Actions Speak Louder Than Words

What You Don’t Do Says More To Me Than What You Say

After my return to work In January, I hit a lot of issues with my employer. Promises of support were constantly made, but little to nothing materialized. There were constant roadblocks, either in the inaction of my manager at the time, or the complete lack of support I received from HR. I was already struggling, yet for every little thing I found I was having to fight for it, tooth and nail. Despite promises of change I’d find their actions speak louder than words, nothing would alter and I would spin further into a vortex of feeling worthless and unwanted.

These actions (or in this case lack thereof) made me worse. My mental health took a serious hit as I battled even to get basic things sorted. A review with occupational health, a return to work meeting, even the basic stress assessment; it took a union rep getting involved to achieve any of these basic requirements. What may surprise you is the company I work for has a very prominent relationship with a mental health charity. They are active across Twitter with campaigns to try to raise mental health awareness with some very high-profile public figures. What I found was that despite their very vocal stance to the world, when it comes to their staff their actions speak louder than words. As a member of staff I found that you will lack support, basic rights under the disability act will not be fulfilled unless you push for them and that the management have a woeful lack of training or support in how to handle employees with mental health issues.

How Would That Make You feel?

It left me feeling un-valued and unwanted.

But it’s something you will find a lot, and not just in the world of work. In our personal lives too. How often do we say we care about people, compared with how often we show them. Like Alex has covered in the Onus, there is a tendency for people to be very vocal with their support, but lacking in the physical.

It also goes deeper than that. When we don’t show people what they mean to us it can inflict huge amounts of damage that you won’t see on the surface. Likewise when we treat people as something less than , it wounds. These scars that you don’t see are usually the longest lasting, the contributing factors to depression and anxiety that affects a person for years to come.

When Actions Speak Louder than Words

To put this into context, I’ll explain something from my past that even now impacts me. When I was 15 years old I began dating my first boyfriend. In my eyes, he was loving caring and everything I wanted. I thought he was perfect. You would think that he would have the same sort of feelings, right? Sadly, no.

The reality was he was considerably older than me. When we went out he would force me to lie about my age, so that it appeared more appropriate. He would dictate what i ate, would criticize how I dressed and how I did my hair. I was never good enough as me. I was often made to feel that I was being granted some sort of honour just to be with him. So even just the normal gestures of a couple in love were denied to me. Holding hands in public? No. Being taken on normal dates? Out of the question.

In private he would tell me he loved me. But the truth is if this is how someone behaves to someone they ‘love’ their actions speak louder than words. This is not love. This is not how you treat anyone else. It damaged me to the point that I feel unworthy, to the point I struggle to believe when someone genuinely cares for me. I don’t believe when they say they love me, think I’m special or beautiful.

Just because We Are all Guilty of This Doesn’t Make it Right

Yes, we can all be guilty of this from time to time.  In the early days of my relationship with Alex, I would often omit him from conversations with my ex-husband, if Alex called when I was taking my children to visit their father I’d pretend it was someone else on the phone. Yes, my reasons were based on fear of my ex-husbands reaction. But it does not excuse it. Alex and I ended up having a blazing row via phone over this very issue. As he explained how it was making him feel, something inside me snapped.  I needed to put my fear aside and deal with the matter at hand. My ex knew I was with someone new, so why was I pretending like Alex didn’t exist? Who was this helping? The honest answer is no-one.  If anything it was wounding the man I love.

We Need to Change

I’ve been on the receiving end being treated where the words being spoken did not match the actions.  I knew immediately it had to stop.  It’s something I think we all need to apply in our lives. Our actions speak louder than words.  For corporate entities they need to look at how they treat their employees before espousing their support for mental health. They need to be the example before they can preach for change. When they don’t is when employees are left feeling un-valued and disillusioned.

In relationships we need to show the ones we love, that we love them. Not just say the words. Show it. How we act to others, be they our family, friends or partners, can hugely impact them. If they suffer with mental health issues it can be even more important. When your mind is already telling you how worthless and imperfect you are, it will only see validation when people’s actions do not match the words from their mouths.

Actions speak louder than words. So don’t just say the words you think people need to hear.

