We are Accountable and Responsible

No, It’s Not the Start of a Bank Advert…

But it sounds like it, doesn’t it? The kind of phrase used to put across a serious face to the public, the kind that is reassuring and dependable. That, or it’s used in the kind of statement made when there’s an admission of guilt or wrong-doing, usually accompanied with the phrase ‘lessons will be learnt’. Yet everywhere you look there’s an increasing attitude of passing the buck. Everything is always someone else’s problem or fault. And if it is our problem then we prevaricate about correcting it until it’s too little, too late. Yet we need to wake up and realise that we are accountable and responsible, each and every one of us, for every thought, action or word we speak.

For the last month I’ve been documenting my progress in returning to work. Each day I have battled in, come home exhausted and drained. But I’m making progress, bit by bit I’m building my confidence. I’m putting to use all the tools I’ve learned to help me cope, like having my fidget spinner handy to tapping my palm to the count of ten when my speech has failed again. I am the one who is taking responsibility for my progress. Yes, there are days when I could have used more support or have needed a kick up the bum to motivate me out of the door, but the accountability for my actions lies with me.

Just Do Something

The reason I am writing this is that one of my greatest frustrations that I’ve experienced with going back to work is the lack of accountability or responsibility that I’ve seen demonstrated by some within the business.  Some tasks are solely the responsibility of the manager when you go back after a long absence. No member of staff should be chasing to get occupational health involved for a month, nor should they be telling their manager they still haven’t had a return to work meeting. but that’s what has been happening. I have been met with prevarication and a complete lack of accountability. It’s been a constant cycle of hearing that my manager had ‘not heard back’ from one department or another, issues had been passed on to someone else or even worse I heard nothing at all.

I’ve felt like screaming, tearing my hair out or busting into tears. All from frustration at the prevalent attitude that ‘it’s someone else’s problem’.

You Don’t Know the Damage You’re Doing

First of all, I am not a problem. I am a person who happens to have mental health issues. I have depression and anxiety and being left in limbo does not help these conditions. It exacerbates them.

Secondly, every time that this sort of behaviour is allowed to happen it is contributing to the general poor attitude towards mental health. It’s probably why I’m fighting so hard to get the things in place that I need. No-one else is going to do it for me, not even when it’s their responsibility to.

Thirdly, we all need to be accountable and responsible for better practises regarding mental health in the workplace. Employers need to be held accountable if they are only paying lip service to their promises of not discriminating and supporting employees with mental health issues.

If We are Accountable and Responsible for Ourselves, We Can Change Things

As regards to work, I am doing my part. I’m keeping them up to date with each step of my recovery.I’ve been open with my colleagues about the issues I’m experiencing. Most importantly I’m getting to grips with my role again. I am not using depression or anxiety as an excuse, they are conditions I am living with, but they don’t define who I am or what I can do. They can be limiting, but I am responsible enough to recognise those limitations and act accordingly.

One of the main reasons I have gone back to work was for my own recovery. I knew I needed to do this to give me structure and would help towards my feelings of self-worth. What I didn’t expect was that it would help others too. I have had so many messages and comments from followers on Twitter saying how amazing they think it is that I’m doing this.  That I’m battling depression and going back to work, some even saying that they couldn’t do it.  I think it’s possible. It’s why I’m doing it. That with the right support, the right environment, you can have mental health issues and still hold down a job.

To All of Us

So, if you’re an employer reading this, don’t assign someone to the scrap heap if they have a mental health problem. Be willing to support them and be accountable and responsible for that support.  By doing so, you’re going a long way towards breaking the stigmatised idea that every person who has a mental health condition is incapable of working. Likewise, as sufferers we need to keep fighting for what we need from our employers to help us stay in work. That way we can help reduce the number of days lost to mental illnesses.

It all boils down to this. If we want to make the change, we have to be the change.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Episode 25 – Suicide Watch

When someone is struggling with depression or bipolar or other mental illnesses, the risk of suicidal thoughts or tendencies is a very real one.  But what do we do with that?  How do we, as friends and family members, support someone who is struggling with those suicidal notions?  How do we deal with it?  In Suicide Watch, we crack that topic wide open and give you some of the tools you’ll need to deal with it.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Pretending

Make Believe Pretending

Did you ever play make believe as a child?  Dressing up in costumes, pretending to be something that you weren’t?  Perhaps it was a job that you wanted to do, such as a fireman or policeman, a builder or a businessman.  Maybe it was a fictitious character, such as Frodo Baggins or Gandalf, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.  (Yes, you can see where my interests lie!)

