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.

Light and Dark, Up and Down

What goes up must come down is the age old analogy.  When I’m up life is great, like up, up and away good.  Nothing is a bother, I’ve got energy to spare.  Fuck sitting still, that’s for losers right?

But when I’m down, fuck am I down. I’m the shit on a snake’s belly after it’s been trodden on by an elephant. Who would have thought just opening your eyelids could be such hard work?

Mind you, it’s not as hard as pretending to be “normal”.  During the down phases I spend so much energy pretending that I’m ok that there is nothing left for anything else.

I’m sure this correlates directly to the lack of feeling and sensation when nestled in the black, all- encompassing trough.  How can you enjoy things when it takes the energy output of a small town just to function without anyone noticing you’re broken?

Light and Dark, Up and Down –  are they just be a matter of perspective?  Is one man’s down another man’s up and vice versa?

That thought got stuck like one of those odd little brain thorns.  Barbed and stuck in my mind, irritating me till I decided the best way to draw the damn thing out is to rant about the effects of Therapy and Anti-Depressants and talking to strangers on the Internet.

Just remember that the Pros and Cons are interchangeable depending where I am (and you are) in your own personal cycle.  To paraphrase Paul and Michael “Ebony and Ivory, live together in perfect Harmony, unless your brain is broken and you need help to fix it”

Therapy

Pros:  Where else do you get to sit for an hour with a rapt audience talking about yourself?  Great in an up phase, fuck yeah, clarity, finding connections, discussing the living shit out of things and it’s on the NHS despite the best efforts of the government to fuck us over.

Cons: I’ve got to sit and talk about myself for an hour.  Who in their (sic) right mind wants to listen to me?  Gently, I’m being guided back along all the closed off corridors and locked rooms inside my mind, opening the doors a crack and peeping inside.

Conclusion:  Therapy is amazing.  Amazingly insightful, amazingly painful, amazingly engrossing and amazingly terrifying.  All at the same time.  In the early days of being in therapy I found myself looking at all my relationships differently.  Questioning them, stress testing them almost.  Are they ones I want to keep or are they ones it’s time to let go.  Am I fucking a particular relationship up or is it a mutual clusterfuck?  I’m looking and dealing with my own issues – are they and should I care?  Do I have enough time and energy to take their problems on as well as my own?

Having said all that, I was due so start back in Therapy last week.  The therapist phoned in sick.

Pro: more time to prepare and come off my meds.

Cons: He thinks I’m “Tappy Lappy, Nuts, Crackers, Mad bad and dangerous to know”.  Probably.

Anti-Depressants

Pros:  They definitely got me out of the worst down periods I’ve been in.  I’m a child of the rave generation.  Pop a pill and feel better – let’s do this.  50mg is for wimps, I want 200mg.  Yeehah!  Everything is so fucking………..normal.

Cons: Everything is so fucking normal. Normal, normal, Normal.  Normal Brian, 45 Normal Avenue, Normaltown, Nornmalville USA.  Boring in fact.  Stale.  Stuck. No ups, no downs, no black no white, nothing.

And this is the positive benefit.  There are a whole host of side effects linked with SRRI’s.  At the risk of over sharing, my personal highlights have been.

Weight Gain: On average the weight gain in 25% of people taking SRRI’s is circa 10lbs.  Let’s round it up as the tablets also reduce your motivation to get off your fat arse and exercise.

So I’m calling it a stone.  14lbs of fat where nothing has changed really other than the ability to put on weight simply by breathing.  As I’m weaning myself off the meds the weight is coming off.  Not by magic and not all at once but there is a sense of breathing the fat away.

If I could market that as a fad diet, I’d be rich.

Decreased sex drive:  Sertraline killed my sex drive faster than getting married did.  And that was fucking fast.  Then having kids chipped away at it but the tablets dropped it off the edge of a cliff.  So much so I went to see the GP about it, wholly expecting a tablet to fix the problem (rave generation again).

His advice was “I just need to suck it up”.

That was it, word for word.  If I hadn’t been so fucking normal at the time, I’d have either laughed at the implied joke or told him to fuck off.  I did neither just went back home to Normaltown.

There are a couple of others but there is still a limit to how much information I’m comfortable sharing

* and Yes, I’m looking at you Having Difficulty Reaching Orgasm*

Conclusion: Fluoxetine scares me, it left me like an extra from the Walking Dead.  A total Zombie but one who had to function instead of just biting people.  Sertraline did something, although I’m still not sure what.

Maybe I’ve never found the correct tablet or dosage but they aren’t for me long term.  Everyone is different, if yours work for you keep taking them.  Be happy, don’t feel isolated or that there is a stigma attached.  More people than you think are on the happy tablets, they just don’t talk about it.

 

Strangers on the Internet

Pros:  Twitter, Forums IRC, Reddit etc.  I’ve had all kinds of interactions with people who I will never meet in real life.  I’ve learnt obscure facts, shared stories, laughed along with and felt sad for people (mostly who’ve lost their dogs).  All of these have gone some way to making me feel a little better, a bit at a time.  When depression hits and causes you to withdraw socially it can be a viscous circle.  Just having a tiny glimpse into the world at these times is brilliant.