Act.

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My Dad

A Sad Day

It’s a funny day today. It’s a sad day, but one where I want to celebrate rather than mourn. Today is the birthday of my dad. The thought of not celebrating it with him for this first time is causing an ache that just won’t go today. But I don’t want to sit and cry all day. I want to celebrate him. The wonderful things he did and achieved.

First off, I guess I need to tell you a little about him. As a child he was a rogue, scrumping from apple trees, truant from school and always in to mischief. He loved science and was fascinated by space and science fiction. Considering where he grew up in Birmingham in the 1940’s and 50’s, when poverty was a reality and life was hard, he still became someone who looked ahead to the stars.  He loved to read and loved music. All kinds, from The Planets suite to Beyoncé. I think I get that from him. I still remember him putting the L.P of the Planets Suite on for me to listen to and encouraging me to write stories from the images this music formed in my mind.

We didn’t always get on. What parent and child always does? We’d often butt heads because the reality is that I am as stubborn as he could be. We had similar tempers and that immovable sense of what is right. It would cause friction. But like my dad, I would do anything for my family and friends, even to my own detriment sometimes. It can be a bad thing, but if it’s the worst thing about me I’ll take it.

I’m proud to say I’m like my dad

So yes, today I want to cry. But I won’t right now. My dad loved going out for birthday meals, ( well any meal really). He celebrated and would not let things like birthdays or anniversaries just slip by. He loved his family, even when we were pains in the butt. He loved to watch his grandchildren playing and being inventive. He’d play the same song over and over just to watch his granddaughter try to sing along or dance.

So today I’m playing my music loud for him. I’ve sung at the top of my voice and I’m loving the little things my children are doing. (they’ve made a toy stage and put on a puppet show). My daughter and I have played Katy Perry’s Firework and danced around the bedroom singing along to it. Because one thing I’ve learned is that tomorrow is not a given. We all expected my dad to have many more years ahead of him, but life is cruel like that. A long time ago Alex wrote fleeting fragility and even more so today it rings true. Life is fragile and too short.

So yes, I have depression. I have anxiety. But like my dad I’m not going to let something hold me back.  So even though it’s difficult, I’m working again. Alex and I are looking at getting a house together with room for the children to have their own space, even though financially it will be hard. We are both still working on the website, driving it forwards with new ways for people to access content. I’m proud of what we achieve in the face of the naysayers. We may have mental illness issues, but we’re finding our way through.

Don’t Let It Hold You Back

So if you’re struggling today and you feel like giving in. Don’t. There’s always going to be obstacles. I could use today as an excuse to wallow in depression. Believe me, it’s there.  But the best way I can celebrate my dad is to not do that. It’s to play my music, laugh at the kids, work on the website. To do all the things that people think that someone who has depression shouldn’t be able to do.

So, to my dad. If you’re looking down on all of us today, I want you to know I miss you, but I’m going to show everyone that depression doesn’t win. It won’t win, over me or Alex. We will get the children what they need, I will keep working and we’re going to keep on with the website because we know it’s what we have to do. I hope we make you proud.

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Storms

The Storm Before the Calm

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘the calm before the storm’. The eerie silence that often descends before a really big storm hits. It’s a phrase often used in films and literature to convey the moment of peace before the big dramatic upset.

Yet it isn’t always so. With the weather, more often the pressure that builds before a good thunderstorm is stifling. It builds and builds until it explodes in a sky full of electricity and noise.

For me, there is no better analogy for how my head feels when I am caught in a depressive spiral.  The onslaught of thoughts, the self annihilation, the stresses that build to a point where I cannot cope… It’s chaos that escalates to a point where it explodes.

When I’m at that point I can barely function. I stop speaking. I operate on autopilot. I will physically distance myself from people, or I hide. If I do talk it’s disjointed, I struggle for words, I stutter or cannot get a sentence together.

Finding Calm

Sometimes there is only one way to find peace from the tempest in my head.

I self harm.

The flood of chemicals that this action releases into my bloodstream soothes me and restores my balance and I regain control once more.

