Finding Hope in the Darkness

We all know that holding onto hope can be difficult, don’t we? So this week I have a challenge for you all! Why not take a look?

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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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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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A Blanket Fort

Memories of Blanket Forts

Have you ever made a fort out of blankets?  In our house, it was something we used to do a lot as children.  Grab an airer or clothes horse, grab some sheets and blankets and build a den or a fort.  It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s something that kids enjoy.

I remember we had some brilliant blanket forts as children.  We used to let our imaginations run a little wild and see if we could make it bigger and better than last time.  Often this meant borrowing some of the double sheets from mum and dad, or a large blanket.  Add some torches, some pillows and a couple of fun things to do like books or toys and you were sorted!

Does that sound like something that you’ve tried?  Perhaps you’ve got some fond memories of making dens or blanket forts when you were younger.  I think it might be something we’ve all done from time to time.  It’s great fun!  But guess what!

It has a practical application for adults too!

A Blanket Fort

Roughly six months ago, I made a blanket fort.  My friend, who was in the process of learning how to cope with being separated from her husband, was struggling.  She’d had to take the kids over to see him for his visit.  Consequently, her anxiety had tripped, she was doing really badly.  During these times, it’s common for her speech to disappear so she can’t communicate.  She also worries at her hands with her fingernails, scratching psychological itches.  Frustrations increase when she can’t talk or when she catches herself itching.  Needless to say, it gets into a bit of a vicious cycle that she can’t seem to bring to a halt.

I was on the phone with her at this point, as she and the kids were staying with me for that day.  Due to housing troubles, it had had to be arranged like that so she could leave her old house.  As I was talking to her, I quickly picked up on just how bad things had got.  It was then that I remembered this cartoon:

Making a blanket nest to help someone through depression.

You probably see where I’m going with this, but I had an idea.

Quickly, I grabbed the airers dotted around the flat.  Grabbing some blankets off the bed and duvet covers out of the cupboard, I started setting up a nice blanket fort around the sofa.  It took a little work but it was there, able to be sat in.  A few cushions came next, then I had another idea.  I have a little light-up Death Star model that changes colours and can be quite therapeutic, so I added that as well.  Finally, I put my tablet in there, setting it to play some relaxing music and go through space pictures.

The fort was complete.

The Effects of the Blanket Fort

It may sound silly, perhaps almost childish, to make a blanket fort.  After all, it’s something we do as children, not as adults (unless we’re playing with a child).  That said, it had the desired effect.

Upon her arrival, I brought my friend into the lounge where the blanket fort was set up.  Her initial reaction was surprise that anyone would do something like that for her but, once she had been brought into the fort, her anxiety started to abate.  After about an hour or so of sitting in that blanket fort, she was completely calm once more.  Even though it sounds a little daft, it worked.

And perhaps that’s the most important part.

You see, it doesn’t have to be a blanket fort.  It can be a snuggly blanket, a little nest like in the cartoon above, or any number of other things.  The whole point is that you’re creating a safe space for them.  Somewhere reasonably confined, warm and inviting where they can relax.  If they like music, put music on.  Lights?  They can help.  Alternatively, darkness might be more their thing.  Whatever they like, try and make it as inviting to them as possible.

As another small example of a safe space, I’ve talked about how music has a big influence on my life.  When I need a safe space, I plug my headphones in, turn my iPod on and listen to music.  With noise-cancelling headphones, I can retreat from the world and relax a bit.  It works for me, it might work for others.

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Rishin – The Interview

What condition(s) do you live with?

Brain Cyst- I have an Arachnoid cyst at my right temporal lobe. It has been ignored for the most part because the standard response has been “they usually don’t cause problems”. At my last neurology appointment, I was booked in for an MRI and referred to a neurosurgeon because of some new symptoms.

Epilepsy – I have nocturnal epilepsy. I also have absence seizures during the daytime, but the night time events are worse. It mostly comes out at night, mostly… 

Cluster Headaches (AKA Suicide Headaches) – These are a primary headache disorder and a type of Trigeminal autonomic cephalgia (TAC), the trigeminal nerve is the same nerve that conducts the signals to the brain when you have a brain freeze after eating or drinking something cold.

