First Day Fears

I’m Going Back, But I’m Not Better

My anxiety is ramping up each day this week. From Thursday onwards, I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in those anxious feelings. I’m more forgetful (I left my keys in the supermarket!) It doesn’t seem to take a lot to knock me backwards and the scratching of my hands has resumed at a frenzied rate. Why? Because I’m going back to work next week even though I’m not fully better. My head is going crazy with first day fears even though I’m returning to a job I’ve done for 16 years.

The Coming Weeks

Oddly I’ve decided to put this experience to good use. For the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing with you what this going back to work experience is like. From the first day fears, to me being back at full speed and everything in between. I want to share all of this with you, whether I’m successful or not. It’s a journey many of you are going to have to take at some point. Depression and anxiety can severely impact on our work attendance, some people have months off or even never return to work because of mental health issues.

I’ve decided to go back after a lengthy absence. I feel I’m improved enough that with some help from my employer that I can do this. I need to from a financial stand point, but also from the point of view of my recovery. It’s time to face this challenge, because if I don’t do it now I never will.

Facing Down First Day Fears

So what is kicking the anxiety off? I know the people I work with, I know the job inside out. It’s the same building I’ve been going to for years. I’m not scared of any of these things, parts of me are even looking forward to seeing friends I haven’t seen for months. What exactly am I so anxious about?

My current biggest fear is me. Or more precisely my mental health. I don’t cope well with crowds or loud environments and the office I work in has an abundance of both. The fear is that I’ll walk in, not be able to cope and end up back at square one. This fear is nagging at me, I don’t want to go backwards. But there is that risk.

So what do we do?

Well I’m taking the risk. I’m going back and facing down those first day fears head on. My boss is prepared as he can be, he knows that I’m not good with noise so he’s arranged for a desk in a quieter wing of the office. Colleagues are being made aware to try to not bombard me (a common problem when people return from absence in my office). For me, I’ve made as many arrangements as i can to make it easy as possible.

Preparations

So here goes. Here’s my list of what I’m doing to get myself ready as possible. My thinking is if I share it with you it will help me follow through with everything. Plus you never know, it might help someone else too!

  • Make the first journey as easy as possible. To do this I’m making sure the car is clean and tidy inside. I’ve arranged that someone else is going to take the kids to school so that stress is removed for now. I’ve made a playlist of relaxing music as well. Car will be fuelled and checked over.
  • Get my stuff together. I’ve already chosen and hung up my clothes ready for the day. Lunch will be prepped the night before and everything I will need will be in my bag. ( sicknotes, letters from counselor, return to work note, pass and fidget spinner)
  • Treat myself.  Have a relaxing bath the night before. Take a small bar of chocolate with me on the day. Make dinner as easy as I can for the day (slow cooker, ready meal or if all else fails, takeaway).
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This one may sound odd, but it’s what I’m doing. I’m going for counselling the day before to try to get some of the worst things out and get some strategies for coping set in place.  My partner is going to have his phone to hand in case it gets really bad on the day. I also have talked things through with my boss about the most scary concerns I have and he’s doing what he can to help me cope.
Ready, Set….

So, for me I’m looking at phased return , amended duties, a quieter environment to sit and getting occupational health involved to make this process as smooth as possible. My boss is fully aware that I may need to step away from the office, I may lose my speech when stressed or begin scratching. One of my closest friends at work has already said they’ll be on hand if I need some help, even if it’s just to make me laugh or wind me up.

All in all, I think I’m as ready as I can be. I’ll let you know how it goes next week, what’s worked, what hasn’t etc. Here’s hoping I haven’t crashed and burned! If you are facing this challenge too I wish for you that it goes well.  It’s scary as anything facing down those first day fears, but I think with a little bit of preparation it won’t be as bad as you or I think.

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A Tweet, A Trigger and A Minefield

*This post contains images of self-harm, which may trigger people.*

A Trigger

Triggers are something that I hear a lot about, both on and off the internet.  Therapists will ask if we know what triggers our depression or anxiety, we will then be told to look at identifying our triggers so we can look at coping with them.  Is this sounding familiar?  Theoretically, if you can identify a trigger, you can start employing your coping mechanisms to ensure that you get through whatever situation it is that might set you off.

