So this is the one on my anxiety and depression that I felt I had to at least have a go at writing. I’ve been putting it off, for a little while at least, because I wanted to be able to do it justice and feel that I could be as honest as possible. I recognise that we are all different and other people dealing with mental illness (I think this is the right way to describe it – apologies if I use the wrong terminology) will have their own stories to tell as to the specifics of how it impacts them. I do hope, though, that some of this resonates and helps others with these kind of conditions and their loved ones in some way. The messages I’ve received from previous blog posts, where I’ve alluded to my anxiety and depression, suggest there are more people than we realise fighting their own private daily battles so if this has a positive impact on just one of them it will be worth the decision to share. I know some might consider this a brave thing to do but I really don’t feel that brave writing some words on an internet blog from behind a keyboard in the safety of my own home so I’ve concluded that I should do this for those who currently don’t feel able but might like to share, in their own way, at some point in the future. It’s also becoming clear that some people struggle with this subject and have noticeably withdrawn from me lately. I’m sure there are many reasons why this might be the case and I totally understand and respect this. One reason may well be that people believe I shouldn’t be suffering these kind of illnesses as there are people in the world far worse off than me. This is undoubtedly true but we do need to educate ourselves and others that mental health challenges are no respecter of status, gender, age etc. We are all potentially susceptible in the same way we are for other types of illness. Another reason may be because they take the view that I shouldn’t be sharing something as personal as this on a public blog. They may well be right about that, time will tell. Maybe they just don’t like me anymore. That’s ok, I don’t like me much sometimes either.
Although there are common symptoms, these types of illnesses do seem to affect people in subtlety different ways. For example, in my case, I don’t really have suicidal thoughts as such. I do think about it but have never got as far as devising an actual plan for ending my own life. At its worst I am struck with an overwhelming desire to simply not be here anymore. It’s more than ‘ending it all’ though, I am consumed by a need for there to be no trace that I ever existed, for nobody to miss me and for nobody to remember that I was ever here at all. Obviously, given my current status of being alive, this would be quite difficult to achieve so inherent laziness and fear of complex challenges are likely to keep me kicking and breathing for some time to come. I also don’t think I suffer anywhere near as badly as others do. I have been able to function, to a degree, most of the time and am quite adept at either hiding the way I feel or preparing myself to deal with it for, at least, short periods of time safe in the knowledge that I will be able to retreat to a safer place once I’ve done whatever it is I need to do. The main give away that I am struggling will be that I go very quiet and still, not manic like some people do. I will probably have a vacant look on my face of some sort (you mean your normal look I hear some of you cry!). I think the reason is that there is so much turmoil going on inside that it’s my bodies’ way of allowing that to happen without completely blowing every fuse I have. Another sign is the way I use the various social media platforms. Often the posts that have been best received, particularly the ones that make people smile, have been written when I’m at my lowest and are probably some form of cry for help. They’re nearly always written when I’m alone, sometimes from under the covers in a dark room. I use it as a way of connecting with people when I’m lonely without having to actually be in their presence. I know I need to stop using this as a crutch and try to exist properly in the real world. When I do actually interact with people it’s not uncommon for me to give the impression that I want to get away from the person I’m with as soon as possible, thereby giving the impression that I don’t like them. Actually, the opposite is often true. If I’m with someone I like and the conversation is going well then I’m struck with the urge to get out of there quickly so as not to ruin it by letting them see the real me. I’ve lost out on building really good friendships and relationships with people I really liked and respected because of this. There are a few people who I don’t feel like this with so when I find them they become very precious to me. If I knew what it was that made me feel comfortable with them as opposed to most others I’d try and bottle it somehow. Maybe it’s chemical or maybe I have some inherent sense that they will understand me without having to say so. Probably I should tell these people how important they are to me more than I do, it wouldn’t take long. There really are only a few of them which is such a shame.
It’s probably fair to say that I’ve been fighting this particular battle, to a greater or lesser extent, for most of my adult life. I’m no expert but I suspect a genetic disposition combined with external triggers mean depressive episodes have been relatively common for perhaps the last two decades although there is no doubt that these have got progressively worse over the last eighteen months or so. It’s only very recently, however, that I was officially diagnosed and am now receiving the help I should have sought a long time ago. If there’s one thing, and I know it seems really obvious, I’ve learned during these last few months is that talking about these things and seeking support from trained professionals helps. It’s definitely helped me.