Since my depression emerged at 15 years old, and in the nearly 25 years since, I have been battling off and on with the storms within my head. I have gone for months, sometimes even years without having to resort to my most drastic measures to find calm. I know that ultimately it’s not a good solution. But sometimes when I’m in the most extreme spirals, it’s the only solution I’ve found that works.

Like everyone, my journey is unique to me. I make choices, both good and bad as to how I deal with my mental health, but the important thing is that I’m still making the decisions. I’m not giving up.

Even if I fall, I pick myself back up because I decided a long time ago that not getting back up wasn’t an option. I’m stubborn like that.

Decisions

Take for example my decision to not go down the medication route. When I was a teenager I was prescribed anti-depressants to help with my depression, but I found I didn’t feel like me, that my own personality was deadened by them. So instead I opted to follow a therapy-only treatment plan. As an adult, I often wonder if this was the best option; I question whether I would still be battling with my demons to this day if I’d opted for a different course of treatment.  But it was my choice and one that I’ve stubbornly stuck to. Yes, it’s sometimes hard when you’re battling with your own mind and I recognise that medication would probably make it easier. I also fully support anyone taking medication, it works for them.

But for me, the tools I got from therapy work 99% of the time. They’ve helped me to support others too, even if it’s just spotting the signs that someone is struggling. By learning to recognise the behaviours and symptoms in myself, it’s helped me when dealing with friends and family who are struggling too.

So while having depression has been exhausting, debilliating and terrible, I also wouldn’t change it. I know that sounds insane, but for all the storms there’s been some pretty significant moments of sunshine. Being involved in this website is a pretty big one.

We’ve been able to make connections with people who are struggling, provide them with much needed support when they need it most. To me that’s a pretty big ray of sunshine.

I guess that’s the point of this post. I suffer from depression, I have gone through more mental storms than I’d care to count. The important thing is I have survived 100% of my bad days and that’s what I want for everyone struggling to do. Survive.

I’d like to leave you with a short quote from one of my favourite movies-The Crow. It’s something I say to myself when it feels like the storm is never ending.

‘It can’t rain all the time’

Good luck to you all, and if the storm is too bad we’ll be here with an umbrella.

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It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Always Look On the Bright Side?

One of the ironies that has struck me with my life is that so many people perceive me as bubbly, out-going, the talkative one at any party. So many of my friends (and I think my colleagues too) find it hard to believe I have depression. I do everything I can to help others when they’re down, no matter what I try to find the positive and look for the bright side. No matter how dark things are I try to make it that it’s not all doom and gloom.

I’ll admit, a lot of the time this is a mask. I won’t let people see when I’m struggling. Even to those nearest and dearest, I fear letting them see because I don’t want people to worry about me. More often than not my concern is that I don’t want to bring them down. I’ll give you an example; a few days ago Alex was really struggling with depression. It had been knocking him about and most of the day I’d been trying to buoy him as much as I could. But what I didn’t say was that I was having a really rough time too, I’d had a call saying a relative was extremely ill and it had triggered so many memories of my dad that it was physically painful. I didn’t say anything until I got to the point that I broke down in tears.

Talking is Important

Normally, I can share pretty easily with Alex. The fear of tipping him over on that day prevented me from speaking out. For want of a better word I stuck him in a protective bubble because I was terrified of making him worse. When I finally did crack and we talked, what we both found was that by talking to each other, it helped us both.  It’s this that I want to focus on.

Talking helps. 

It’s why so many people  find support on Twitter and other social media. They can express their feelings to others, they can talk and get the darkness that’s inside out. Someone asked me recently whether by writing on a blog about mental health issues it is actually counter-productive to healing. The idea was that by writing about depression and anxiety, we can become permanently mired in it. To those that think like that, I suggest you go on and look at what is in the news feed on Twitter under #depression and #mentalhealth. What you find is that it’s not all doom and gloom.  I regularly see encouragement, support, people just getting alongside complete strangers and talking to them about what’s going on in their heads. These are people writing about their own experiences with depression, be it blogs or vlogs or as published authors. Their mental health does not define them. They use Twitter to be there for others who are struggling. It’s what Alex does every day, from when he turns on the P.C in the morning to when he closes his tablet just before bed!