GandalfPretending to be someone or something else was always fun.  It was something done frequently in our house.  Legendary warriors on mythical quests, Jedi fighting battalions of battle droids, whatever we were doing it was always something we enjoyed.  I’m sure you enjoyed it too if you did that as a child.

But what’s my point?  Why am I telling you about make believe?  Quite simply, I want to ask you a question: are we still pretending?

Pretending Now

Are we still pretending today?  Not the sort of make believe pretending that we did as children but one of a much more serious nature.  Instead of pretending to be hobbits or wizards, monsters or Jedi, people pretend that things don’t exist.  Depression, anxiety, bipolar, even things like homosexuality.  People simply adopt the mindset that they don’t exist.

Given how often we see or hear about these things in the news, I can imagine you’re wondering whether I’ve lost the plot somewhere.  How can I say that people pretend that things like mental illness and homosexuality don’t exist?  Quite simply: how often do they deny it?  How often do we see people pretend not to see something or acknowledge something that they don’t want to see or acknowledge?

Take this interview, for example.  Christian theologian and pop star Vicky Beeching recently came out as gay – something that is quite shocking for a lot of Christians, as homosexuality isn’t Biblical.  Check out the conversation between Vicky and evangelical pastor Scott Lively.

As you can see, Scott Lively refuses to acknowledge that homosexuality is a real thing.  He clearly labels it as a lie at 3:24, refusing to agree that homosexuality might be something real.  Now, this site wasn’t set up for combating the issues surrounding homosexuality but I think the same concept applies.

People are pretending.

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Mental Health and Pretence

In the world today, I see far too many occurrences of people pretending that mental health doesn’t exist.  Phrases like “it’s all in your mind” are commonplace, and people don’t believe that mental health is an issue.  As mentioned in Stipulating Stigma, the world is rife with mental health stigmatisation and people treat mental health as inferior to physical health.

They are pretending that it isn’t a serious problem.

Moreover, they are pretending that it isn’t happening to them or to anyone they know.  They would rather bury their heads in the sand and deny it ever existed than to face the issues surrounding it.

Do you agree?  Is it something that you’ve noticed or would you say I’m blowing a minor issue out of proportion?  I’d be interested to hear your comments.

Stop Pretending

So ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to stop pretending.

That’s right: it’s time to stop pretending!

Mental health – depression, anxiety, bipolar, insomnia – are all real issues in our world today.  1 in 4 people in the UK are diagnosed with some form of mental illness.  If that isn’t a major problem, what is?

So let’s take action.

Let’s stop pretending!

Let’s end the stigma and bring acceptance to mental health sufferers around the world.

We can do this!

It’s time.

So let’s stop pretending, let’s take action and let’s bring an end to the stigmatisation of mental health once and for all.  It’s not happening to someone else, it’s not a problem for someone else to deal with, it’s something for us.  We have to do it.  It’s our responsibility.  Ours alone.

You and Me.

Let’s stop pretending and make the change.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Existentialism vs Purpose – A Discussion

A Discussion of Existentialism

I have to be honest: I love it when people comment on my posts on Twitter.  After all, who doesn’t like having discussions or comments on their work?  For most, if not all of us, we enjoy receiving those positive and encouraging comments about what we’ve written or produced or drawn, etc.  But what about when we get into those not-so-nice comments?  Conversations where people do their best to put you and your work down?  Or, perhaps, conversations about existentialism versus purpose, as this post is about.

So let’s get started.

One thing that I firmly believe – something I’ve experienced for myself and heard stories from other people about – is that no matter what we’re going through, we can turn it into something good, a purpose, if you will.  I wrote about how I believe that everyone has a purpose and shared that belief with many other people.  It received a couple of interesting comments, on of which I responded to in my post A Comment On Purpose, explaining how I would go about finding that purpose.  More recently, however, that first post about purpose garnered this response on Twitter:

First off…what do you think of that?  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Why?

Needless to say, I disagree with the comment.  I’m sure you’ve got a fairly good idea of why I would disagree, but I would like to take a moment and just develop that point a little.

The Discussion

Ok ok, discussion might be putting it a little bit mildly.  Having looked at some of his tweets and replies, it seems that Space Needle Exchange really likes to argue.  Call it what you will, but some of his tweets do come across in that manner – which one or two of my own followers have commented on.  Even so, he makes his point that life has no inherent purpose.  According to him, not every life is worth living.