I mention this because it’s one of the best analogies I can think of for the pain. So, remember your last brain freeze. Now think of what that pain was like.  Do you have the memory of the pain? That stabbing behind the eye and the pain at one side of your head.  Multiply it by 20 and you are close to what a Cluster Headache is like. I’m literally not bothered when I get a brain freeze/ice cream headache anymore, it’s insignificant compared to a Cluster attack.  Some people have bouts of attacks over a period of weeks or months, daily, multiple times a day. These are defined as being episodic.  Other people are chronic, this means they don’t get a break any longer than two weeks between bouts.  As you can see this isn’t a minor inconvenience like a hangover, it’s a life-changing condition that can have tragic consequences.  A cluster attack can last anything from approximately 20 minutes to hours.

When I call them Suicide Headaches it’s not hyperbole. The nickname Suicide Headaches is one that has been earned. People have died by suicide because of this disease.  They are incredibly painful, here on my website I compare the pain to an event I really don’t want to repeat again.

Paranoia & Visual & Auditory Hallucinations – I developed these approximately at the same time as the cluster headaches, the absence seizures and most of what I’m still dealing with today.  I’m lucky in that my hallucinations are brief and while at times they have been bloody scary each one hasn’t lasted long.  Even now I find them very distracting and I have a specific type that, well to be frank, terrifies me.  The paranoia is an insidious bastard. It gets under your skin and twists the world. It nearly destroyed my life. When I think back to what I was like at my worst, well I’m surprised I’m still here.

 Depression, Anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – It basically comes as a package deal. My Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis is very recent, and we are still unravelling what this means.  My mood is a rapid rollercoaster with highs and lows hitting me so quickly that some days I’m exhausted just trying to stay contained.  The reason I called them a package deal is that I was given the depression diagnosis years ago. However, recent events have caused my psychiatrist to re-evaluate me.

My symptoms have been a nightmare. It’s such a tangled mess. I’ve bounced around different medical professionals with all of them trying to unravel their specialist area from the rest.

My Cluster Headache (CH) diagnosis alone took five years but that’s not unheard of with CH.

Parasomnia – Firstly, I want to acknowledge that night time events cause people a lot of pain and difficulty in their life.  But I’ve saved this one for last for some light-hearted content.  I’ve been known to prance around in my sleep, it’s probably related to my epilepsy from what I can gather.  On more than one occasion my wife has been woken to see me waving my arms around, walking, and even doing a Tai Chi form.  So, there I am standing, stark naked, pulling off snake creeps down, an unfortunate name considering the situation, completely asleep.  It took me weeks to live that one down.

How long have you been living with it/them?

Over a decade.

How does it affect you?

With the Cluster Headaches I don’t have good days. I have bad and not so bad. There is a lot more about CH I could go into but it’s beyond the scope of one interview.

A bad day is when I’m dealing with multiple CH attacks throughout the day, my mood is low, and my coordination and speech are unsteady.

So, it’s a case of getting through one attack recovering slightly, and then dealing with the next one. In between there are what we call Shadows, which are low-level persistent pain that ebb and flows until another attack hits.

My worse day, so far, was a few months back. I had an attack wake me at about 6 am and the last one finished at 10 pm.

Once the first one had subsided the next hit at 10 am, then at 12 pm. That subsided and then from 3 pm until 10 pm I was having them for an hour with about a 20-minute break in between attacks. Not a good day.

A not so bad day is a day with lots of Shadows that don’t result in multiple attacks, but I can still get one or two full attacks. However, these tend to be shorter.

I frequently have trouble with my speech, nothing too bad, sometimes I can’t find the right word. We live with it and I go with the flow because the more frustrated I get the worse it can be.

My life has been completely changed by all of this. I don’t go out and while I maintain contact with friends via the internet that’s it.

I did manage some volunteer work with Samaritans at one point. That was because I had the flexibility in choosing my hours and Samaritans were incredibly understanding. But on more than one occasion I got hit with an attack and had to get someone to cover for me.

As for BPD well, my mood switches at a moment’s notice I get highs, but they don’t last very long at all. Long enough for me to have lots of awesome plans then I hit bottom and wonder why I was so bothered by it all.

Emotions are magnified. Right now, I can be objective about how I feel but when I’m having a bad day I don’t recognise that my reaction to an event is disproportionate.

On a bad day I don’t respond well to other people’s emotions, especially anger. My own anger goes inward, and I rage inside. It’s hard to put into words in some ways. It’s a lightning storm building up, a volcano building pressure. Other people’s emotions can hit me hard.

What kinds of methods or treatments do you use to cope?  What is most effective?  What is least effective?