Recently on Twitter, I advertised our Understanding Self-Harm page to promote awareness for self-harm.  It contained the image below:

Understanding Self-Harm scars.

What do you think?  Do you think the image is particularly triggering?  Or is it more that the image is a bit shocking and uncomfortable to look at?  Here are some of the responses I’ve had to it:


Do you agree with these?  What do you think?

Talking Triggers

First off, I feel I need to say that I do believe in mental health triggers.  Honestly, I do.  There are things I know that can set me off on a depressive spiral or a panic attack, no matter what I try to do.  Admittedly, I’m not very good at identifying those triggers, nor am I particularly good at avoiding them or dealing with them, but I know they are there.

My question, however, is this: at what point do triggers hamper mental health progress?

One thing that society teaches us on a regular basis is to keep our mental health struggles hidden.  Have depression?  Smile.  Have anxiety?  Breathe.  We are taught, very much like Elsa in Frozen (yes, I have a 3-year-old who loves Frozen) to keep it in: don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be.  If we avoid talking about subjects containing potential triggers or avoid using images like the one above because they “may trigger someone”, how are we doing ourselves any good?  I’ve been told the image above has shocked people into reading the content because they find it disturbing enough that they want to know more.  Would you not say that’s a good thing?

It’s raised awareness for self-harm.  It’s raised mental health awareness.  Someone else has walked away with an understanding of a struggle that plagues a lot of us.

I’d say that’s a good thing.

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My Experiences

Two comments – one of which has since been removed because the user decided to block me – went along these lines:

I feel, at this point, I need to direct people to reading my journey, particularly posts like Pills and Blades, that discuss my own personal struggle with self-harm.  I have loads of scars covering my legs, even now after I’ve been “clean” for a few months.  It’s something that I’ve battled with relentlessly.  Below are just a couple of instances of when that happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sharing these lightly.  I’ve made sure that my scars are hidden so that people won’t see them and start judging me or commenting, etc.  Sharing them with you all is something I’m doing to continue raising that awareness and take the first step in my stand.

I believe that this subject needs to be talked about.  I believe people need to see these images so that they might understand just how serious mental health is.  Outside, in public, we put on smiles, we fake feeling as though we’re part of the community and we try and appear normal.  Behind closed doors, however, we end up turning to coping mechanisms like the one in the pictures above.  It’s something that’s not talked about, something that we avoid showing others, but we do it.

And people need to realise this.

People need to see the damage we do.

Shying away from it is not going to work anymore.

We need to be more vocal about this!

A Minefield

Realistically, what can I do regarding the images that will potentially trigger others?  It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand you have the people who need to see the image, who need to be shocked into reading and become aware.  On the other hand, you have all those who would claim to be triggered by the image (whether that’s genuinely triggered or, as so many people will do, jumping on the bandwagon to have a moan).  In the middle, you have me and the people like me who are all trying to raise the awareness.

As far as triggers go, though, it’s a minefield.  Everyone is different, everyone has different triggers.  Asking anyone to find something that won’t trigger anybody is virtually impossible.  So why should we hide what we feel, why should we avoid any potentially triggering images when there is no image that exists that might not trigger someone?

We need to stand up.  We need to take ownership.  This is real, this is happening.  People struggle with this on a daily basis.  To make a change, we need to shock people and we need to make them uncomfortable, because people will never change if they are comfortable.

Ultimately, I’m not going to apologise for these images.  People need to see this.  Realistically, the minefield is such that I won’t be able to find images that won’t offend someone, somewhere, so I will use the images I feel best fit what I’m trying to accomplish.  What I will say is that understanding of self-harm needs to be raised.  We need to do this.  We need to take that stand.  So stand with me.  Help me fight this stigma.

I hope you understand.

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Dirty Little Secret

What Makes You So Uncomfortable?

