@Aaaaaaaahh2

An Unbreakable Cycle

I’ve had issues with Anxiety and Mental Health disorders for as long as I can remember.  When I was aged 8 I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (something I’ll write about in the future), which I believe stemmed from a severe phobia of being sick (emetophobia).  My OCD has manifested itself in all sorts of different ways (it’s not all about cleaning and washing your hands, you know!), especially over the last 2 years.

Today, what I’d like to write about is my experience with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  A condition I was diagnosed as suffering from; back in January 2015.

Throughout the second half of this year, I’ve been upfront and honest about my mental health issues.  I’ve previously written about how I suffered from Post Natal Depression & Anxiety following the birth of my son in 2013.  I’d like to continue to be open and honest about how my mental health affects my day to day life. In many ways it’s cathartic to write about but also I’m very much of the opinion, the more we talk about mental health, the more we can break down the stigma that still seems to be ever present even in this day and age.

So, Generalised Anxiety Disorder….what is it?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can be defined as a disorder in which the sufferer feels in a constant state of high anxiety and is often known as ‘chronic worrying’ or a ‘free floating’ anxiety condition. (credit: Anxiety UK)

As I mentioned, I’ve always suffered from varying degrees of anxiety throughout my life.  I’ve ALWAYS been a worrier, despite my confident exterior, on the inside there has always been a battle of wills going on.  Desperately trying not to let my worries overcome me, whilst also in some strange way, ensuring I pay enough attention to the worries circling my mind so that I don’t ‘get caught out’.

What do I mean by that?  Let’s dissect the last sentence a little.

If I didn’t have something to worry about, to fret over, to even obsess over (enter the OCD), I would worry about that.  I would almost worry that if I was feeling good and worry free, that something would come along and bite me on the backside when I least expected it.
I would feel like I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t live in the here and the now, for fear of what might be lurking round the corner.
So, what would I worry about?  What was so frightening that it was having this effect on me?
Anything.  Absolutely anything is the answer to that question.  It could be something so small and minor as worrying that I might get a cold and have to cancel a night out I had arranged (this was more pre-Motherhood).  I would literally be panic stricken that I might develop a minor illness that would render me unable to stick to plans I had made.  Looking back, it sounds ridiculous, surely it would be seen as one of those things.  I’d got a cold, it’s an inconvenience but I’ll just rearrange the night out and ride the minor irritation out until I’m better.  But no, I couldn’t do that.  I would begin to catastrophize, if I got a cold, I wouldn’t be able to go to work perhaps; therefore I might get the sack.  I wouldn’t be able to go on my night out; my friends might fall out with me.
This is just one example of a worry.
Another example would be the irrepressible fear that I had said something offensive to someone.
The mind is an incredibly powerful thing, this is something I have learnt especially over the last year or 2.  It is capable of pretty much anything.

So, imagine I’m on a night out, the drinks are flowing, I’m having a great time.  Life is good.  I wake up the next morning, perhaps with a hangover and suddenly I’m struck with fear.  I’m talking overwhelming, sweaty palm, dry mouth fear.  I’m worried I said something to a friend/acquaintance that I shouldn’t have.  Cue a cycle of worrying that is very difficult to break.
I’ve said it, I’ve definitely said something to someone (even if deep down I’m sure I haven’t).  They’re going to hate me, that person will never speak to me again.  Heck, they’re going to tell everyone they know what I’ve said and no one will ever speak to me again.  I’m going to be hated, ostracised, this is going to be the worst thing ever.

This is what is going round in my head, and when I say it’s a cycle that is near on impossible to break, I mean it.  I can think of nothing else, and if for a second I do forget what I’m worrying about, I soon remember and the fear becomes all the more overwhelming once again.

This is the cycle I used to find myself in every single day.  The 2 examples above are just 2 examples of many different scenarios I have found myself in on a regular basis.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is scary.  It can make your fears and your worries seem real.  At its worst, it has left me feeling irritable, tense and exhausted.  Exhausted from the incessant worrying, exhausted from the constant ‘what if’s?’ circling my brain.

What if I get food poisoning from this plate of food?  What if I don’t make this bottle up properly and make my baby poorly?  What if I’ve upset someone and they will never talk to me again?

I simply did not have the tools nor the strength to get a hold of this irrational worrying.  This in part, is what led to me reaching my lowest point at the very beginning of this year.

I was at my lowest ebb.

Now, things are different.  Yeah, I still worry, no amount of medication, therapy or counselling will change that.  However, it doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to.  I’ve taught myself to gain perspective, to ride the worries out.  I think to myself ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ or ‘will you still be worrying about this, this time next week?’.