Cons: Facebook.  Just fuck right off.  I know your life is so much better than mine. I don’t need to see your perfect family, in your perfect house doing your perfect things.  How come nobody says things like “I love my kids but they’ve been little shits today or I’m only friends with you on here to see how fat you’ve gotten since school”

Conclusion:  It’s good to talk.  To anyone, someone, your dog, your plants, yourself.  I’m a socialable loner, in that my default happiest state is on my own.  I’m very comfortable in my own company but I recognise it’s also very bad for me if I avoid people for too long.

People need people. And people need dogs.  Dogs are brilliant.  Fact.

I’m going now

Life is all about the ups and downs.  Some of us seem predisposed to going higher and falling farther than others.  Sometimes we need a ceiling and sometimes a safety net to stop our minds bouncing us into oblivion.  Sometimes we just need to read some random blokes ramblings on the internet.

When the going gets tough, give yourself a break.  It’s ok to admit your struggling.

Hope you smiled.

Thanks for reading.

@Tucker_DJ

We All Need Space To Grow

It’s nearly my third anniversary.  Not one I’d normally choose to celebrate but one that feels significant nonetheless.

3 years ago after a period of feeling increasingly down I found myself crying at my desk right in the middle of some mundane work task or other.  Proper wrenching sobs coming from deep, deep down, so hard in fact that they hurt physically as well as emotionally.

This was the catalyst for visiting my GP to start on a course of anti-depressants and to get on the waiting list for my local NHS Talking Therapies group.

I made a decision very early not to hide this from my children.  I wanted them to understand that like a broken leg, my head was a bit broken and I needed to help mend it.  Since then frankly I think I’ve bored the hell out of them talking about feelings, sharing, empathy all of those good things that us stoic men are not supposed to show the world.

I’d like to think I’m decent dad (always room for improvement right?) and as well as taking care of my kid’s material needs I’m encouraging them to be open about their feelings both positive and negative.

This was brought into sharp relief last night over my teenage son.  Love him to bits, but god knows he knows how to push my buttons all at once.  He’s been having some issues at school, nothing major just minor disruption as they like to call it.

There was a lot of back and forth arguing and then I humped off out with the dogs to calm down.  While I was walking I had time to think and realised that some of the things he’s saying sound like me.  A little bit too like me for comfort.

I realised that what he needs for now is not me/us to be on at him constantly.  Yes, he needs to understand the boundaries that we as his parents have set but more importantly we need to let him grow, to give him space to work out what is important to him and the mechanisms and strategies he’s is going to develop to make the life he wants.

So I told him all of this.  He expected shouting, I talked gently.  I explained that I love him very much but we’ve reached a point where as close as we have been he needs his space now to be himself.

And really the other thing I realised is that I need my own space.  Working full-time, kids, pets, wife, house and all those other things that take your time doesn’t leave a lot for yourself.  By giving my son emotional space, I get some back for myself.

When I have space then I can grow as a person to.

This is the first thing I’ve written in three years.  It’s no co-incidence that my creative ability stopped as the tablets took hold.  Feeling level is ok, it smooths out the bumps but the apathy and lack of feeling has me screaming inside.

I’m going back into therapy to see if I can finally get of the medication and accept life for what it is and myself for who I am.

I’ll finish on something that struck me this morning when I was suddenly struck by the need to write this down.

Picture a heart.  Look at the bottom where it joins.  That’s me and my son.  Look how it grows apart as it moves up, creating space but the turning in, curling down to join again.

That’s us.  We are moving apart to find space, never not loving each other, just respecting our needs.  We will come back together; our relationship will be different but with space for each other.

If we don’t acknowledge our feelings and talk things through, then that heart will break and be unable to be repaired.

Nobody should have to deal with that.

hearts

Thanks for reading.


Brian

@tucker_dj

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…

A Sense of Purpose

So firstly, hello, that always seems like a good place to start!

My name’s Marie, I’m almost 30 (ahh!) and I like to think I’m a pretty alright human being. Well, to be completely honest some of the time I think that I’m an alright human being, but even from day to day and week to week, the way I feel about myself can vary enormously.

There are the times when a) I’ve felt like a fantastic, wonderful human being (rare, but it’s happened, I swear) and b) the times when I am feeling like a bit of a crap human being – now in the past, feeling like I’m a crap human seemed to happen way more often than me feeling alright about myself. But slowly through the years my feelings of self-worth and the belief that I DO have something to add to the world, has grown.

I bet you’re wondering HOW it has grown though? Okay, well I’ll tell you, but only if you make the next cup of tea. After a few years of having depression every year in winter, it was the middle of another cold, dark, I guess lonely winter period for me. I was doing a bit of googling (as you do) and I came across a volunteering opportunity. It was with a mental health service and the ad wanted someone to help out with running the drama group each week. So after some internal vascilating between wrangling with self-doubt and feeling excited that this sounded like a cool thing to do, I applied.