One thing Alex and I have received commentary on is the image we use for our Understanding Self-Harm page. We’ve had a few people comment that they fear it will be triggering, that the sight of someone’s arms with healed scars will encourage them to cut. The interesting thing is these comments have not come solely from sufferers, they have predominantly come from people with little to no experience of mental health.  The sufferers I have spoken to both on social media and the real world have said that an image like that was NOT triggering at all. It didn’t encourage the need to cut. If anything, it showed that you can get to a point where the cuts will heal. Cutting can stop. So the dirty little secret seems to be that it’s not because of a fear of triggering. People don’t like the image because it makes them uncomfortable.

The Dirty Little Secret

I have self-harm scars. There, I’ve said it. I have scars on my stomach, arms and legs that I inflicted upon myself when my mental health was in a pretty poor state.  My recovery is happening day by day, with the help of medication despite a woeful lack of contact from my therapist. (I haven’t had a session with her since November due to her cancelling) In that time I’ve had two instances of self-harm and whilst that sounds bad, neither relapse was as serious as previously.  I’ve been able to get past them with the support of Alex and my family. But my scars are very visible if I’m not vigilant in keeping them covered.

And I do. I hide them from everyone if I can, even from the man I love and who loves me. It’s not from a fear of triggering someone (my partner has had issues with self-harm too), but from the stigma and judgement that arises when people encounter self-harm scarring. Self harm is now a dirty little secret. I hide how my depression has manifested because of the reactions from others. My previous partner would make me feel guilty, shout at me and generally make me humiliated that I’d harmed myself. When I should have been treated with understanding and care, I was treated with anger and disgust.

Image result for dirty little secret self harm

Why Do People Judge?

As a society people are not good with difference. There is an ingrained aversion to anything that does not conform as what we think of as ‘normal’.  There is a prevalent (and worrying) trend for a certain type of body image. Whether it’s ripped abs or being a size 6 with DD breasts, there is increasing pressure from media of all forms to appear a certain way. And scars do not fit in with that.

I’ll give you an example; look at the picture below. It was circulated on  Facebook as the woman featured had chosen rather than undergo painful reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy, to have a beautiful tattoo celebrating that she survived breast cancer.  This picture of her breast-less, tattooed body was posted and very quickly there was a backlash. People complained that it was obscene, gross, wrong and Facebook responded by getting the picture removed.

Image result for mastectomy tattoos

Why Exactly?

There is an almost daily stream of semi-nudity (in some cases full nudity) of numerous celebrities. That’s ok, but someones survival of breast cancer is not? The truth of this dirty little secret is society doesn’t like to be reminded of illness. Whether it’s cause is mental, disease based or genetic, there are people who cannot bear to see the physical manifestations of illness.

In the same way some cancer sufferers wear a wig to hide their hair loss, self-harmers cover their scars because of the judgement and embarrassment they face from the world. We are ill. Self harm is a physical symptom of mental health problems. I have never come across a true sufferer of depression  where the need to hurt themselves was instigated by an image of someone else’s scars. What drives you to pick up a blade, or scratch or any other method is within you. It can be a need for self destruction, self-hatred, a release from anxiety or from numbness. It is NOT because you’ve seen some scars.

So maybe we need to look at it this way. An image is not triggering. It’s just making you uncomfortable to see something that you’d prefer didn’t exist. But depression, anxiety, self-harm; they all exist and pretending they don’t is just as harmful to sufferers as if you’d handed them the blade yourself.

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Episode 19 – Inaction’s Iniquity

Sometimes we might think we can get away with sitting back and doing nothing.  If we don’t get involved, it’s not our problem, right?  Unfortunately that makes us just as culpable as if we deliberately did the wrong thing.  Join me for this episode where I follow on from how we are meant to take ownership of our problems.

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Episode 18 – If Not Us, Then Who?

