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.

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

Passing as human

Oh hi, it’s your friendly neighbourhood depressive TechnicallyRon here, let’s talk depression BECAUSE THAT’S FUN.

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for a while now, but not entirely sure how to phrase it. But fuck it. Let’s try. If it all goes terribly wrong just pretend you haven’t read this and we will all go on with our lives.

I’ve had a couple of dips recently. Depression is rather brilliant like that. You think you’ve got everything together, you think you’re completely in control, but you forget that those times can be far and few between. I just went back onto autopilot mode. I was rarely in control. I felt like I was just floating through everything. I wasn’t really there. Conversations went over my head, work just happened, life simply occurred, I wasn’t doing anything, I just, was.

I’m not particularly good at looking after myself anyway, I can resist anything but temptation, I am basically a toddler that is allowed to drink and smoke and make poor financial decisions. When I get low this amplifies. I spend my time drinking, in a marvellously cliched circle of self loathing. I can’t help it, I try, I really do, but I fail, because that’s what I do, I fail.

When I’m in a spiral I coast. I coast because anything more than that seems like effort. Anything more than the bare minimum it takes me to get through a day feels like the most challenging thing I will ever accomplish. Fuck depression. It’s a selfish disorder that makes you feel like a twat all the time and when you try to pull yourself up it just makes you feel worse.

However, annoyingly and hypocritically, I try and find a positive in this. When it comes to MH disorders there are few positives that can possibly be taken, so when they come along it’s so fucking important to make a point of them.

When I’m depressed I feel trapped within myself, disguised almost, pretending to be a person, pretending to be a normal functioning member of society. This can be the hardest part. Inside is numb, nothing works, but on the outside I’m happy, I am polite and I am conversational, simply because I don’t want to bother anyone with this, I don’t want anyone to know what’s happening inside my brain, I don’t want to be me.

People judge you by what you are like in public. No one knows what the hell anyone is actually going through at any time. Someone might be a bit quiet of a night out and some may perceive that as rude, not knowing that that person is so bloody anxious about being in the outside world that they are fighting with themselves to not just get up and go home. Someone may be a little off in the office, they are probably just being a dick, because it’s completely illogical that their outer manifestation of themselves could accurately represent their inner workings.

So, the positive spin on this is, through all your peculiarities, at least it’s better than being fucking normal. Imagine being normal, it means garden centre trips on a Sunday, wearing beige trousers, knowing where your electricity meter is, eating salad, checking your bank balance. Sounds horrendous. Never define yourself through a socially constructed definition of normality, never define yourself by any one else’s standards. I have my problems, and they are mine. You have your problems, and they are yours.

It’s about not letting the chemical imbalances in your brain define you. It’s about finding that tiny scrap of self worth and holding onto it like a winning lottery ticket. It’s about self preservation. Don’t take things day by day, take them moment by moment: breathe, talk to people you trust, ignore the people you can’t. TOP TIP: If you read this section in the style of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Sunscreen’ then it makes this whole paragraph really annoying.

You can never know which people are holding on by their fingertips, just trying to get through a day without incident, if we in this weird community can look out for each other, occasionally ask how each other is with sincerity, then we are getting somewhere. It may not be getting far but we are getting there.

The greatest lie we are told as kids is that when you become an adult you will have everything figured out. No one knows what they are doing in life, everyone is winging it, everyone is hoping to get through each day without fucking up.

@TechnicallyRon

Acceptance & Recovery

Trigger Warning – This post discusses suicide

I’m staring up at the wooden ceiling. It’s spinning, the whole world is spinning. People go past the open door, looking in with scared looks on their faces. It’s been about five minutes since I’ve accepted that I’m going to die.

Accepting death is surprisingly one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. You logically weigh up the facts, decide which outcome is most likely and accept it.

I’d been living and scuba diving in Mozambique for the previous 2 months. It was just after Christmas. The dive I’d just been on was spectacular. We’d descended through deep green plankton blooms, emerging into clear blue at twenty metres. Looking out into the blue a pair of aquatic wings came to life and a manta came, gliding toward us. Another followed, then another and another. Soon there were too many to count. There were 6 at most, gliding through our bubbles, playing with us. We float, almost motionless, as this aquatic ballet goes on around us.