Now whether or not you agree with him, I find it quite an interesting point because, in some respects, it sounds very much as though we’re born to die and our lives don’t matter.  To support this theory, he cites the case of Genie, a feral child in LA.  He states that her life was meaningless, there was no purpose to it whatsoever.  After all, she was feral, she was a victim of one of the worst cases of child abuse ever recorded in the US and to this day no one seems to know what happened to her.  How could she possibly have a purpose?

In response to this, I argued that in actuality, would her purpose not have been that she was a driving force in getting governments and social services to respond to the horrible reality of child abuse?  As uncomfortable as it might be to think about, could one not argue that her suffering was made purposeful by the attention it garnered?  I’m not saying she was put on this earth to suffer, by any means.  But maybe there was a purpose in the end.

You see, in my post about finding purpose and also in Episode 14 of the podcast, I stated that purpose is not necessarily found in the situation itself but can come from after we’ve made it through.  Sometimes we might not ever make it through.  If you want to get religious, you could argue that Jesus came with the sole purpose of dying.  Likewise, there are people who would martyr themselves for a purpose.  Is it such a stretch of the imagination to believe that this poor girl, this feral child, might have had a purpose in her life after coming to the attention of the media?  Maybe, maybe not.

Existentialism

One point that I picked up on in that aforementioned tweet was how Space Needle Exchange argued that existentialism clearly wasn’t important to me.  Now, I’m not a philosopher, nor am I someone who goes around questioning the meaning of life (which is 42, by the way!) but I did some reading up about existentialism and believe I’ve found a fundamental flaw in his argument.  As far as I understand it (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), where existence precedes essence, it is argued that the actual life of the individuals makes up their “true essence” which seems to mean that human beings, through their own consciousness, determine a meaning to their life by creating their own values.

Does that not mean that we, as humans, create our own purpose?

Likewise, does that not also mean that our purpose can be what we make it?

By extension, as it does talk about consciousness, for people who are unable to create their own values, in the case of Genie, would that not suggest that we are able to influence the purpose of others as well?

I’d say so.  What do you think?

A Final Note

I should point out that the second post I mentioned – A Comment On Purpose – Space Needle Exchanged admitted he had not read it, nor was he going to.  He simply argued his point.

Me, I still believe everyone has a purpose.  We may not see it now.  Potentially, we may not see it at all.  But I still firmly believe that purpose is what we make it.  It’s subject to each individual case, but it is what we make of it.  If we’re going through the darkness, what do we do with that darkness?  We can give it a purpose by taking it and using it for good.

What do you think?  Let me know.  I am interested in your thoughts for this one.  Take heart from what I’m saying, though.  Take your darkness and turn it into purpose.  Don’t let people discourage you from finding that purpose because there is certainly something out there for you.

I took my struggle and I turned it into a purpose.  I turn it into a purpose every single day.  More than that, I believe everyone has it in them to do the same thing.  If they are somehow unable to, I believe others can do it for them.

Life is not inherently good, nor is it something that we should take for granted, but you can make it into something better.  You can do it.  So please, take heart from that.  Don’t let your struggle become your identity, remember instead that you can turn it into something good.

After all, we, through our own consciousness, define our own morals and values and, thus, determine the meaning to our lives.

So go determine that meaning.

Take care, guys!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Got to Fight For It

The Journey Continues

So, I’m still fumbling onwards with my efforts to return to my full hours at work. There are plenty of people who are being wonderfully supportive and I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have gotten in touch via Twitter and Facebook.  It has helped me more than you’ll ever know! I’m still struggling through, but if the last 4 weeks have taught me anything, is that no matter how much support you get from friends, family or colleagues; to get any kind of assistance from your employer you’ve got to fight for it!

This may seem insane. It feels it to me. I struggle on a daily basis with crippling low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. I am on anti-depressants and going through counselling. This would say to you that an additional level of support and care would be required. Apparently not.

Take Your Sweet Time

It has taken 4 weeks to get the referral to occupational health put through by my manager. This is something that for most, is organised before they even return to the office. If this was an illness that impaired my motor skills, my sight or hearing, this would have had to be done before I walked through the door on my first day back. My request for a change of hours is still being debated and argued over. Issues with pay from January have still not been resolved. The constant procrastination by my boss means every day when I get home, I’m exhausted. To the point that on Wednesday I was so drained, Alex had to collect my kids from school. I couldn’t function.