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

He isn’t on there moaning about how his depression is so awful. He’s there, interacting with people. Talking. Getting the inside out. Supporting and encouraging wherever he can. I’m sorry, but if that’s the definition of being ‘mired’ in it, then sign me up! Like I said, having depression isn’t all being an Eeyore. It’s not all doom and gloom all of the time.  Yes we can have awful, dark and rough days. Does it mean my sense of humour died? No.

By talking about the good days and the bad ones we can get everything that’s inside out. That’s why sharing with each other is so important. It proves that the illness isn’t winning. Some of the things that have made both Alex and I smile like loonies have come from our interactions on Twitter (discussion of little ponies, strange objects that look like Daleks and sharing favourite songs to name but a few! ) These conversations have been with people who are struggling with one form of mental health issues or another.

That’s what some seem to forget when a loved one or friend admits they have a mental health problem. They are still people! That person is still them. It’s just another side to who they are!

I guess that’s why I called this post ‘It’s not all doom and gloom’. Because it isn’t. Depression is an illness. Bipolar is an illness. Anxiety is an illness. But as sufferers we are not stuck in the labels these words convey. They don’t define us or how we can be. After all we’re just people too.

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I Will Not Give In

Taking Time Out

I’d normally apply the term ‘time-out’ to when I have to deal with my 3-year-old. She sits on a chair for 3 minutes while she thinks about what she’s done (lately it’s been over throwing what can only be described as Oscar-winning tantrums) When she’s had her time she then has to talk to me or my partner about why she was there and apologise. The point is that she reflects on what’s happened and takes appropriate action. I have been back at work for 2 months now and I took a weekend off last week to take time to reflect.  One thing I’ve said repeatedly throughout this has been that I will not give in. I’m still not, but I’ve had a lot to think about.

There have been some good points, certain colleagues have been amazing in their understanding and support.  Two particular colleagues have been nothing short of amazing! I’m constantly humbled by how selfless and wonderful these particular two friends are, even when they have their own problems to battle. If they’re reading this, I want to tell them that I cannot thank you enough. For the listening, the patience,the hot chocolate, the quick trip to the shops and just making me feel like I was wanted at work. Thank you!

What I’ve also had time to reflect on is how the return to work process has gone. Considering the company I work for are currently all over Twitter encouraging people to #GetTheInsideOut, I was surprised by how badly the process has been handled. It’s been disorganised, improperly documented and generally left me feeling unwanted in the workplace. Every little thing, I’ve had to fight for. It’s taken a huge toll on my mental health.

I will not give in.

It could have set me back even further. In some ways it has. I’ve been experiencing serious bouts of sleeplessness, I’ve had 2 relapses into self-harm and only the other night I was lying in bed feeling like every part of my soul was being ripped through my chest while I sobbed.  This process has been a struggle and has been much harder than it should have been.

I would even argue that the only reason I’ve not ended up signed off again is because I’m innately stubborn. I WILL NOT give in. To support my family I need to work, I’ve just needed some support from my employer to be able to do this. But my manager seemed to not have the time, training or support he needed to be able to do this. None of this was his fault. He was left rudderless and without support from his line manager. When he was being made to go on the phones with a frightening regularity to help relieve call volumes, it left little to no time for him to complete basic HR with his team, let alone the additional requirements of a colleague with mental health problems.

That’s the thing though. Like a lot of larger companies, the company I work for loves its catchy little by-lines. You know the sort of thing. Those wonderfully generic phrases that are supposed to make us see them as friendly and warm, not giant corporate machines. Things like ‘we’re here for you’ and ‘putting customers at the heart of what we do’. Big phrases that in actuality don’t really mean much and are vague when it comes down to how it relates to the individual.  Especially when to achieve what they think of as putting customers first it’s at the detriment of their employees. What’s the point of saying you support people with mental health issues if you aren’t willing to give your manager’s time or training to do just that with your employees?

Like Alex said in his place workplace workout, we need to make changes. Employers need to stop paying lip service to their employees. If you’re espousing your company as one that supports sufferers of mental health problems, then do that! Allow your managers the time and training to be able to do that!