It’s not until we’re back at the shore, waiting to beach the rib, when it happens. I collapse. I can’t move, can barely talk, I’m convulsing on the floor of the rib like a dying fish. I’m pinned to the floor, sideways in a vague kind of recovery position, so I don’t choke. As the convulsions slowly subside I’m lifted from the boat to a truck then up a flight of stairs to a small room. My only thought is that I’ve got decompression sickness. My breathing is rapid and short, there’s a tingling in my arms, what else could it be?

For those that don’t know, Decompression Sickness is what divers fear above anything else. It is when bubbles, formed in the body during a dive, fail to work their way out the body. These bubbles can grow and cause clots anywhere in the body. If not treated quickly it can kill or seriously alter your life.

By this stage I’ve assumed there’s a bubble somewhere in my head, affecting the balance centres in my inner ear. It’s only a matter of time before it starts affecting my brain. The nearest decompression chamber is over a day away. I’ve studied this disease, I know what happens. If I have a bubble near my brain I’m dead by then. I accept this; it doesn’t take long to come to terms with it. It’s my time, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t fight this and if there’s nothing to fight against there’s only one possibility left.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I’ve woken up feeling unable to face work and I’m home alone. I’ve been feeling low for a few months now and it often feels like my depression is winning. I think about trying to set myself tasks to do but fuck that. I’m watching a film but have no idea what it is or what’s going on. It’s just colours and sounds. I can’t see what the point is. My mind is racing in circles flashing past the same thoughts, unable to stop and let my mind properly comprehend them. “You’re a failure, you can’t cope, you’ll never amount to what you want to be, you should just end it” round and round and round and round like some sort of depressive carousel. These thoughts take over your head entirely. There is no way out of them. My mind sees only one route out and it accepts it.

But I’m still here.

So how am I still here? Simple answer I fought back. I realised I wasn’t dead yet and whilst I’m still breathing, still able to comprehend the world around me, still with something worth living for. I remember thinking this as I lay in the back of a 4×4, rapidly depleting our oxygen supplies, as we navigated the dirt roads away from the beach. Time went by more quickly now. We were at the hospital in no time at all. I lay in a bed, breathing oxygen, a saline drip feeding into my arm. The worst was over, the dizziness was subsiding slightly. I was eventually diagnosed with severe barotrauma, unpleasant but not life threatening. The dizziness would leave me unable to walk for the next few days but I was alive. I still had my life in front of me. I would still be able to dive.

As I lay on the sofa at home I looked up and saw my cats, sleeping around me. I saw a picture of me and my wife on our wedding day. The amazing feeling of that day felt like an age away from the feelings of this moment but one thing came out. I have been that happy, I can be that happy, I will be that happy again. My mind slowed down, I forced myself to concentrate on this new feeling. Concentrate on the hope. That feeling of utter joy I’d felt on my wedding day might not happen immediately, it would be tough to climb out of this feeling but why would I want to give up on the person who makes me the happiest in the world. How could I leave my cats without me to play with them, how could I give up on my friends, my family, everything I wanted to achieve in my life. I couldn’t give up on this. I haven’t given up.

Tomas GW Shore

@m0by_duck

 

Taking Things Seriously

People that take things seriously are the people who flip over the monopoly board 2 hours in because someone bought mayfair before they could.

I have taken 3 things seriously in my life. FIRST. I took drinking so seriously that I got gout and had to hop around on crutches for a few months. SECOND. I took work so seriously that I lost 5 stone in 3 months. THIRD. I met a girl and decided to stop killing myself. Kind of. Ish.

I don’t do serious. Serious is for people that enjoy going to garden centres, who check their bank accounts without crying and shop at ‘the good sainsbury’s’. Serious is for people who watch question time for the commentary on modern day life rather than screaming through a mouth full of monster munch that the UKIP MEP is a twat. Seriousness is for grown ups. I am not a grown up, I am a failed adult.