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One Day Too Late

Too Late

Have you ever been late?  Perhaps to a meeting or to an event where you’re running five or ten minutes behind?  Sometimes it’s because of the traffic to get to the place, holding you up even over that careful margin you added to ensure you wouldn’t be too late.  Maybe it was the kids dragging their feet out the door that made you late.  Or maybe you’re just one of these people who has almost no concept of time, running behind for everything.

Of all the things I regret the most, I do...I’m sure we’ve all been late at some point in our lives, but have we ever been too late?  It could be the theatre where the doors are closed five minutes before a performance.  Or it could be a one-off event like a wedding that we’ve missed.  Whether it’s our fault or not – uncontrollable things like traffic or maybe we just forgot about the event so missed it – being too late can be hurtful, both to others and ourselves.

Being too late is something I’m becoming increasingly familiar with…

Too Little, Too Late

I’m sure we all know this phrase.  Unfortunately, it’s one that is going through my mind more and more recently.  Whether it’s in reference to a situation one of my friends is going through, or surfacing in my thoughts when particular people get in touch, it’s something I keep thinking of.

To add some context, I used to be heavily involved in a particular group.  They shall, of course, remain unnamed for anonymity.  Since my depression hit, my involvement has stopped, as I found myself unable to continue with the commitments while I was struggling.  You would expect that people would then be chasing you, asking what was going on, how you were doing and so on.  Needless to say, they did, but it died quickly.  A few weeks of concern, then nothing for months.  Well, nothing but sporadic contact.

Now, people wonder what the problem is, why I get so frustrated with this and turn quite angry.  The problem is exactly what it says at the top of this heading: it’s too little, too late.

When you’re struggling with mental health, you need supportive people around you to help you get through it.  When people disappear, making you feel like you’re too much trouble to bother with, and then suddenly reappear later on, all caring and kind, it is a little too late.

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Cinderella

I’m reminded of a song that I really, really like.  It’s by a guy called Steven Curtis Chapman and it’s titled Cinderella.  The chorus quite simply says:

So I will dance with Cinderella,
While she is here in my arms.
‘Cause I know something the Prince never knew.
Oh I will dance with Cinderella,
I don’t want to miss even one song.
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight,
And she’ll be gone…

It's been a long day and there's still work to do, she's pulling at me saying: "Dad I need you."The song itself was written after Steven had been putting his two youngest daughters – Stevey Joy and Maria Sue – to bed.  The two girls had been stalling him all night by putting on their Cinderella gowns.  He particularly remembered hurrying them because he needed to go do some studio work.  After walking out, he felt drawn to write the song because he found himself remembering how he had rushed through some of the moments of his eldest daughter’s childhood because of his career.

Months later, his youngest daughter, Maria Sue, was killed in an accident in their driveway.  The song took on a whole new meaning for Steven, as it was a testimony of how quickly things can change, how frail life is.

Time To Act

Life is frail.  Life is short.  How often do we rush through things or how often are we too late?  We need to act now because who knows when it will be too late.  Those words we want to say to others, those things we want to do for someone…say and do them now.

With depression, suicidal thoughts can be a side-effect of the condition.  Some people do decide to end their lives.  What if, while you were putting it off, they did that?  What if you were one day too late?  Could you live with that?

So say the things you want to say, do the things you want to do!  Be there for the people who need you most.  Don’t do it tomorrow, do it today.

Because tomorrow could be one day too late.

'Cause tomorrow could be one day too late...

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It’s Not You, It’s Me

It Really Is

This is one of these cliche phrases, usually trotted out during a break up. It’s a phrase meant to be a balm when you’re hurting someone. “It’s not you, it’s me”, usually means it is you but the person saying it is too chicken to say so. The phrase has become so over-used it’s become ironic. But where our friends and family and our mental health are concerned, its true. It’s really not you, it’s me.  Not sure what I’m getting at? Let me explain.

I Don’t Mean to Hurt You

So often when depression and anxiety and other mental health issues impact a person, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to get out and about. Sometimes leaving your home becomes impossible. Social events? Forget it. The sheer enormity of dealing with people is just too much. Alex suffers like this. I do too sometimes. We shut ourselves away, we cancel on friends and family. We just can’t do it. The tendency will be to beat ourselves up about it, we will be plagued with guilt. But there are times that no matter how much we care for the people we were meant to see, we just can’t do it.