For CH I’m on oxygen as an abortive, believe it or not it’s fantastic. It doesn’t always work but I do get some relief. I also take medication as a preventative and I use Sumatriptan injections at the onset of an attack, again sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

OTC painkillers do nothing for CH, all they did was give me medication overuse headaches. I was basically swallowing the damn things like Smarties for five years.

I don’t want to go off on a religious tangent but for my BPD and other mood-related difficulties I have found Buddhist meditation and philosophy very helpful. I’m lucky because my teacher is a Buddhist priest and I am actively involved with the sangha (community).

I’m due to be assessed for therapy for my BPD but I think Buddhism has given me many tools that have helped.

If there was one thing you could say to someone going through the same condition(s) as you, what would it be?

Talk. Please talk. Whether it’s to a family member, a friend, or even a support line like Samaritans 116 123, talk about what you are going through. You will discover that you have immense strength within you but even the strongest of us need to off-load at times.

What would your advice be to people trying to support people with your condition(s)?

Learn as much as you can about the problem. Be it a rare neurological disease like Cluster Headaches or mental ill health. How much you know will dictate how well you can advocate for your loved one.

Listen to the person you are supporting.

We think that we can listen but when we are supporting someone we ought to ensure that the time we give them is well spent. It can be tempting to react based on fear and dismiss their concerns but when we listen fully we ensure that the time is about them and not our fears. I talk about this in my Mindful Listening series.

Make sure you take some time for self-care.

Even if it is only a short walk, a relaxing bath, or a funny film. Supporting someone can be draining, it’s emotionally stressful when we offer ourselves as a sounding board or when we fight for another’s rights. Doing all of that for a loved intensifies the stress.

You are important too, remember that.

What was it like working for Samaritans, helping people with mental health struggles? Were there challenges?

Even though I don’t volunteer now I still consider confidentiality sacred. So, I won’t discuss any specific calls.

If I were to sum my experience up it would be this. It changed my life and myself for the better. It made me a stronger and more compassionate person.

Challenges? Yes. You can’t offer that kind of support without it being challenging but the call is the callers time. I was there for them.

If I had anything that I found very personal or emotionally difficult I knew I had a fantastic support network within the organisation. They really are remarkably caring and supportive of their volunteers.

The training is first rate too. At the time you don’t realise just how good the training is, but it prepares you in so many ways.

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Episode 31 – Hope For the Best

Do you wonder how we can get through a life with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses?  How do I manage, what kind of motto would I live by to get through?  I share my secret here!

Useful Links:

Whispers of Hope
The Light of Hope

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Just a Trend

Mental Illness is just a Trend

That’s right, you read that right.  I, Alex Davies, founder of a website that promotes mental health awareness and support, just said that mental illness is just a trend.  Do I really believe that?  Of course not!  That said, it’s an interesting topic to consider.  Take a walk with me as I unpack it.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in people being diagnosed with mental health issues.  Now, this could be partly due to the increases in external pressures and triggers, as some people would say, or it could be a greater awareness and openness for mental health.  In the past, mental health was not something that was widely talked about.  You kept it hidden.  It wasn’t heard of.  Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of thing. Nowadays, however, it’s more widely talked about.  So is it that it is on the increase or is it just that more people are talking about it?  That’s something for the philosophers to debate.

What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not the epidemic is as bad as it seems or whether it is “just a trend”.  (Note that my opinion will come at the bottom, so you’ll have to read on to find it!)

So is mental health a trend that people follow?  Are the people who claim to have mental health issues genuine?  From where I sit, I see three immediate categories that we can put this into:

  1. Genuine Sufferers
  2. People who don’t quite get it
  3. The social media hype types
Genuine Sufferers

This is exactly what it says on the tin: people who are genuinely suffering with some form of mental illness.  They have those day-to-day issues that hinder them, whether that’s getting out of bed, looking after themselves or being unable to leave the house.  Their struggles are real, their issues hamper their everyday activities and they clearly have some form of mental illness.  Note, these are not always diagnosed as, for some, they cannot make themselves go to the doctor but many of them will have been diagnosed.  They might be on medication and they may be undergoing therapy or they may be managing it with alternative means.  Nevertheless, they are struggling.

For genuine sufferers, they face a wall of stigma and judgement that often prevents them from expressing how they truly feel.  They keep it buried inside, fearing that other people would be harshly critical of them or simply not know how to express it.