Also, we as employees need to not just grumble around the coffee machine. I am probably seen as huge pain in the bum by my managers over the last few weeks. When things haven’t been going as they should I’ve raised it with the senior management, I’ve spoken to HR, taken advice from ACAS and from other employers.  When at my wit’s end that despite the senior manager getting involved and nothing changing, I finally went to the union.

For the first time in eight weeks, I’m finally seeing effective progress. I’ve been moved to a more experienced manager, one I’ve worked with before but one who also is a recognized expert within the department for her skills in HR.  I have had to battle, tooth and nail for very single little thing. I’ve had to reveal far more about my struggle with managers, colleagues, union representatives and more than I ever thought I would have to or that I was comfortable with. But I will not give in and let it break me.

There have been times when this process has nearly broken me. I’m worried it still might. That’s what I really think needs changing. I came across an image a while ago with a quote from someone who can arguably be described as one of the most successful business men in the world; Richard Branson.

More companies need to think like this.  Because speaking as an employee, I know that when I’m supported properly and treated with dignity and respect I can look after my customers to a higher standard than can be dreamed of in your catchy by-lines.

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Who is to Blame When I Self-Harm?

The Blame Game

With the current ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ culture, there seems to be a notion that someone is always to blame when things go wrong. Finger-pointing and trying to make someone culpable has become the norm. But who is to blame when I self-harm? It’s actually a more complicated subject then you might think.

You see, on one hand I would say well, I am to blame of course! I pick up the implement to cut, I make the marks. No-one does this for me. It’s my fault. (Which is why I probably apologise repeatedly when it happens!)

However, there is another side of this I’ve come across.  Some people who self-harm and blame it directly on another individual or group of people. It almost comes across as ‘look at what you made me do’. Each cut or injury has someone’s name attached to it in a very deep and personal way. To the person who has self-harmed like this, they focus the blame entirely elsewhere. To me, this seems a dangerous way of thinking and teeters very close to harming for attention seeking purposes. Almost calling out someone else and laying the blame at their door for your own actions. Is that self-harm due to depression or a cry for attention? I’ll be honest, I don’t know, it doesn’t jibe with my own experience and the experiences of others I’ve spoken to. Most self-harmers do their level best to hide the fact they do it and turn any blame only against themselves.

Bullying and Blame

You see, when we start attributing blame either on to ourselves or others, we are not looking at the real issue.

When I wrote Words Hurt, I really wanted to bring home the damage that can be done by bullying and name calling. How such behaviours can be contributory factors in depression and suicide. They are. There is no escaping that fact. But are the bullies completely to blame?

Now, some would argue yes and I can see why. When you lose someone to suicide after months and months of relentless on-line bullying, the feeling would be to lay all blame solely at the door of the bullies. Their behaviour led to that death.

But is that the whole story?

The reality is that by tapping into the blame game, we lose sight of something very important. Depression is an illness. Self-harm and suicidal feelings are symptoms of this illness. Not everyone who suffers will experience them, but for those who do it can be devastating. Likewise, not everyone who is or has been bullied will develop depression. Nor will all of those who do, then go on to harm themselves in some way.

This doesn’t completely absolve those individuals who bullied and persecuted someone else. Depression and anxiety can be triggered by trauma like this and when in a depressive state where suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self harm are already lurking it can be a very small step to cross the line.

I can recognise incidents in my own life that have occurred that have resulted in a situation where my depressive state was worsened by the actions of another. To be already teetering on a knife-edge over the abyss and then someone says something hurtful or cruel? Yes, it can have an impact. But does that mean every time someone hurts me I run to the nearest blade? No.

Resilience

The difference is down to resilience. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can rob us of resilience. There are times as sufferers we have more, other times we have none. Is someone else to blame because an illness has robbed us of our resilience? No. They may have contributed to our feelings of low self-esteem and self-loathing, but the illness is preventing us from dealing with these effectively.

I agree that more needs to be done to stop bullying. It’s pervasive and corroding and is doing untold damage to people. But maybe we also need to work on building our own resilience up too from an early age and look out for others who are lacking it. Each time we let an act of bullying go by without correcting it we are allowing the corrosion to continue. We are knocking another chip off the wall that someone should have to protect themselves inside. Each time we sit by and let it happen we are allowing the dissemination of someone elses’ mental health, sometimes even our own.