And it hurts them.

I’ve had it happen to me more than once. I’ve arranged with Alex to do something, try and get us out and about. But the time comes and he just can’t. Either depression or anxiety have consumed him and he cannot get himself out of his home. Oh boy, can that hurt!

It’s Not Personal

No matter how many times that Alex has assured me with the old cliche,’it’s not you, it’s me’ the treacherous voice in my head will come back with me being the cause.  The logical part of my brain knows that the issues Alex experiences due to his mental health can prevent him from going out. I know it isn’t personal. Yet for friends and family it will often feel like it is. I know that because I’ve felt it too. For me, it can kick off the dark voice in my head that tells me how worthless and useless I am. I’m obviously just not worth spending the time with.

But I’m learning to fight back against that instinct. It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong. I need to be reassured because I’ve spent so long being convinced of my own worthlessness. But I am learning that when it comes to mental health the cliche ‘ it’s not you it’s me ‘ is not a cliche at all. It’s the sad reality.

When I Say It’s Not You, It’s Me, I Mean It

That’s the point of this post. If you are supporting a loved one you can end up being hurt because of how their mental health can make them act. Depression and anxiety can make you snappish, irritable, unsociable, reclusive and so much more. We don’t mean or want to be this way. It’s part and parcel of living with these issues, and we are trying every day to overcome them.

There are days when we’re better at it than others. But for friends and family it’s something worth remembering; we don’t mean to hurt you. It’s not you, it’s me.  I and all the sufferers I know want to go to your party, come out for dinner and all the things you want us to be part of. If I’ve cancelled on you or hurt you I am not saying that it’s okay. But I’d hope you’d understand and maybe when the time is right we can talk about it. I don’t want to be ruled by my depression or my anxiety, nor is it an excuse if I’ve hurt you. I’d give anything not to be like this, as would many of the sufferers I know.  We’re sorry. Just don’t let that hurt turn you away, because every sufferer of depression, anxiety and all the other mental illnesses, needs the people who care about them. Your support is invaluable, so don’t let the illness push you away from the person.

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Leave Me Alone, I’m Lonely

I’m lonely.

How often do you hear those words?  Whether spoken out loud or written on a social media update, I find those words frequently.  People have asked me how I cope living on my own as surely I get lonely.  Back when I worked at my previous job, I’d leave work, get on the bus or, later, in the car and go back to my flat, all alone, no one there to greet me.  Some believe that was the cause of my depression.  I’m not so convinced but that’s another story.

But sometimes that’s how I like it.

People often say, when I talk about being on my own, that I have to get out more if I don’t want to be lonely.  However, I’d like to challenge that today, as I think there is a profound difference between being alone and being lonely.  Let’s see if you agree with me.

I’m Alone but Not Lonely

Sometimes a little bit of personal space is nice. Whenever I’ve been out and the depression or anxiety kicks in, there is nothing better than getting into the confines of my flat or my car, switching on my music or a video game and just blasting the thoughts and feelings away.  Listening to music, playing that video game, both can work but it seems they only work if I can actually be on my own.

I’m alone.

But I’m not lonely.

I’m making the most of my own personal space, with no one around.  I can drop my mask and leave it behind, allowing myself to be exactly as I am, without the front.  I don’t need it.  Even when I’m around friends and family, there is that guard up because I don’t want to drag them down as well.  Sometimes being alone can be the best thing ever.  It allows me to just be me.

The inspiration for this post actually came from a P!nk song that someone’s Twitter tweet made me think of.  Called Leave Me Alone, I’m Lonely, it speaks of how sometimes that personal space is good, because it allows us to have that break.  Too much of a good thing – or sometimes anything at all – can be too much, so it’s good to have a break.  Take a listen if you haven’t already heard it.