The Effect of Indifference

The items I’ve listed here have just been a few of the obstacles I’ve hit. And for every tiny bit of progress (like occupational health) I’ve found I’d got to fight for it. If I hadn’t finally bitten the bullet and spoken to the service manager (my boss’s boss) I would have still be waiting for my referral. Every single thing has been a case of I’ve got to fight for it, tooth and nail. Which isn’t easy. Like I said, I have anxiety. I have depression that convinces me of how worthless and useless I am. To find that so many things have been neglected or forgotten to be done, does not help. It’s a constant cycle of ‘we’ll sort it tomorrow’, but it never gets sorted.

Imagine if you will, that you already feel like you are useless, you have no value to anyone or anything. In this state you are attempting something huge, stepping out of your comfort zone to try to help towards your recovery. You are doing everything that has been asked or expected of you. But the people who are supposed to be helping you in this process, keep forgetting to put in place the things they have assured you they would. They then keep postponing meetings with you. On top of this, because of their inaction you are hurting financially.  Their care free attitude of ‘they’ll get it sorted as and when’ is sending your anxiety into free fall. They treat your reasonable requests with indifference. Would that help you?

Would that convince you of your worth?

No.

If we want change, we’ve got to fight for it!

I truly believe that some of these issues are because it is difficult for employers and managers to see mental illness. The needs and requirements of a sufferer are different from those of someone who has returned to work with a physical disability. But it does not make them any less real. On Wednesday I spoke with the service manager who has had a notorious attitude of ‘if you’re at work then you’re well enough to work’. The levels of anxiety I experienced in this short meeting were through the roof. Speech went out the window, I was scratching at my hands feverishly, I could barely control myself from crying. I honestly thought I was going to vomit.

But I fought through it. I needed something to change, so I fought for it.

I know it shouldn’t be like this.

But it’s the way it is until we make a stand. If we want employers to change their attitude and give meaningful support to their employees with mental health problems, then we’ve got to fight for it. We’ve got to fight for every little thing that we know will help us get through, be that medical breaks, change of hours, a set desk, or even just to get occupational health involved to arrange these things. We’ve got to fight for it!

Fight!

I know hard it is to fight when you’re already fighting a battle inside your head. But for you to win the battle in your mind, you have to fight the battles with your employer to get the support you need. There’s no shame in getting some help to do this. Your union can be great in this capacity. Sometimes all it takes is a colleague who supports you.  But most importantly, you’re not alone in this battle, and neither am I. It’s going to be tiring, sometimes exhausting. But we can make the change.

After all no-one else is going to do it for us.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Episode 24 – Fraud

Despite others telling us that we’re good at what we’re doing, we can feel as though we’re frauds.  With anxiety particularly, we can feel as though we’re not really as good as people think and any day we will get found out.  It’s a horrible sensation to live with, so what can we do about it?

Useful Links:

Episode 17 – The Power of Perspective

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A Potato Message

A Potato Instead of a Quote

I’ve told you before how, when my inspiration strikes, I tend to look for images that will go with what I’m talking about.  For the most part, I look for ones that have quotes associated with them, as the quotes continue to jog the creative part of my mind.  Occasionally, however, I come across a few pictures that either make me smile or surprise me.

So the other day I was looking for pictures with depression quotes in them for another post and I came across this:

I'm a tiny potato and I believe in you. You can do the thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, I know…not exactly the depression quote that you were expecting. After all, it’s a potato!  When I pointed this picture out to Cheryl, we both had a good chuckle over it, finding it to be a rather amusing image.  Then, almost like a lightbulb moment, she said that it actually made a bit of sense.

Why?  Because it’s a potato.

The Life of a Potato

A running joke amongst my friends is that I’m a farmer because I have a Gloucester/Somerset accent – not a strong one, admittedly, but enough of one that people pick up on it.  I guess that makes it rather ironic that I’m going to talk to you about potatoes but I’m sure I’ll get over that.  Even so, let’s talk about potatoes!

I’m sure we all know that potatoes are grown underground.  Only small tubers go above the soil surface, so that it can still get a little bit of light to give it what it needs to grow.  Reportedly, depending on where you are in the season, potatoes can take between 60-90 days to fully mature.  They spend all that time buried, growing, before being harvested, ready to be sent on for other things.

The Potato Message

As Cheryl and I sat looking at this photo, she explained why she believed it made sense.  This little potato that was telling us it believed we could do “the thing” had a very powerful, very important message to tell us.  Despite it being quite small and somewhat cute, it was still important in its own right.  Why?

Because of its life.