I learnt quickly after being told I was depressed that I couldn’t take things seriously. Maybe it’s yet another default in my brain chemistry, but I knew that if I treated every bad thing that happened to me with the gravitas of a BBC drama then I would just crumble under the weight of cliche.

I was depressed, I am depressed, I would spend days in bed staring at the ceiling contemplating the meaning of everything, my position in the universe and my severe insignificance. I ate every few days. I drank like Hemingway. I listened to movie scores and wrote angry little stories for no one to read. I cliched my fucking tits off.

You know the five steps of grieving? We’ve all been through it. denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and all that bollocks. This applies to MH. Well at least for me, I am not going to shove ideas into your head, we are talking about me here guys, come on. But for me, this is what my brain went through.

Denial. “I’m not depressed. I’m just me. I’m a maverick. Yeah I have down days and I have up days. Yeah I spend days feeling like a Leonard Cohen record but other days I feel like a fucking Iggy Pop LP. But maybe that’s mania. Maybe that’s not right.”

Anger. “So you’re pissed off. You’re pissed off that you’re yet another statistic on another chart for depressed 20 somethings not doing anything with their lives. Your parents didn’t raise you like this. There are real people out there, people going through so much more than you, you privileged fuckwit.”

Bargaining. “RIGHT. If I am depressed it’s not like I’m mad. It’s just a phase. It’s just a little wibble

and next week I will be back to fucking normal. Pretty sure that is the deal here. 30mg? How about 10mg doc? Yeah I’m doing jazz hands. It’s because I am awkward ok?”

Depression: “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA fuck”

Acceptance: “Ok fine. I am obviously not right. I don’t like feeling this way. I am not supposed to be this way. I am not me. I am trapped within myself. What everyone has put up with for the last few years is not me. It can’t be me.”

Or at least that’s how it felt.

As soon as I came to terms with my depression, as soon as I studied it, accepted it and started to try to wrestle with it I felt better. There is one thing I refuse to do however. I refuse to let it consume me again. Been there done that got the shitty T-shirt that fell apart in the first wash. If you can mock something then I think it gives you power over it. My depression is like a shitty Wes Anderson character I wrote for myself, with a bad soundtrack and a lame back story. To throw more cliches into the mix, my life is the feature film, my MH is a shitty DVD extra that no will give a shit about.

Let’s end this convoluted blog post on an analogy, because fuck you I am writing this that’s why. I’ve said this before but for the life of me I can’t think of a better way to put it. Depression is like a house mate you never really invited to stay. He turned up one day and now you’re too polite to get rid of him. His dirty socks are all over the place. His dirty plates litter the kitchen. You just hope he will go by himself, but he won’t. Because he’s a twat.

@TechnicallyRon

Obsessions And How To Kill Them

I get obsessive about things sometimes. Sometimes it’s music, a track that hits me right on a nerve. I end up drowning in it, revelling in it, blocking everything else out. Sometimes it’s an activity, recently I’ve been playing Destiny most mornings, thanks to the joys of being unemployed, and one morning when I couldn’t because of server issues I got tremendously antsy.

Sometimes it’s more insidious than that, sometimes it’s not an activity, it’s a thing. Something I feel I need to collect.

First time I was aware of this was my perfume obsession. I’d had a miscarriage and was in a sorry state. Things hurt too much. My thoughts focussed on how useless I was because I’d failed to carry a baby full term. Again. My gynae history is pretty crappy, let’s leave it at that.

I needed to get out of my head, but I don’t drink any more, not really. So instead I bought perfume. I’d got Luca Turin’s amazing book of Perfume reviews and started working my way through it, trying to get samples of all the 4 and 5 star perfumes. I’d stalk eBay for samples, trade BPAL perfume oils, for a while I had a blog with my own reviews, with the idea I’d keep it up for a year.

At some point my long-suffering other half made a quip about “this is all getting a bit obsessive, isn’t it”. I took a look at the growing collection and had to agree it seemed to be spiralling a little. Here’s the thing though, even when I am really self-aware about stuff, that knowledge doesn’t actually help. Knowing I’ve gotten obsessed over something doesn’t mean I stop.