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I’m Not Alone, but I’m Lonely

Sightly harder to grasp, but it’s possible to feel lonely when you’re not alone.  When people have absolutely no idea what you’re going through, it can be quite isolating.  I distinctly remember walking into work on a really bad day, putting that front on and finding that only one person noticed.  I was surrounded by people and yet so alone that it was unbelievable. Granted, it wasn’t entirely their fault because I’d put that front up, but it was a contributing factor that no one looked.

Similarly, it is a growing problem that those of us who struggle with mental health issues find that we are put into a box in society, simply because people don’t understand mental health.  We might have plenty of friends – in person, on social media or on our phone – but we can be so alone.  As I write this, the thought of “I’m in a room full of people yet I’m so alone” is going through my head.

Even when there are all these people around, it’s easy for me to feel like a bother and not want to open up to people for fear of disturbing them or burdening them.  A difficult mindset to get out of, it isolates me.  Thus, I am with people and not alone, but I’m lonely, because I feel like I have no one to talk to.  Unfortunately, this is the category that a lot of people I talk to fall into.  They want to talk to someone yet they feel they can’t.

Learn About Lonely

My challenge for you is to learn the signs for when someone wants to be lonely.  It’s not that they don’t want your help – they probably value you a lot more than they feel able to let on – but they need a little bit of time away from everything else.  It isn’t against you, far from it, but it’s something they need at the time.  As P!nk says, “tonight, leave me alone, I’m lonely.  I’m tired, leave me alone I’m lonely”.  We will want you to come back, we just need a bit of space.  It isn’t personal.

It never is.

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Alex and The Joker

*This post comes with a potential trigger warning as there are some elements that readers might find triggering.*

This post is the one mentioned in Episode 16 of the PBTS Podcast, taken from my old blog when I originally started writing.  To listen to the podcast, find it here.

The Joker

I tell awful jokes. Really awful ones. I’ve mentioned my humour before because it’s a coping mechanism, a way of getting through the day. It was one of two things that got me through work yesterday and quite often it’s a big part of my mask. I hide behind the jokes, the puns, the humour. That way they can’t see me breaking inside. If you look happy enough and smile enough, people just assume everything is ok, even when it isn’t. They won’t push too hard to find out what’s wrong because, to look at you, they’d say nothing is wrong. So it works well. In fact…sometimes it works too well.
Often I find that the jokes are just getting me through by putting a smile (or a grimace) on other people’s faces…it doesn’t really help me because I don’t find them funny. If anything, I’d say I’m not a funny guy because I don’t feel the funny side of things much anymore. Another thing to add to the list of how broken I am. On the surface I seem to be a joker, playing for the laughs and trying to get people to smile but deep down I’m anything but. Deep down I’m chaos.

Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking a little bit about the Joker from the Batman films over the past couple of days. I watched a clip on YouTube of some of the iconic film moments that are actually accidental, where something didn’t go according to plan and the reaction was so good and so genuine that the filmmaker kept it in the final cut. I find that the Joker has some of the best lines, lines that I can relate to…which is both good and scary at the same time. One such example would be when he asks “Wanna know how I got these scars”…although I think you all know the answer to that.

“Wanna Know How I Got These Scars…?”

I’ll be honest with you: I feel absolutely awful today. Mind is playing up in overdrive, head is almost hurting and my chest is tight and nothing seems to be going right. Not to mention the pain that I’m in both physically and mentally, which is slowly doing my head in. I’m in such a way today that I’ve locked myself in the flat, I haven’t got the motivation or desire to go anywhere. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to do anything.
Well, earlier I was chatting with my friend PJ and I got quite irritated. Not with her but with other people. While we were messaging, I suddenly said a couple of people had made me think of the Joker. In the scene in the hospital when Harvey Dent (Two-Face) is recovering from the explosion that turned him into the villain, the Joker says this:

“You know…you know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan’. Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die…well then everyone loses their minds!”