When battling with depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, it can feel as though we’re constantly surrounded by darkness.  It may feel a little like we’re buried alive.  The pressures of life surround us, compress us and leave us feeling hopeless, crushed and isolated.  Like the potato, we spend our lives in that perpetual darkness that we cannot escape.

It’s a horrible thought.  Some people’s worst nightmares are of being buried alive, and that can be the way that depression personifies itself. But let me challenge that thought.  What if that darkness is shaping us? Helping is grow?  Just like the potato, buried until it reaches maturity, what if we are buried so that we might grow?  What if our darkness is merely the place where we can mature and become something else?

When the pressures of life come crashing in around us, we have two choices: we can fight them, allowing ourselves to be crushed in the process, or we can be like the butterfly or the potato and allow ourselves to be shaped, moulded and eventually transformed.

I don’t know about you but that actually brings me a great deal of encouragement.

“I’m a tiny potato and I believe in you!  You can do the thing!”

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Time To Talk

One Step Forwards….

I’ve been documenting and sharing my experiences with returning to work over the last few weeks. It’s been a rollercoaster of an experience. Some days have been great. Others have been awful.  Realistically, as lovely as my manager is, he hasn’t handled my return massively well.  Last week I told you I how I’d had to take control and finally get some structure agreed, a difficult experience for me as I had to battle with anxiety the whole way through. Well, one of the things we agreed was at some point I would take the time to talk to the team about what had been going on with me and how we can handle my mental health situation in the office.

Of All the Days….

Ironically the day my manager chose was Thursday, which was also Time to Talk day. If you aren’t already aware, Time to Talk day is a big thing. The opportunity to talk openly about mental health in the hope to raise understanding and reduce stigma. It’s been all over social media and is having a great impact. So in short, in a private team meeting I explained as much as I was comfortable with to my colleagues about how depression and anxiety have wrought havoc on me for the last six months.

So how did it go? I’ll tell you in one word: Incredible!

It didn’t matter that by pure coincidence we’d chosen Time to Talk day. What mattered was how brilliantly supportive my colleagues were. They listened, without judgement, and took on board the things I had to say. I’m not saying I didn’t nearly go to pieces a few times, I really did! But it was worth it! Really, really worth it!

Make the Time to Talk

Sometimes as sufferers we can end up being the greatest barrier to ourselves.  Yes, depression can be hugely limiting. It can force you to be reclusive and anti-social. But part of recovery is overcoming these symptoms. I’ll admit, it isn’t easy. There are days when depression and anxiety win.

But not every day. Like Syrio Forel in Game of Thrones, we choose what to fight, to not succumb to what some see as inevitable.

Making the effort, making that time to talk to my colleagues was a huge step for me. I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. Yes, a great deal of preparation on my part was involved. Yes, my speech went as it so often does when I’m anxious. But I did it. It’s possible for anyone. It just may take time and preparation. If you’d asked me a year ago if Alex would be able to stand up in front of a room full of students and talk openly about his mental health, I’d have said no. But on Friday that’s exactly what he did! It’s what we both did.  It may have exhausted us, depleted our energy to the point that we both took a hit mentally. But we did it!

We took the time to talk and in doing so raised awareness of mental health. We achieved what some would have thought impossible. Two people who at times can be crippled by anxiety and depression, were able to talk about how their mental health has affected them. They were able to inform, educate and encourage people to be more open about mental illness, to look at new ways of supporting someone going through this.

One criticism that is often leveled at sufferers of depression is they wallow in it. That sufferers allow the illness to become their identity, which in turn never allows recovery. One particularly vocal individual on Imgur often spouts this at anyone and everyone who they think will listen.  But the truth of the matter is that when you are living in the darkness it can be hard to see the way through. The trick is remembering that there is a way through. It may take a while, you may never be fully free of it. But you can learn to live your life with mental illness. Like for me and Alex it may even provide you with a purpose, who knows?

All I know is that by taking the time to talk openly about our issues with mental health, we’ve helped others gain an understanding of it. That alone is worth it.

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Episode 23 – Owning the Struggle

During sessions with doctors and therapists and in our interactions with friends and family, it can often feel as though everyone is trying to tell us what we’re feeling, what we should be doing and how things should be.  I don’t believe this should be the case, as we are the experts on ourselves.  Perhaps we need to own our struggle and help others remember that our opinions and our experiences are just as important.

Useful Links:

Episode 17 – The Power of Perspective
Identifying Identity

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Why not subscribe?

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.