Self-awareness with no follow up is pretty frustrating. These kind of obsessions can get pricey. Since I’ve taken stock of this behaviour they’ve included perfume, nail polish, red lipstick (only red mind you), vintage handkerchiefs, vintage headscarves, shoes, vintage style underwear, dresses, books (my Kindle to be read pile is massive), laser cut jewellery, leopard print things, tea (yes tea), Pop! Funko Vinyl figures and currently fountain pens and ink.

How bad is it? In the past week I’ve bought 5 bottles of ink, 3 sets of cartridges, 1 subscription to ink samples, a new fountain pen and two new ink converters. I currently have erm, 10 fountain pens? Start of November I had 2 and that was only because I’d lost one for a while and wanted to replace it.

Oh and notebooks. Yeah. You need something to write on with all that pen and ink…

Here’s the kicker, suddenly I  end up with more than 10 serviceable notebooks, and no idea which one to write in next. 10 fountain pens, lots of different ink, which one to write with?. All the choice that I brought into the house and suddenly I’m unable to function because it’s too much. Everything is overloaded.

So I stop.

The perfumes gather dust, or get sent to other friend, the nail polishes congeal, the lipsticks are kept in boxes and occasionally get a rotation. Things are used, then put away.

If the fates are kind then stopping links into an upswing in mental health so I don’t need the distraction of collecting all the things. Or it becomes benign  – reading 25 books in January probably counts as obsessive, wouldn’t you say? If I’m really lucky it will exhibit in healthy eating, or even exercise.

What is guaranteed though is that at some point another one will take over.

I am very aware that I am in the position where I can afford to do this. Although not if I stay unemployed for much longer. If I don’t get a new job soon my next obsession is going to be Delicious Ways to Eat Top Ramen Every Night.

There is. of course a term for this, one I’ve joked about. Addictive personality disorder. Probably should stop joking about it really. Like I said, being self-aware isn’t the solution. But it is a first step.

@ephemeragrrl

How I Learned To Accept My Anxiety By Sarah Aged 48 And 3/4s

The first time I used the word anxiety in tandem with my own experiences was last year. My job had been made redundant in a pretty crappy fashion, but I was still chugging on at the same place of work while we all found me something new to do. I jokingly described myself as “Minister without Portfolio” but it was taking its toll. Then a day came when I got off the tube, looked towards work and my heart started pounding. And I genuinely thought something along the lines of “great, now I have anxiety”.

Since that point last year I’ve had to take a long hard look at my experiences and in a frying pan of reality moment just last week I realised I’ve suffered from anxiety for at least half my life.

How does it take that long to realise? Here’s a checklist of things that I have done on a regular basis since my 20s

  • Had “sword of damocles* moments (and that’s actually how I described them at the time) where I have a feeling of absolute dread, that something bad is going to happen
  • Waking up at 3am or thereabouts, heart racing. This happens on a stupidly regular basis. And when I say stupidly regular, I mean most nights.
  • Getting panicked if my other half doesn’t come home when expected, especially if it’s at night, but also whenever he drives back from the football teams he coaches
  • Leaving social events, suddenly, usually without telling anyone, because suddenly it is all too much
  • Getting ready for work and my temperature suddenly rising

There are probably more. These are just the ones that immediately spring to mind. When I tell people about them they say “yup, that’s anxiety”. So why has it taken me so long to realise this? Especially when I am honest about the depressive spells I get from time to time. I think part of it is that I’m wired to diminish my own experiences, that awful “yes, but” phenomena.

“You’re clearly depressed”

“Yes, but I’m not suicidal”

“This is anxiety”

“Yes, but it’s not specific”

“You are crying and you don’t know why? ”

“Yes, but it’s not like I’m breaking down in public”

You get the picture.

I know I’m not alone in the “yes butting” – we diminish how bad things are, we use our coping mechanisms as proof that things are really and truly ok and you don’t need to worry and neither do us, because look ha-ha! we’re FINE. It’s all FINE. Besides I know people who have it much worse than I do, so really I should put up and shut up, yes?