I can relate. Supposedly I was meant to somewhere and I really didn’t feel up to it. Effectively, yet again, I’ve let people down because I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. What irritated me, though, is that none of those people noticed that I was struggling, they didn’t message me asking where I was until today. Last week I was at my parents’ and wasn’t meant to be there so when they didn’t see me it was “all part of the plan”. Suddenly, when I’m not there because I feel awful, they all want to know how I am and where I am. Seriously? It’s like a bad joke. In the majority of times, the minute people want something from you, that’s when they start acting all concerned and messaging and finding out how you are. Otherwise they forget about you and don’t bother unless you message them and even then sometimes they don’t bother. I’ve been told that someone is too busy to reply to a message once before, where that person told me their life was too busy to be messaging me. Considering at that point I had no one else to turn to, that cut.

The Joker and I

So…wanna know how I got these scars? Want to know why I’m drawing further and further in on myself? Want to know why this blog is full of depressing stories of how crushed, broken and alone I feel? Look no further. For every word you’ve read, every conversation you’ve skipped over with me because you’ve been “too busy” is stored up ready to explode and maybe one day it’ll be too late, maybe one day I won’t be around. Perhaps I turned to you because I had no one else…did that get considered? Or perhaps I didn’t message because I couldn’t bring myself to message. But I don’t think that would have even crossed your minds…

Already today my phone has been shoved to one side because I’m getting messages from people who would otherwise be ignoring me, too wrapped up in their busy lives to bother finding out who I am and it’s pushing me further and further down. It takes five minutes at most to send a message to find out how someone is, why is it only when they’re not there that you notice?

Yes, this is a bit of a rant but I feel that bad today that I’m past caring. Why should I feel bad for feeling this way when no one else takes any regard of me? Granted, there are some exceptions (you know who you are) but in the majority of people, why is it so hard? I sit here with around 300 scars that I’ve collected over the past few weeks but I’m fairly certain that not many of you would notice or ask how it’s going, even if you’ve read it on here. Why is it so hard to talk to me? I’m broken, I’m bloody, I’m a mess and I’ve almost given up trying…what does it say about you if you’re too busy to be the helping hand that I’m desperately reaching out for?
Or are you just too busy?

“When I’m not supposed to be there, no one thinks of me when I don’t turn up because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I’m supposed to be there and I’m not? Then everyone suddenly loses their minds.”

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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.

Why I’m a Christian but Have a Problem With Religion

Being a Depressed Christian

As someone who has been a Christian for more or less my whole life, has pastors for parents and a brother who holds a degree in theology (though this post is not about them), this post is incredibly hard for me to write.  For some, it might be equally hard to read but it’s one of those things that I feel needs to be said.  Let’s walk.

Those of you who follow this blog regularly may have seen my series about Inside My Head, where I delve deep into my journey, into my mind, and look at some of the things that constitute me.  If you followed that series, you would have come across part 5 where I talk about how my faith affects my mental health.  In a nutshell, how being a Christian doesn’t make everything hunky dory, how I will still struggle and how that’s OK.  My life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and I don’t have to be.

But that doesn’t mean life as a depressed Christian is easy.

Mental Health and the Church

Throughout history, the church has done a lot of good work through it’s charitable actions.  That said, it’s also done a lot of negative things.  You might immediately think of it’s stance on homosexuality which, up until fairly recently, has been very against it.  Female bishops has been another one it is reasonably unpopular for.  As with any organisation or religious body, there will be things it does brilliantly and things it does poorly.  Well, I want to highlight one of those things.

Mental health has always been stigmatised in churches.  It’s one thing that the Christian community, particularly, isn’t so good at talking about.  Take depression, for example: for a long time, the attitude towards depression in church has been “if you’re depressed, you don’t believe enough”.  In other words, your faith is lacking if you suffer from depression because how can you believe in the Almighty God who created the Heavens and the Earth if you are depressed?  From their approach: you can’t.  Pure and simple.

Take these for example:

What do you think?  Do you read them the same way I do?

Mental Health and My Church

Now, this is a subject that I’ve steered pretty clear of since starting Pushing Back the Shadows, because I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to offend others.  I think, however, the time has come to bring it into the light.  Yes, it will offend some people but I’m sorry, I have to make others aware.