Nowadays, I take each hour as it comes, I don’t fret so much about the future, or worry about what I did or didn’t do in my past.  I’ve learnt to use the rational side of my brain more and ignore the irrational thoughts and worries.

Some useful resources if you feel you would like to learn more about Anxiety.

https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
http://www.mind.org.uk/
http://bemindful.co.uk/

Check out my blog: http://www.ourrachblogs.com

Written by @our_rach

You’ll be ok

TW: References to self harm and suicide

I have Dyspraxia (a specific learning difficulty that affects spatial awareness, coordination, organisation of thought and emotional sensitivity) and a secondary condition that I’ve developed, as a result of being utterly confused about myself and why I am different, is anxiety- particularly social anxiety. The two alone are widely misunderstood- how does it feel to have a diagnosable anxiety disorder? Is a question that the few who experience anxiety daily can only answer. Isn’t anxiety just being worried? Is another question I get asked often, well yes it is- but being worried about an exam and being terrified of going to a friend’s party for fear of becoming ill are two very different things. What exactly is Dyspraxia? Well if you’d like the full answer to that question, you’d better pour yourself a drink. People don’t quite believe me when I say that my Dyspraxia affects every part of my life. So as you can imagine, if you put anxiety, Dyspraxia and the odd episode of depression into the mix, you get some very confused people and more misunderstandings than I have cups of tea. The scariest misunderstanding I’ve encountered to date, is that of those in the mental health profession- they often don’t see the connection between being seen as different, not feeling part of society and struggling to fit in with my anxiety, yet they will see millions of people every year with Specific learning difficulties, who are sadly overrepresented in the mental health system (because of obvious reasons) but few even know what Dyspraxia is yet how to best support someone with Dyspraxia and co-occurring mental health conditions.

My anxiety makes me scared of the unknown, the unpredicted and the future- since the bereavement of a friend who sadly passed away almost two years ago when we were all in our twenties, and well enjoying life- I’ve become terrified of what is to come. I feel guilty for not seeing him as much as I would have liked and guilty that his death affected me as much as it did as most of our contact was mainly online, living in different towns made it a sense of occasion to see each other in person. The last conversation we ever had keeps going round and round in my head like an overplayed record. So bereavement, Dyspraxia, anxiety, depression has made me very confused, sometimes not the best person to be around but no less determined. Since I was a young child (and by young I mean eight years old) I felt suicidal, I’ve self-harmed and lost focus and motivation. This was largely due to the destruction of bullying because I stood out to be different, often struggling to decode social cues in the playground. I’ve also felt happy, generally anxiety free and accepted my disabilities, in a way that in those dark, distressing moments I didn’t think was possible. I regularly write about it now and talk to others who have been there- this has helped me to feel free, develop a sense of belonging and has opened up a whole new world that had previously been closed to me. Above all anxiety makes me angry- angry that I have days when my duvet is my best friend and angry that I’m convinced I’ve let my friends down. Hiding is the best adjective I can find to describe my experiences to date, I’ve hidden my Dyspraxia diagnosis from so many people, for so many years and different reasons and I’ve hidden my anxiety from myself and others around me- for fear of being seen as hard work, weak and vulnerable.

As I’ve got older, I have been drawn towards the most wonderful of friends, without them being over a computer, at the other end of a phone or in person I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. Since I started disclosing my mental health and difficulties associated with a diagnosis of Dyspraxia I am often met with the most comforting words and the warmest of hugs. I’m often told ‘you’ll be okay’ and as hard as it is to believe when I am in the middle of an anxiety attack- I know that this is the best thing anyone can ever say to me, because in the end it will be okay, it may be hard and difficult at times- but there are people who understand and if they don’t they’ll always make time to listen. It’s so important for more people to feel that they can be open about their mental health difficulties and disabilities, as there will always be others whether near or far, who feel just as you do and can empathise in the most powerful of ways. I’d love to see the day when such topics of conversation are as common as discussing the weather, because it is okay to admit that you’re not okay, and talking about it makes you realise that you will get there eventually. My Dyspraxia has taught me that opening up about how anxiety actually feels for a Dyspraxic, can bring you towards an innate sense of belonging, something quite special and as a depressed teenager felt a million miles away from reality. The greatest benefit to me has been meeting and speaking to other Dyspraxic women around my age who have also developed anxiety/depression and have been through largely similar experiences to me, the amount of ‘me too’s!’ I’ve shared lately has been quite extraordinary, but no less comforting at times. I know that whatever you are feeling now, tomorrow is another day, there will be people somewhere in the world who can understand and as my friends have wisely pointed out to me so many times, ‘you will be okay.’

Alice Hewson

@4licerose

alittlemoreunderstanding.wordpress.com