I was reading Jenny Lawson’s brilliant book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, where she talks very honestly about her mental health that I realised how relevent her stories were to me. It would have been very easy to read her accounts of having to hide (under tables, in bathrooms, literally running out of places) as proof that my issues are tiny and inconsequential. Instead I was hit with the “oh shit, I do that too (to some degree)”.

My experience of anxiety is not Jenny Lawson’s. Or yours. Or that of my teen daughter or the lady 3 doors away. There is not one size fits all for anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue. Depression lies to you. Anxiety would like you to hide.

Some of my anxiety I even understand. The worry about loved ones comes from a previous relationship, where my partner got badly injured one night when he was out drinking. I had a 3 month old baby at the time and was suffering from post-natal depression. Five days before Christmas. The same chap went out for matches one night at eleven pm and didn’t come back til 3 the next morning. I was also suffering from depression at the time. These stupid things, so many years ago now, bash their imprint into your psyche and the anxiety isn’t because you don’t trust your current partner, who is not a complete bonehead, but because this stuff rocked you to your imbalanced core.

I genuinely do not know what to do this newfound awareness. My daughter has a habit of shouting “GO TO THE DOCTOR! ” when I talk about health stuff. Truth is, I’m reluctant. I was on anti-depressants once and was too depressed to take them. Actual true story. That was one course of tablets. I didn’t renew the prescription, I felt that if those didn’t work, then obviously I was not depressed enough. Yeah, I’m an idiot…

I’m bad at talking about this stuff. Genuinely terrible at it. The “yes but” mentality takes over and I joke and diminish and very rarely will I say something with any weight or depth about it. I told someone yesterday that once I’d agreed to write this piece I got terribly anxious. She laughed, I laughed, oh! the larks!

Also the absolute truth.

So I’m owning my anxiety, recognizing it, watching it like a hawk. Living with it.

Sarah Carter (@ephemeragrrl)

 

Why I Am Volunteering For Mind

Have you ever been in crisis? Where would you turn?

My natural answer would be family and friends. I think most people would. It’s not always that easy for some people though and the help you need maybe beyond them.

I remember the day I needed help. It was a few days after my birthday and I had felt the pressure building and building in me to the point I was about to go. I’d always known the difference between just having a bad mood day and when the depression was here by my side but today was different. I had always been a very calm person, logical thinker & someone who doesn’t panic but on this day I felt like I was losing control of my life. Family, work, friends the lot!

I rang my girlfriend and what followed was a surprise to me and everyone who knew me. Not that she was there for me but an hour of upset and 20 years of bottled up emotion and admission of depression pouring out of me. I found myself talking about things I’d not even thought about for 10 – 15 years. Soon my Mum arrived and together they spent 5 or 6 hours ringing or re-ringing “crisis lines”, Doctors and the Hospital. I’d been pacing the house for 5 hours unable to stop. If I did sit down I found I couldn’t keep my leg still, I’d almost be kneeing myself in the face. Later on I had been punching myself in the face and head butting the wall which was obviously very upsetting for my family to see.

I’m sure there are good reasons behind why they were met with the brick wall from the NHS. They probably can’t come out to every person having these sort of problems but for my girlfriend and family they were looking at someone clearly in breakdown mode, a guy who’d never ever been like this and alongside that were trying to cope with news their partner/son/brother had been suffering depression. It was completely out of character and I’m sure they were scared! The thing is if you have a physical injury you know how to treat the situation by looking at it. If the problem is in someone’s head you can’t judge what to do. It was a new situation for everyone there.

The response they got though was from the GP, Hospital and Crisis Teams…. “Don’t bring him here”

Like I say there was probably good reason for it but it’s not, and never has been, explained. I assume it is down to cuts and maybe a medical/procedure. It would have been nice for the others to have been told why. I love the NHS and it has been great in every aspect of my life previously so I’m not having a go at them promise!

I look back now and I think about what must have been going through my girlfriend’s mind at that time. On the one hand she has her best friend and boyfriend in crisis, and on the other, everywhere you’d turn to saying come and see us when he’s calmed down. In the end I was taken to the Hospital and A&E to force the issue. The mental health team had gone home at 6pm that day so being 5 past 6 I had 3 hours wait to see someone from another hospital. My family were at their wits end and I wasn’t going to calm down. It took several trips and GP appointments and eventually months of counselling to get me the help I needed but as things settled it really made me think.

