World Mental Health Day.
Wednesday October 10th is World Mental Health Day.
In order to mark the occasion I thought I’d revisit a post I published in January 2018. Anxiety, Depression and Me was an attempt at opening up on my struggles with mental illness in the hope that it would help others fighting similar battles.
I have to be honest and admit that there was probably an element of selfishness in it as well. There is something in me that needs people to know how I’m feeling and writing things down is just my way of doing that. There’s been many times when I’ve regretted things I’ve posted once the moment has passed but those words are part of who I am and I continue to learn to live with that.
The following are a series of extracts from Anxiety, Depression and Me followed by an update as to my current situation.
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.
The desire to disappear is something of a permanent fixture. Mostly it’s a feeling I can easily ignore but there have been a few occasions where it really has seemed like my only option. To date when this has happened I’m able to pull myself back from the brink but I’m not sure I won’t do something ridiculous one day.
Suicidal thoughts are no more than a fantasy, I’m fairly sure of that. I have more than I know I should but I couldn’t leave the mess my life is to someone else. I’m also not that unwell and, unlike the potential disappearing act, suicide just doesn’t feel like it’s in me.
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.
I almost feel the urge to name the people I refer to in this extract. I won’t though as I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone and I’d be mortified if I left somebody out.
Perhaps you’re reading this and know you’re one of the few. I hope so and that you realise how important you are to me and how much I appreciate you.
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.
I don’t think about the issues I raise in this extract much. Not because I don’t care but because I’m burying my head in the sand. The reality is that I have no idea how to change what seems like an inevitable outcome. One day I will lose them all, perhaps I already have. We have good moments, good days even but the damage is done and I’m just not equipped with the tools to fix it properly.
The possibility that my illnesses are hereditary and I will pass them on to my children terrifies me. I see the signs already but have no idea what to do about it. Answers on a postcard…
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.
Employee wellbeing seems to be of far greater importance in many organisations than it once was which is great.
I’ve reflected a lot on my own experiences, particularly in my last permanent role, and although I know I could have spoken up sooner and not hidden the way I was feeling, I do think there was something of a contradiction in that particular business which may also exist in others. A Wellbeing programme was in place to offer support for employees who might be struggling, but many of the reasons for those difficulties were caused by the culture of the business in the first place.
At the moment I don’t feel able to work full time. There are still too many bad days and when I do work, I get through it but it wipes me out. I’m very grateful for the contract work I’ve managed to pick up and for the fact I have this choice. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for those who don’t.
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.
My relationship with alcohol remains complicated. Recently I’ve noted I have less of a need to drink as a way to mask my insecurities and numb the pain of another difficult week but I’m not sure if this is just a temporary state of affairs or not.
I do know that my drinking is both a contributory factor towards and a temporary relief from mental illness. The same could be said of overeating and the occasional use of recreational drugs. Obviously the problem with ‘temporary relief’ is that the relief is temporary and often leads to increased suffering afterwards.
This definitely remains an area I have to keep a close eye on.
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.
I wrote another post on the counselling aspect of my treatment which you can read here:
In terms of medication, it’s all been a bit trial and error. I’ve been on three different types of antidepressant; Fluoxetine, Mirtazapine and Sertraline. The latter two made me put on weight and sent me crazy so I stopped taking them. Not taking anything isn’t helping much either so the plan is to go back to the doctors and ask to be put back on Fluoxetine. I came off these because I didn’t think they were helping but, on reflection, they were.
Exercise is boss of me though. The difference in my ability to get through the day when I’ve been swimming versus when I haven’t is far greater than any positive impact medication or counselling provides.
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 really didn’t think this one through. It just didn’t occur to me how many people would actually get in touch and share their own experiences. It’s good in a way because I know I helped give them a forum to share when they perhaps otherwise might not have done. It did, and still does, make me feel woefully inadequate. I soon realised I’m not remotely qualified to support people with mental health issues in any other way than through lending them a friendly war. Hopefully I did this though, I really do.
At the end of Anxiety, Depression and Me I dropped some links to a range of support organisations. I’ve included them again here. Please use them, or similar, if you think you or someone close to you could use some expert help.