Now I will have you know that I know diddly-squat about drama (although I would like to!), but I guess my enthusiasm came across and the manager of the centre where it ran decided to let me have a go.

Best.Thing.I.Ever.Did.

To cut a long story short, I absolutely loved every minute of helping out, I began to gain experience in a mental health setting and I ended up finding what I am truly one million per cent passionate about in life.

As a child I helped to care for my mum and my dad – who both suffered a lot with mental health problems (I’ve also had problems myself) and I really feel that these experiences gave me a ton of compassion and empathy for others going through hard times emotionally. Volunteering there (at a local Mind) truly boosted my confidence in a huge way – I had somewhere to be each week on the same day, but not only that – I could help. I realised that helping others was something I was truly passionate about. Helping someone else to feel alright, when they’ve been having a crap time, can be the best, most rewarding feeling in the whole world. By volunteering there I gained skills and confidence, but most importantly, I found what I truly love to do.

I also gained a job, for a charity I’m so proud to work for (big up, Mind!) – and I am still enjoying working there, still gaining skills, and still helping others to (hopefully) feel a bit less crap.

I am lucky enough to have found something that I love doing, and I strongly feel that a sense of purpose, having something to be passionate about in life, can make a MASSIVE difference when it comes to feeling good about ourselves.

Well …all I am saying is that it’s worked for me!

Marie  McCormack

@MarieLMcCormack

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

Reaching out

So recently I bit the bullet and wrote about depression.  Mental instability.  Being a little cray-cray.  Being followed by a black dog. Getting annoyed at Justing Timberlake singing about having sunshine in his pocket.  Whatever you want to call it.  Writing about it helped enormously.  It was sort of not caring about it personally anymore.  It took all its steam away.  Now I was prepared to go to a dinner party and when people say ‘What do you do?’ I can reply with ‘I get really panicked and anxious and despair of everything and seal myself off from everyone, but I’m okay right now.  Not that you need to worry about being a friend of mine or talking to me after this evening- you are obviously a pompous asshat and even if I said I was actually God, you’d still not be impressed because I don’t own a Brietling watch.’ (Yeah Dave.  You know who you are, you twat.) It really freed me up.

One other change- my illness creates in me a debilitating physical condition that involved toilets, which is neither cool to talk about nor is it cool as a physical action.  So I won’t- except to say that as soon as I stopped caring what people might think of the problem, it calmed down a lot.  I mean it still happens sometimes, but what kind of idiots stand in a toilet laughing at the uncomfort being displayed aurally from a closet?  Toilet humour is an acquired taste when you’re an adult, but take it too seriously and it gets really sensitive.  Then it is powerful…

Well, the writing really helped.  So does lying on the floor and asking myself ‘what’s good at the moment?’.  Not ‘what do I want?’ or ‘what do I need?’. They’re aspirational questions- I don’t know what the fuck I want really.  It used to be Lambos and swimming pools. Now its getting through conducting a concert without passing out.

I discovered by accident that there was another kind of writing that also helps.

I know this bloke; massive dude, gold tooth, tattoos, ex-bouncer, shaved head, alleyway nightmare; massively big and strong.  But he sometimes falls down.  He freaks out and forgets who he is and gets really low.  He cannot see the wood for the trees- all that sort of stuff.  Now that doesn’t make him dangerous- just sad.  Really sad inside. Like he dropped his mojo down the back of the sofa and he can’t find it anywhere.  And there’s about 50 million people that love him and his presence so it’s debilitating.  Everyone knows him and respects him.  He’s a Don.

Anyway, I messaged him when he said something negative on the book of faces.  It was a general statement of despair.  So I told him to forgive himself, be kind to himself and try to decompress from the hassles that he was experiencing.

Then I realised the next day, that I’d sobered up and what the hell had I done?  This guy wouldn’t respect or even like what I’d done.  He’d look at it defensively and say ‘Who the hell are you?  You aren’t even that good a mate- don’t judge me or tell me this.  I don’t need your homeopathic nonsense.  I need a drink with my mates and a fight.’

That wasn’t what he replied though.

I’ll let you guess what he wrote but honestly, it turned out that I’d helped.  I actually helped him, and he appreciated it.  Genuinely.

You see, if you read this stuff that Mindtank kindly allow people to publish and you think it’s useful to read- then you will not believe how powerful writing about it is.  Not to yourself.  Write it aloud.  Pin it to a bus stop.  Put it on here.  Slip it into a paper at Costa.  No one will laugh at it.  No one will dismiss it.  They’ll use it or give it to someone else.  Or they won’t- but that makes them too busy or just twats.  And there are unfortunately some of those in the world.  Just write it aloud.  Like Sally Brampton.  What a wonderful lady.  Just maybe acknowledge your challenges earlier and write about them earlier.

David Ricketts

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