Now that I’ve finally taken the step of getting help I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t do it years ago. I know that the consequences of not doing so have had such a negative impact on my life and sometimes the lives of those around me. The main one and the one that gives me the most guilt has been the relationship I have with my children, particularly my eldest son Charlie. Although I’ve always been present in their lives I haven’t always been completely there (there but not being there if that makes any sense at all) with them and this has created a distance between us. I do things with them, we have fun but I know damage has been done and I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully repair it. Perhaps when they’re older they will understand more about the reasons why it’s been like this but the fact of the matter is that I should have been better. My relationship with their mother has also suffered as a result of my failure to get proper help earlier. Although it ‘takes two to Tango’ and this isn’t the only reason for our difficulties it’s obviously played a significant part. One of the best things I did was to take Adele with me when I initially went to the doctors. Since then she has a greater understanding of me, we talk more and she is able to help me recognise the warning signs. She has been a real friend to me lately but, as with the kids, the years of not dealing with this properly have taken their toll so it’s an uncertain future ahead.
Self esteem is a real problem even though I have developed some tools to hide this (see alcohol below). I’m naturally very shy, anyway, but when people tell me I’m kind, I have a good heart, I’m funny and that I’m intelligent I really don’t see, or feel, any of those things in me. If if I ever say that I am it’s nothing but a front. Some will say that I can be selfish, lazy, moody and manipulative. I know I’m all of these things and more.
Work is another area in which I feel I could have achieved more if I’d dealt with things earlier and in a different way. I used to do a lot of facilitating of groups on all sorts of development based subjects across Europe and in Mexico. I think, although others may say differently, that I was quite good at this. Towards the end though the effort it required to get through these sessions was beyond me. I would find myself so completely wiped out and in need of isolation that there was no longer any satisfaction in delivering even a successful workshop. I remember one time, on a plane coming home from Amsterdam, feeling so debilitated that I wasn’t sure I would be able to stand to disembark when we arrived back in the UK. Obviously I did but the energy it took was way beyond what it should be. To a lesser extent it was often similar to this just to go in the Office and attend meetings. I was fortunate to have the flexibility to work from home and an understanding line manager, without these things I would have got to the point of no return much sooner. Whatever potential I might have had has never been achieved, I haven’t given myself that chance.
I haven’t made the changes to my life or been brave in my decision making because of this. There have been times when I’ve wanted to do something so badly but have been unable to find the strength. In the end that has just made things worse as, in my heart, I knew they were the right things to do.
The way I’ve used alcohol to enable an escape from my mind and to give me the confidence to make connections has been a seemingly easy solution. I’m not an alcoholic, in that there is no addiction, but the way I use this drug to mask other problems is an issue that I need to be wary of. There are two places I’ve felt comfortable in during the last couple of years. One is alone in bed and the other is about two or three drinks in to a session. I don’t want this to be the case anymore. Some of my behaviour when drinking has not been good at all and I’ve treated some people quite shabbily. My illness may explain this, but it doesn’t excuse it. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour. I’ll still be drinking though so feel free to buy me a light ale when you see me. I’m a drinker, it’s part of who I am but I’m happy for anybody to tell me when they think I’m overdoing it. I’ll probably agree with you.
I appreciate that the consequences I describe may come across as confessional and seeking of redemption. Perhaps they are to a point but I’ll leave them unedited in case others recognise themselves, or their loved ones, and can reflect positively on changes they might like to make. I’m really not seeking sympathy, just understanding.
So what does the future hold? On the whole I’m feeling better. Not being at work is helping but not as much as the medication and the counselling I receive. Making sure I go swimming, drink less and eat better also plays its part. Being able to talk to Adele and my closest friends is like having the heaviest weight lifted so I urge anybody who feels they might be suffering anything similar to what I have described to seek proper help and, above all, talk to people. I’ve actually had a tricky couple of days while I’ve been writing this. I think the content and the decision whether to share at all has made me anxious as I know this won’t sit right with everybody. Just the other day I posted on Facebook that I was people watching in Costa Coffee. The reality was that I was sitting there and every noise was making me more and more jumpy, people seemed too close and I felt like I looked weird. In the end I had to leave my coffee and head home. This kind of thing makes me feel inadequate but also tells me that I need to keep doing more of the right things more often if I am able to manage this as well as I want to.
I’d like to finish with one request and one offer. If you never share any other of my blog posts again then please circulate this one and ask your network to do the same. You just never know who would benefit even if you don’t take anything from reading it yourself. If you are reading this and feel like you would like to talk then I’d be happy to brave Costa Coffee, or similar, again with you. I’m not an expert but I do know how to listen and I would never judge. You would be helping me as it would be nice to listen to other peoples daily challenges, rather than be consumed by my own. I’d never break anybodies confidence either, that’s just not my style. I also currently don’t have a job so, at the very least, it will get me out of the house and stop me completely living my life through this blog.
I’ve included some links below to organisations that know far more than me about this subject.
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