So, who is to blame when I self-harm?

That’s where it becomes complex. I am, but due to an illness that robs me of resilience. In turn, my resilience can be diminished and destroyed by the actions of others. This can be from one event or the culmination of lots of little injuries that have eroded my self-esteem over the years. Either way, the answer to the question ‘who is to blame when I self-harm?’ comes with a lot of answers. Me, you, no-one and everyone? Or do we lay it all at the door of the label of depression and mental illness? I think it’s all of these, combined. No one person is to blame. What we need to look at is understanding more why it happens, work with our children and each other to stop judging and commenting when people are ‘different’ and treat ourselves a little more kindly too.

After all when it comes down to it, when the question a sufferer asks is ‘who is to blame when I self-harm?’, they’ll be a lot of names including their own in the answer.

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How do you Parent when you Have Depression?

Parenting with Depression

After reading a blog post by one of our Twitter followers, Lucy, where she talks about the ugliness of depression, it got me thinking about when you are a parent and battling with mental illness. In the post she talks about the realities of how awful it can be, the terrible effects it has on her and how it can fool her into thinking she’s failing as a wife and mother.

As a mum, I can relate, when my depression hits hard I am my own harshest critic; I withdraw myself and feel like I’m a failure at every aspect of family life, disappointing my children and letting everyone down. It’s awful because such feelings often only serve to drive me further into the darkness. So when you are fighting a battle with your mind like this, how do you hope to be an effective parent?

Ask for Help

Asking for help is something I personally struggle with, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would be willing to help me. (My own dark passenger does its very best to convince me that nobody would care, so why bother asking?) I’m sure you can relate! But it’s something that I am learning to do, because it’s not just a benefit to me, but to my children as well. Having a parent with depression can take its toll on kids and having someone to talk to or somewhere they can get a break is necessary.

So where can you get help? Most of these may seem logical, but it’s surprising how much we become blinkered when we’re in a depressive state.

  • The other parent– whether you are together or not, both parents are responsible for their children and their well-being. It’s OK to admit you need assistance where necessary, so if that’s getting your other half to take on some extra chores or if you’re not together, then encouraging (where appropriate) them to take kids out for the day, handing over the reigns for a bit can be a huge help.
  • The Wider Family- Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Sisters and Brothers, they’re your in built support network. I don’t know where I’d be without my parents and their enthusiasm for having the children over for a sleepover! Likewise, being able to talk to my sister is hugely important, even if it’s just to vent about my teenager and his dramas, it helps.
  • Friends- OK, this one depends on the type of friendship you have. For you friends out there who are supporting someone with mental illness you may be afraid of getting lumped with someone else’s children.  It really doesn’t have to be anything as big as that. Popping in for a coffee, or just running an errand for someone who is struggling is more helpful than you think.
  • Your Local Family Centre- I cannot sing the praises of these wonderful institutions highly enough. They are an excellent way to access social service assistance, are brilliant for meeting other parents and carers, simply put they can be a life line! Many offer free courses which you can attend with your child, like children’s cookery or craft, or alternatively offer adult courses with a crèche for a small fee. It may seem silly, but doing something simple like making stuff from toilet roll tubes in a safe environment can be good for you and your child.

Now these are just some of the places I’ve found help, it’s not an exhaustive list but I hope it reminds you that the help is there.

Surviving the Dark Days

So there are going to be days when depression is crushing you, you can’t face going out and maybe your usual route of help isn’t there. What do you do? Take today, for example, for no apparent reason I have woken up with what feels like crushing weights on me. I don’t want to talk, or move. Everything just feels hopeless and futile. I just want to lie in bed and be away from the world.

But I can’t. I have phone calls to make, my 3 year old needs breakfast, there’s shopping to do, washing that is getting urgent, bathrooms in need of cleaning and hoovering to do. It sucks. The list of tasks is daunting and I feel like even more of a failure because so far all I’ve managed to do is to serve up a bowl of Weetabix that my daughter has refused to eat and mashed all over herself and the table.