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People Who Don’t Get It

These are probably the most multitudinous that I’ve come across.  You’ve seen them, I’m sure.  The people who post statuses like: “I have to wait a whole year for more Game of Thrones, I’m so depressed!”  In reality, they aren’t depressed, they’re just a little sad, but they blow it out of proportion.  How often do we see it?  Far too often, I think!

Why am I picking up on this group?  Well, I believe it simply adds to the fog of stigma and judgement around us.  If we can see they’re not really depressed, others can see through it too and it just builds up this wishy-washy idea of what depression actually is.  By associating it with the word, it can create that false image that others will then believe.  For all we know, it could be where this “just snap out of it” rubbish came from…

We see it a lot, though, don’t we: the ones who over-exaggerate this sort of thing.  People who give themselves labels without taking that moment to understand what it means.  What is depression?  What is anxiety?  Is it what they make it out to be – being “anxious for school exams” or “depressed because the latest season of Game of Thrones has ended” – or is it something more?

The Social Media Hype Trend

As I’ve mentioned previously, I do a lot of interactions on Twitter and on other social media sites and I now notice patterns in some of the things that go up.  The most common example is the number of people who post things online – particularly photos – and appear to be fishing for compliments.  Comments like “I’m so ugly” or “I’m no good at anything” or “I’m so fat, I need to diet” and other such things are frequent posts.  The photos that are coupled with them, however, more often than not, contradict what is being said.  Like I said: it’s almost as if they’re fishing for compliments.

Now believe me, this isn’t always the case.  Insecurity is a horrible thing and it might be that they just want someone to give them that reassurance.  However, it’s possible that some do it just for the compliments.  If social media makes it “trendy”, everyone wants to get involved.

Your Turn

Over to you…what do you think?  Do you think I’m right or do you think I’m wrong?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  I’m interested in getting a discussion going here.

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The Onus pt 2 – The Damaging Effect

The Onus – We’re Here For You

In June last year, I tackled a subject that I thought was very uncomfortable yet very pertinent to mental health struggles: the effect of putting the onus on people.  In that article, I acknowledged that so often we mean well – we’re here for you, if you need help then all you have to do is call/message/shout – but sometimes that can actually lead to people being more isolated or feeling as though their concerns are not valid.  Basically, it can be highly damaging .  Check out this snippet of my point:

The Onus Problem

What’s the problem?  You’re offering them your support, you’re telling them to contact you if they need the help…so isn’t that a good thing?

Do you know what?  It’s great, it really is.  I’m pleased that you’re there for your friend or family member.  That being said, there’s something you need to consider.

Can they talk about it?

For a lot of people going through mental health struggles, opening up and talking about it is one of the hardest things to do.  Every time my friend struggles and spirals, the first thing she does is hide because she doesn’t feel she can ask for help.  I’m the same: I find it hard to say “I’m struggling, please help me”.  It’s just not something that comes easily.

Are they likely to talk about it? Not always, no.

Realistically, there is another reason that we have to be mindful of when putting the onus on people, one that might be far more dangerous than the one I mentioned in the post itself…

The Onus Effect

For some, the effect that the onus has on them is simply what I said in my previous post about it: that they feel like they can’t ask for help yet they really should be asking and, so, they beat themselves up for not being able to ask.  It can lead to additional stress and frustration and worse.

But that’s not the effect I want to talk about.

I think this one is actually much worse.

For some people…it can make them feel as though they deserve it.

Let me expand on that a little.  See, for some people, they wouldn’t feel like they were able to approach others and ask for the help that they need.  As a result, they wouldn’t get that help because people are putting the onus on them, making them speak up for help and thus trapping them in that cycle of needing help yet being unable to ask for it so not getting it.  Moreover, when no one asks them how they are, if they need help or makes that effort to contact them, it starts them off in a cycle of increasingly negative thinking.

Check out Aimee W’s thoughts on the matter:

Realistically, it’s not an uncommon perception for people struggling with mental health issues, as I am and as Aimee W is.  I’ll be completely honest with you, it’s something I’ve thought plenty of times.  I’ve mentioned before about how people have just cut me off and I’ve not been able to bring myself to be the first to message and that, in turn, has led me to think that I’m not worth it.

That I deserve this…

What Should We Do?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to stop putting the onus on other people.  If someone was suffering from cancer or from another physical health condition that left them in hospital, we wouldn’t be expecting them to contact us if they needed anything.  No, we’d be checking up on them, asking what we could do to help.

