Finding Hope in the Darkness

Finding Hope in the Darkness

Finding hope can be a challenge.  Sometimes we feel that it’s impossible, but we don’t know how to do it any differently. So this week I have a challenge for you all! Why not take a look?

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Become a Patron - Finding HopeDisclaimer: 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.

Evaluating Experience

The Weight of Experience

Experience is one of those things that we seem plagued with in life.  Often, it can be beneficial because there are situations we go through and we know what to do or not do because experience has taught us.  Sometimes, though, experience can be a problem.  Take, for example, a job interview.  Nowadays, a lot of companies want previous experience – something which you, as a fresh-out-of-uni/college student, might not have.  Getting that experience can be difficult, especially if no one will give you a chance without you having previous experience.  It can be extremely frustrating!Quote: Experience is the teacher of all things - Julius Caeser.

Another thing that usually goes hand in hand with experience is qualifications.  If you are going for a job as a translator, for example, employers will look to see if you have the experience (ie, living in the country of the language you are translating to/from) and whether or not you have the qualifications (ie a degree or equivalent).  Qualifications are something that can be hard to come by, though at the same time a lot of people nowadays go to university to get degrees and an emphasis is put on getting higher education.  Sometimes, though, things happen, plans change and qualifications become a little redundant.

Take me, for example.  I trained as a linguist, getting a degree in French and Linguistics.  I didn’t do too badly and languages open a lot of doors, as it provides opportunities in translation but also in different countries if I wanted to move.  Having a background in Czech as well from the time I lived in the Czech Republic with my family, you’d think I would have gone into a career in languages.

Then depression happened.

Granted, getting a job in those fields was rather difficult and I ended up first in a wholesaler warehouse and then a bank, but depression knocked my career aspirations completely off.  Instead of looking at translation or language teaching or a career in France, I looked into blogging.  Specifically, mental health blogging and writing.

Which, as you know, is what I do now.

Experience…Or Lack Thereof

From that bit of my background, you’ll have seen I don’t have any qualifications in mental health.  In fact, you’ll see on every page of this website the words: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.  I put that because, no matter what I write, I am not qualified.

But I have experience.

Now, one thing I’ve noticed during my walk with depression, anxiety and insomnia is that people seem to look more for the qualifications.  When I first started posting content from this website on Facebook, a psycologist that I know immediately started commenting telling me she was surprised I was doing this and how “in her experience” these were the arguments against what I was saying.  She also went to great lengths, at one point, to make sure I knew exactly how long she had studied and how long she had been a psycologist.  Similarly, in my post about the So-Called Professional, I went with my friend to speak to that doctor after that disasterous appointment and she was equally dismissive of the things I had to say.

In more recent weeks, I’ve had similar struggles with my own GP.  I believe the things I’m feeling and experiencing, such as the vast swinging of my mood, to be symptomatic of Rapid Cycling Bipolar or Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar.  It’s taken a couple of months but I’ve finally managed to get a GP to listen.  It took both my partner and I fighting, where the GP refused to entertain the notion based on “his experience”.  It seems my lack of any qualifications and my lesser experience than his was simply not good enough for me to have an opinion, as it seems to be with a lot of other people.

But is experience all that it’s cracked up to be?  Is it the be all and end all?

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Extenuating Experience

One thing that I find to be true is that those of us who have personal experience of mental health seem to relate to it far better.  I know this is like the majority of things in life but hear me out.  Where doctors see us as patients who have X condition and need treatment A, therapy B and department C to be successfully treated, we take it to a more personal level.  We interact with each other, we look at how things affect us and apply that to other situations.

Customer Experience MattersMy prime example would be my blog.  Specifically, things like my Understanding Self-Harm guide.  Imagine a doctor whose only experience of self-harm is the patients in front of him and what they’ve done.  Explaining self-harm the way I have would be difficult, if not impossible.  Would he understand all the innate needs and desires that we feel when we want to do it?  Could he imagine just how different all those needs or desires would be?  After all, no two mental health struggles are exactly the same.