What would have happened had my girlfriend not been there or if she’d not coped and ran a mile? What if you haven’t got family or friends to turn to? I know from my own experience you won’t do it off your own back. You don’t have the self-worth, energy or thought process to do it.

After almost forcing the issue with our local NHS & GP I was referred to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Treatment). It’s a great organisation I’m sure but once you self-refer, or GP refers you, it’s 2 weeks before you get a one hour assessment over the phone. I was at first convinced over the phone I wasn’t going to get treatment as I wasn’t in crisis anymore. They said my points score was too low. True to a point but if this is the first port of call when someone is in crisis they may well have calmed down within the two weeks. Not seeing someone at their worst isn’t going to make you think they need treatment. The scoring is all based on what you are like there and then, that day, not how you were. It struck me that there is no help unless you are in deep crisis. Those that have problems but come and go will have to sort themselves out. They did offer me counselling after telling me on the phone I had no hope of getting it, which I did, but eventually finished it early. My counsellor was great and they do fantastic work but I don’t think it was the right course of action for me personally.

As the dust settled it made me think how I could help. I’d looked at befriending services or buddy schemes years ago but, having the kids, never got round to it. My friends and family have always thought I’m a very compassionate kind of guy and say I’m a great listener, a go to guy, if you needed a shoulder to cry on. I’m also a fairly non-judgemental person. I am judgmental, we all are, but I am always keen to hear the other side of the story. What caused them to be like this, do what they did or started the chain of events. I hate seeing people just make a snap judgement and then stick to their opinion without scratching the surface of the story a little. There was a girl who joined our school in my teens. Scruffy, quiet as a mouse and to be fair not one for academic study. Not me personally but everyone in our year made her life hell. She was judged immediately just on her looks and shyness, I know kids are cruel but this was next level. Finding out what I did about her in my early 20s left me cold. If people had known the story they’d never have been anything but kind I’m sure. It’s stuck with me a long time and helped shape the way I think. Try as best you can to not judge a book by its cover!

So I started to research these sorts of schemes again. I’d never been offered Mind as a source of help when I was having my problems and the more I read about them the more I liked. There were several areas of volunteering I would be interested in so I gave them a call and began the process.

6 months on, I’ve finished the training and I’m about to start working for the befriending service and being assigned a service user. The training has been excellent so far and gives a real insight into a world I’d never looked into before. The myths and perception of certain mental health issues has been a real eye opener. The way certain illnesses are portrayed in the media, film and TV have only served to shape a nation’s perception for the worse! They held up cards on several different illnesses and I could spot several of my friends in each! Friends that read this though don’t be worried I’m not going to become the bore who reels out the “Well… in fact the real illness…..blah blah blah”. Am I nervous? Of course but I’m also excited about being part of a great organisation and maybe being to help someone who will probably been in a worse position than I ever was. People keep telling me volunteering is an incredibly selfless gesture but I don’t see it as that. I’m also doing it for me as well. It’ll hopefully help me in my journey to obtaining some self-worth which I’ve always lacked. I’m sure it’ll be emotional, hard work & difficult, I’m under no illusion on that score, but I’m also sure that it’ll be equally rewarding as well. It’s only 2 hours a week out of my time, I’m sure if we all looked we could find that time. Not to say it’s what everyone should do but its 2 hours less I’ll spend browsing the web probably.

Paul Stokes

Mind are a UK Based MH Charity 

Taking The First Step

I’ve been shitting my pants over CBT for the 8 or 9 weeks since the people told me over the phone they were referring me to their high intensity team. Speculation is risky business, regardless of the subject matter. I put the feelers out with the few I trust and it turns out 2 people I know have had CBT. Both said it was hard work. One recommended a book, (Brain Lock: Free yourself from obsessive behaviour by Jeffrey m. Schwartz) which I started reading. I’m glad I did that because it explains a bit of the science behind an OCD brain and made me feel a little less fucking mental. Still, I’d basically managed to convince myself that I’d be faced with insurmountable tasks such as the one mentioned in the title.