My advice to me and to you, is give yourself a break.

You can’t will yourself to get out the door for the picnic you promised your child you’d go on today? Put the blanket on the living room floor and have your picnic inside. Cooking is too daunting a prospect? Order a pizza. Junk food occasionally won’t kill you or your children. Sod the cleaning for today.

My point is that you are battling an illness, you are not expected to be supermum or superdad. What’s more important to your family is that you are there, in their lives. Toys, gadgets and days out are never going to be as important as you being in your children’s life. My son and I often talk about how fond his memories are of what we called ‘duvet and Disney days’. We’d take over the sofa with blankets and cushions, stay in our pj’s and eat rubbish while ploughing through movie after movie. It’s only as he’s gotten older that he now recognises that those days were my way of coping in a depressive spiral with a small child. It didn’t hurt him, in fact it’s a treasured part of his childhood and it got me through.

I still have really bad days, there’s probably more to come after this one. But I’m surviving, with 2 wonderful, compassionate and well balanced children. And if I can do it, even if today is a day where I parent in pyjamas, you can too.

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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.

The Drugs Don’t Work

The Debate

Lately there’s been a lot of debate about whether antidepressants are a good or bad thing. Many argue that meds are what saved them, others say they cause more problems and feel that they are too easily dished out. To be honest, I am of the opinion that whatever works to help with your mental health condition is going to be unique to you. I’ve done the therapy only route before and it did help me.  However, I’ve had to go down the combined route with antidepressants this time. I’d tried all the techniques I’d learned from therapy previously, but for whatever reason I could not pull myself out of the spiral I’d gone down. I recognise that with the help of medication I am improving. But I am nagged with worry; what happens when the drugs don’t work?

Irrational Fear or Genuine Concern?

What’s plaguing me lately, is that despite being on a high dose of Sertraline and receiving counselling, I feel like I’m drowning. I know I am making progress. After all, I have returned to work. But I constantly feel like I’m fighting just to keep my head above water. Work is leaving me exhausted. Family stresses have been crazy lately. Any tiny glimmer of happiness seems to just get torn to shreds by others or by my own insecurities.

One argument would be that the drowning feeling is coming from trying to deal with too much at once. True. It very well could be. But what if it’s not? What if, for whatever reason, the drugs don’t work for me anymore? I’ll be honest, I find that thought terrifying.

Now before anybody starts panicking that I’m going to ditch my meds, please don’t worry. Thankfully, I know that without them at this point I would  set myself back even further. Coming off antidepressants suddenly can have disastrous side effects. But that’s why I want to document how I’m feeling. I know plenty of sufferers who are tempted to just give up on their medication without speaking to a medical professional first. Some even do it and it tends to not go well.

At some point in everyone’s journey with mental health issues, we can feel that nothing is working. Not therapy or mindfulness or medication. It can all feel futile. After all, why bother with antidepressants or therapy when you don’t feel any better?

Who Says the Drugs Don’t Work?

You see in some respects when these sort of feelings creep up, it would be all to easy to give up and just sink further into the darkness. It can feel inevitable that the illness will win.

If that’s how you are feeling right now, please just hold on. It’s what I’m doing too. I am persevering with my medication and therapy, no matter how pointless my dark passenger tells me it is. I will not let it win. It’s just harder right now, because there is more to deal with than before. Like I told my colleagues on Time to Talk day, I am not fully recovered but I am better than I was even if some days I can’t see it.

I refuse to be the person who says the drugs don’t work. My own experiences with them tell me, whether it’s for short or long-term treatment, they do. They help. I don’t necessarily want to be on them forever and if I can find a way to be able to push back my depressive thoughts and anxiety without them, I will. But if it’s the case that I need them for the rest of my life then that’s okay too.

So instead, I’m going to try something pretty radical for me. I am going to stop saying I’m fine, when I’m anything but. I am going to let myself rest if I need to and not feel guilty for it. Practising self-care even when I’m on good days, as well as the bad ones.

In short I’m not giving up. Maybe the drugs don’t work all the time, but I know that without them I’d be a whole lot worse right now.

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.

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.

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.

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.