Is not my experience, in this instance, far more valuable than his years of training, his qualifications and then his subsequent years of qualification?  Am I not able to explain the phenomenon of self-harm better than the doctor might?  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my opinion is so much better than the professional, qualified opinion.  What I’m saying is that my opinion is different and that that can be a good thing!  You see, the professionals, with all their years of study, qualification and experience, will have all the technicalities, the medical and physiological answers down to a T.  Me, standing in for the lay person Joe Public, will have the whys, the hows and some of the reasoning behind what I do.

Is that so difficult to imagine?

That I, Alex Davies, lay person with no qualifications in the mental health sector whatsoever, might actually have a different, yet just as important, understanding of mental health?

The Power of Our Experiences

Unlike the professionals, as not all of them will have lived with these conditions, we know what’s going on inside our heads.  We know where we fall on categorisations.  Mood charts and on everything else that would come under our diagnosis, we understand.  We know how we feel.  Don’t we?  We know if something isn’t right.  Does that mean we should always bow to the professional opinion because they have their qualifications?

No.

I don’t think so.

Professionals are great, as they have the technical side of things nailed, this is true.  But we understand what’s actually going on inside our heads.  My opinion may not be a learned, qualified one but, instead, it’s one brought through first-hand experience and one that, in its own way, is just as valuable.

What do you think?  Are our experiences and our opinions just as valid as the professional one?  I’d like to know!

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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 37 – The Importance of Informed Choice

When we see a doctor, how often do we feel like we’ve been given the choice?  They are quick to offer solutions.  Medication.  Therapy.  But do they tell us what the consequences are?  Are our choices informed?

Useful Links:

Episode 34 – Medication Mentalities
#MedsWorkedForMe
Drugs Don’t Work

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Become a Patron - informed choiceDisclaimer: 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.

Ignorance or Ignoring?

Are People Ignorant or Just Ignoring the Issue?

So often, while I’m scrolling through tweets and doing my interactions on Twitter, I see stories of how people seem to be struggling with how others view mental health.  Too often they are talking about how other people dismiss their struggles as trivial or “all in their head”.  I can’t help but wonder, when reading these, whether it is deliberate.  Are they ignoring the issue?

In the past year, someone I know has gone through a separation.  This separation has been made difficult by the other party effectively burying their head in the sand.  Despite my friend being out of the house for a year or so, the partner still insisted that my friend was going to come back, that they were all going to be happy families again.  My friend has said unequivocally that that will never happen, yet still the ex-partner insists on referring to my friend as “love” and won’t accept that they are completely separated.

Is the ex-partner truly ignorant of the issue?  Or simply ignoring it?

Ignorance

At Pushing Back the Shadows, we are no stranger to ignorance.  We see it every day on our Twitter account, on our Facebook account and on other social media profiles.  Plenty of people don’t seem to understand mental health.  More the hows and whys than anything else, but there is that lack of understanding.  When I see these, I try and offer explanations for some of the things going on.  I try and shed light on those issues.  After all, it’s what we do.

Personally, I find ignorance is excusable to a point.  If you haven’t really come across anything that really requires you to learn about the subject, how can you be expected to know about it?  With mental health, if you don’t really know of anyone who suffers (granted, statistically there will be someone but they might not be open about it) then why would you feel the need to educate yourself?  To a point it is excusable, as everyone has something they need educating about.

But when does it become inexcusable?

Ignoring the Issue

As with my friend’s ex-partner, there comes a time when the ignorance is more than just ignorance.  It’s deliberate.  People who have the evidence put in front of them or have had the problems explained multiple times are ignoring the issue, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, there aren’t two ways about it.  They are burying their heads in the sand, unwilling to accept that their view or their belief is being challenged.  Some perceive mental health to be a load of rubbish and, despite more and more people talking about their struggles, refuse to budge from that stance.  Others realise there is a problem but won’t accept that the person suffering cannot always make a change the way they would want.  They think of it as an issue of laziness, which isn’t always the case.

For people like this, it doesn’t seem to be a case of ignorance, as they have had plenty of opportunities to learn.  It comes down to ignoring the issue, refusing to accept something different to what they believe.  It’s sad that people like this exist, but that’s what makes us all unique and all different.