Anyway. I met the lady, Lucy (That’s not her real name). I will see her every Friday for the next 11 weeks. Before and after each session, I will fill out a form about how I feel. She’s informed me that in each session, we will look in to the reasons behind some of my…weaknesses. There will be things that I decide to do, with her guidance. Like touching the door handle with my hand instead of my sleeve and waiting 2 minutes until I wash my hands. Then next time, or the next day, maybe I’ll try to wait 3 minutes. She says I decide how far to push it. And that’s cool with me. The thing I wasn’t expecting was the exhaustion afterwards. One of my friends told me that she went home and slept the rest of the day after her sessions because she was so drained. While I was talking with Lucy , answering her questions, I was fine. I barely teared up at all. It was only when I got home that I craved silence and solitude to come to terms with the things I have been thinking for years and never dared say out loud. Everything seems heavier now someone else knows.

Now it’s actually real. There was comfort in that with each new thing that I stumbled over telling her, there was this knowing look on her face. By the end, she was even preempting the next thing, encouraging the detail that I’d neglected such as the imagery associated with the obsessions. I held back on some things because I was scared to admit them. With others, I just didn’t realise they were relevant. I wonder if Lucy will be the one I can tell the darkest bits to. I wonder if 12 weeks is enough for me to trust her enough. I suspect I should just pay a shrink and go twice a month for the rest of my life.

Still, we did well for a first session. I managed to tell Lucy something that I’ve written in a notebook before. Something I’m not as ashamed of as some of the other thoughts. I told her that I feel like I could be brilliant. I feel like I could be a genius, an innovator, a writer, a comedian, a nurse, a spokesperson, an artist, a fucking astronaut!!! I feel like my possibilities are endless. I feel like not all of the possibilities are good, and I’m so overwhelmed by the choices that I tend to just…sit. It’s about fear. I know that I don’t want take my last breath thinking I didn’t try and knowing I didn’t achieve my potential because I can’t make a decision. So I need the help to stop that. But at the same time, I’m worried that the help will kill the creativity. According to the Internet, Van Gough said “I put my heart and soul into my work and have lost my mind in the process”.

Would losing my mind be a worthy gamble? Or shall I settle for reliable mundanity, regular visits to therapists and reliance on Prozac?

Reaching Out

You are not alone if some days you wish that you could run away from everything and take with you only the small selection of people that you’ve allowed into the tiniest, softest, most vulnerable and breakable sections of your heart. You are not alone if a life free from fear and doubt and sadness seems like an impossibility. You’re not alone if you want this impossibility to become a reality more than anything else in the world, and you’re also not alone if you don’t even care about the impossibility and you just want everything to stop.

But the thing that you really need to remember, the thing that you need to try and hold onto on the darkest and hardest days, and the cliché which you’re probably tired of hearing but which is so, so true and can save lives, is that you are not alone. And that as painful as it sounds, as painful as you might find it, when people open their hearts they can get better.

Please, please, be brave and reach out and talk to someone. You are loved by many more people than you know. A part of the world, no matter how small, is better because you are in it. Communication and love are two of the most important and powerful weapons that you can use in this battle. The strength to keep going can be so hard to find, but please know that it can get better and one day, if you keep fighting, you will look at the world and be stronger because of the challenges that tried to break you but ended up, in a way, building you. You will look back and you will not recognise the person you once were. Or rather, you’ll recognise them because the bravery you had to summon to stop being that person will be wrapped tight around your heart, but you’ll be filled with gratitude that you no longer have to be that person. You will feel so free and brave and strong and loved and able to love again.

Life does get better. And the moments when you just want everything to stop, to get off the world and run away, they don’t last forever. I promise you, that if you can dig deeper than you ever thought you would, than you ever thought you could, it will get better. It will get brighter. You will be okay, you will find reasons to smile again, and you will wake up with a sense of purpose and a feeling of joy that you can love and be loved. You will have the walls you built slowly taken down and rebuilt with places for the sun to shine through.

Meggie Dennis (@_meggie_rose_)