So why should it be different for mental health?

That’s right: why should it be different for mental health??

The answer is: it shouldn’t!

Really, we should be asking people with mental health difficulties how they’re doing.  We should be making that contact.  Yes, we all have other things that we’re trying to do because everyone has a life to live, everyone has priorities that need taking care of but still…it takes five minutes (if that!) to send someone a message.

1 in 4 people in the UK struggle with mental illness.  Do you know what that means?  That means there are 3 people for everyone 1 of those 4 who could be checking up on them, making sure that everything is alright.  Unless, of course, those 3 people don’t care.

Please don’t be one of those people.

As I’ve said before, reaching out takes 1-2 minutes and it could save a life.

People don’t deserve cancer or leukaemia, they don’t deserve mental illness either.

So please don’t make them feel as though they do.

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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 30 – Depression, My Only Friend

Hand in hand with depression comes loneliness.  Whether real or imaginary, we can feel as though we are completely alone.  In those moments, it can feel as though depression is our only friend.  Join me as I discuss how that can seem to me.

Useful Links:

The Onus – We’re Here For You
I Had A Black Dog, His Name Was Depression
Identifying Identity

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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 Face of Depression

An Impassive Face

One technique that I use to cope when I’m around people, particularly people I know, is that I try and keep an impassive face.  I try and make sure there is no feeling out there, no outward emotion, nothing.  It wards off any unwanted questions.  You know the sort I’m talking about.

A person behind a mask.Previously, I’ve told you about my mask and how I use things like humour to keep people from seeing what’s really inside.  It’s something I do a lot and this impassiveness is a part of it as well, though one i don’t talk about as much.  You may have noticed it, you may not.  Anyway, I’m not going to talk much about my mask because I’ve written enough about that.

This is different.

This is about the face of depression.

The Assumed Face

You might be thinking I’ve lost the plot slightly but hear me out on this one.  You see, I hear it a lot on our social media accounts that people are under the illusion that they can detect a depressed person.  Call it similar to gaydar, where people think they can detect a gay person.  Personally, I think gaydar is a load of rubbish no matter what people tell me, although I will acknowledge that some people make it a little easy to work out!  Anyway, that’s beside the point.

My point is that people think depression has a face.

I remember having a conversation with one of my managers at my old job to tell him that I was struggling.  I clearly remember him looking surprised and saying, “I wouldn’t have guessed!  If you had been put in a line-up with nine other people and I’d been told that one person of those ten was depressed, you’d have been the last person I’d have picked!”

What does that even mean?  How can someone look depressed?  I suppose people will imagine someone looking like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, that gloomy, anhedonic character with the glum, flat voice.  They believe that that is the face of depression, that everyone who suffers is a lot like that.  Is that your experience as well?  Do people expect you to be like this?

That perception couldn’t be further from the truth.

The True Face of Depression

The true face of depression is a hard one.  Why?  Because really, there isn’t one.  Some people will look like Eeyore, it is possible.  They won’t go out, they won’t smile, they won’t show much interest or pleasure in anything.  Others, however, will look very different.  Like the picture on the right.  Most of you will recognise my face there.  I’m smiling.  I seem happy.  Yet, I am depressed.  I am medicated.  A lot of the time, I really struggle.

Where is the face of depression?

What about this image?  Cheryl, dressed up as a mermaid for a Halloween party.  She’s smiling, isn’t she.  If anything, you’d say she looks happy.  Surrounded by family – her daughter and son are just off camera in this photo – she looks as though she’s having a great day.  The reality?  She has depression.  She has anxiety.  Like me, she is also medicated and she struggles.  Perhaps far more than either of us care to admit, we struggle.

Where is the face of depression?

You see, the sad truth is that there is no “face of depression”.  It’s a myth, cultivated by the media and society to make them feel better about mental illness.  Realistically, as I mentioned earlier, it is about as real as this “gaydar” that people talk about.  Yeah, some people give off vibes that practically scream “I’m gay” but there are still plenty of people out there we surprise us when we find out they’re gay.  And it’s the same as depression.

So next time someone admits to you that they’re depressed, don’t ask them what they have to be depressed about.  Don’t tell them they don’t look depressed.  Moreover, don’t assume that we’re fine just because we look happy.

After all: all it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul.  They will never notice how broken you really are.

Depression has no face.  So don’t assume.

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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.