Ignorance vs Ignoring the Issue

So what do we do with these people?  Those who are ignorant and those who bury their heads in the sand?  Realistically?  We should seek to educate those who are ignorant to the struggles of mental health but not to the point of exhausting ourselves.  We should identify when they are refusing to accept the truth or reality and when they are burying their head in the sand and realise that we’ve tried our best, we can do no more.  As long as we’ve tried, that is what counts.

What do you think?

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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 36 – Dealing With Disapproval


Disapproval.  It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we try, there are still people who will disapprove of what we’re doing.  Whether it’s been thought through brilliantly, made with everyone in mind, there are still people who will disapprove.  Often it can feel worse with depression or other mental health disorders, but how do we deal with that?

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Become a Patron - Dealing With DisapprovalDisclaimer: 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.

The Long Haul

The Long Run

There is no quick fix.  No shortcuts.  When it comes to mental health, it’s something that can be thought of as a long run.  A long-term illness.  Wouldn’t you say?

See, that’s the thing that I hear most often about depression and mental health.  The most common misconception seems to be that depression is like a light switch, that we can just switch it off and snap out of it.  Too often we hear people telling us to just get over it.

But it’s not that simple.

If it were that simple, wouldn’t we just get over it?  Wouldn’t we try and avoid living like this?  From the things I’ve experienced and some of the things I’ve heard, I can’t imagine anyone who would ever want to actually live like this!  I could be wrong, of course, as there might actually be someone out there who wants to live like this, but somehow I doubt that.

No, the sad fact is that depression is a long-term illness and there is no quick fix, as I’ve previously discussed.  Out of all the mental health stories I’ve heard, none of them are over and done with in a matter of weeks.  It takes months and months of medication and/or therapy to recover.  Even then, there is a possibility that it will never truly go away, that it will lie under the surface much like a ticking timebomb, ready to strike again.  There is no short solution.

In It For the Long Haul

Recently, I talked about how we, as a society, put the onus on the person who is struggling.  Phrases like “you know where I am if you need me” have started to become the norm.  Roughly translated, a lot of the time it means “I’m going to make the offer of support but never follow it up, so it’s up to you to contact me when you’re struggling”.  Is that your experience or is it just mine?  (Disclaimer: I know that it isn’t the way everyone means it, it’s just been my general experience with people and I’ve heard of a lot of similar experiences).

Anyway…enough about that bit.  My point is that we have a tendency to put all of that responsibility onto the person who is struggling.  Coupled with that, we seem to have some kind of misconception that it is that short-term illness with a quick fix.  A couple of pills, a little therapy and you’ll be alright.

Wrong.

It’s long-term and, subsequently, you need to be in it for the long haul!  Half of people’s struggles nowadays come from people promising they will be around and then disappearing after a couple of weeks when they realise that it isn’t going to be an easy fix.  They stick around as long as they think they can bring you out of it but, at the first signs of rebuttal or long-term illness, they retreat and abandon you.

Be Prepared

Now, this isn’t what everyone does, I know that.  I’ve been blessed with some great friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin, whether I’m in a good place, a bad place or an absolutely awful place.  That said, I’ve also had people just drop away like flies the moment they realise it isn’t as simple as providing me with a little encouragement and a kind word here and there.  Admittedly there has to be some give and take as well, we as the sufferers have to be more understanding of other people’s situations as well, but as I’ve said in the Onus: it takes 5 minutes to send someone a message checking up on them.

So be prepared.  Be prepared to help these people.  Be prepared to accept that there isn’t a quick fix.  There is no easy solution, nor should there be.  To fix something complicated, you have to take time.  So we have to take the time to fix mental illness.

That means we’re counting on you.  We’re counting on you to support us and to keep supporting us, whether we’re ill for weeks or months or even years.  We need that support.  In our minds, we can’t do this on our own.  We either believe we’re not good enough or we believe we simply can’t do it.

So please, if you say you’ll be there for someone then make sure you’re there for the long haul.  If you don’t think you can cope with that, please don’t promise the help.  We need you.  We need your support.  So please…be in it for the long haul.

That’s all we ask.

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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 35 – A Protective Factor


Following the suicide of Amy Nice, 21, I look at the benefits system, the care she received and the responsibility that should be taken.  I examine the “protective factor” that medical staff identify and reveal why I believe it is a load of rubbish.  Why not join me?

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Become a Patron - Protective FactorDisclaimer: 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.