You already know that churches can sometimes be the worst offenders for mental health stigmatisation, as I’ve already mentioned.  When we say this, however, we think of the church as a whole.  Christians in their collective.  What about the individual churches?  Mine is going to remain unnamed and I won’t mention any names of any people but I just want to tell you a little bit about that.

As you know, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in August 2016, but I was struggling before then.  Part of juggling my full-time job in the bank and managing everything else meant I was exhausted and I reached a stage where I felt as though I had no energy.  Consequently, I started missing services because, when it came to the weekends, I was that tired that I couldn’t get myself out of bed.  I was absent from a lot of things and it shocked me how long people took to care.

At this stage, I should also point out that at least seven people I can think of in my church have depression.  You would think they would understand.  Apparently not.  It seems that as soon as it became apparent it was a long-term problem, a deep-rooted one that was going to take a lot of fixing, people didn’t want to know.  It makes it hard.

Putting the Onus On

When I disappeared, I was shocked by the response I had.  Originally I had almost no messages.  Then, as the weeks dragged by, I started to get a few messages from people who had noticed my absence.  “Hope you’re OK.”  “Hope to see you soon.”  Those sorts of niceties.  As the problem became more long-term, however, those messages dwindled until I only had two people consistently messaging me.  Now, as I write this, I only have one person who messages me on a regular basis to check if I’m alright.

When I mention this, the first thing they say is that they don’t hear from me.  Those of you struggling with depression and anxiety know how hard it is, sometimes, to reach out and send a message to someone else.  You feel like a burden, you feel unwanted, so why would you?  But it’s my fault for not messaging, evidently.  It links directly into what I said about putting the onus on the person who is struggling.  They always say that I know they’re there for me, that they are doing all they can…but are they?

I do get messages occasionally from other people in the church.  Most of the time, though, it’s because they want something.  Sometimes it comes with the preamble of a “how are you” or something along those lines but, more often than not, it’s straight to brass tacks.  Quite frankly, it hurts.

Mental Health and Being Christian

At the end of the day, the church does have a fair amount to improve upon regarding mental health.  Whether you have faith as small as that mustard seed or whether you believe wholeheartedly, God will not solve your depression in a heartbeat.  It might not be a part of His plan.  He may have a different purpose for it.  That may sound cruel but think of it in the same way you would an operation.  Some live-saving operations will come with pain and perhaps months of rehabilitation, yet they are done for that important reason that, in itself, is positive.  Think of it like that.

American Christian Christy Wimber had one of the most refreshing approaches to this that I’ve come across.  She said that, in today’s modern age, mental illness was a tool used by the Devil and that this whole notion of “if you are not healed, your faith is not strong enough” was a load of rubbish.  I find myself agreeing with that, as depression and anxiety and all the other mental illnesses have absolutely nothing – that’s right ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – to do with your faith.

My Message

If you’re a Christian or a member of any other religion struggling with mental illness, let me remind you that it’s OK to struggle.  I do everyday and that doesn’t make me any less of a Christian.  But my challenge is for any members of churches reading this: step up to the mark.  Be the support that the church is meant to be.  Designate people to maintain contact with others, instead of leaving it all to the pastor or all to the person struggling.  We, as Christians, are called to serve others, to help them and to show the love of Jesus to other people.  Personally, I believe this is sorely lacking.

We need to be better.

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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.

A Very Mental Christmas – Day 5 Podcast

Family Fandangos

Do you struggle with managing your mental health at Christmas?  Do depression and anxiety keep you from enjoying the festive period?  Join Alex and Cheryl as they bring you their top tips for making it through a very mental Christmas!

Spending time with family can be a wonderful thing but sometimes it can be difficult, particularly when struggling with mental health issues.  How do we make it through a Christmas family gathering?  When things get loud, we can struggle.  Join Alex and Cheryl as Alex talks about last Christmas, his breakdown and how he suggests you can get through it this year!

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Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

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.