Who I Am

Who Am I ?

At one time or another, everyone faces this question. Sometimes we follow it up with who do I want to be or where do I see my self in 5 years, but the starting point is always, who am I? It’s sometimes that big philosophical moment, that moment of addressing the human condition or even a self-inspection of our own souls. Yet it is the bedrock of who we are. That core of what makes who up who I am. So who am I?

Now I could list the things I am.  A mum, a daughter, a partner, a call centre worker. I am depressed. Is that me?

No.

Who I am is so much more, even if I don’t see it myself a lot of the time.

Getting To The Crux

So what’s got me thinking about all this? Well, to do that I’ve got to tell you a little story. Someone in my life who I love very much has hurt me, repeatedly in the last few months, someone who I would never have thought would. Called me unforgivable things. Rejected me and Alex when we’ve tried to reach out to them. Ignored us for weeks on end. This person has promised over and over that they’ll change, that they’re sorry and that they won’t do it again, to then repeat the whole process, again and again. It’s been agonising for both of us.  Believe me, there is a lot of anger both in me and Alex about this.

Then this morning, a call came. This person needed help. Nothing huge, but they needed a lift and they called me. So what did I do?

Now you could ( quite rightly) argue that I told this person to swing their hook. They’ve hurt me and those who I love, over and over. Why should I help them?

Because at the crux of me, that is who I am. Who I am is the person that if someone calls and says they need help, I help. No matter how much they’ve hurt me. I am the person who will answer that call, go out in the dark to take a friend food when they haven’t eaten, lend money when I don’t really have it to give. Buy someone a gift they can’t afford for themselves because I know it will help lift them out of the darkness.

It’s who I am.

I know, it’s annoying as anything. Because more often than not I will end up getting hurt again. But does that mean I won’t help? No. Does it mean I have forgotten or forgiven those actions? Definitely a NO. Believe me, you have no idea of the anger I felt this morning when this call came. It would have been very easy to leave them stranded.

But as I say, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It certainly doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven their actions. (they may have had quite an earful about it on the car ride) It’s just, this is me. It’s conflicting and annoying and it can contribute to my mental health issues in a terrible way sometimes. The impact of having people you care about you use and abuse you can be huge. I am learning to build up walls to that, but it’s slow.  And it goes for everyone in my life.

Now I know that I’ve mentioned the movie ‘Moana’ before, but one of the lines from my favourite songs in the movie looks at the issue of who you are.

“Who am I? I am the girl who loves my island, and the girl who loves the sea. It calls me…………..I am everything I’ve learned and more”

For the character loving her island and the sea is conflicting and even against the wishes of her parents. They are angry and fearful that she will be hurt because of her fathers own experiences. I get that. I see why Alex is so angry with the people who hurt me, it reminds him too much of his own hurts. But does it mean I should change one of the core things of who I am? One of the things that he loves about me?

I truly hope not.

Like I said, I have not forgiven or forgotten. I am learning. But this part of me, no I won’t change it. It’s who I am.

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.

Trying to Change

Is Change Possible?

Something that I frequently find myself thinking is what will it take for my mental health to truly recover? I get tired of trying to change and it seems to be an incredibly long journey.  Little things can knock me backwards. Yet everyone says that compared with how I was, I am vastly improved. I don’t feel it though.  But I keep trying, over and over. I do the exercises and activities I’ve learned from counselling over and over, along with taking my medication. A broken leg would be healed by now, but my broken mind? Apparently not. Only recently, it took everything in my power not to end up back self-harming. The crawling shadow of depression has been haunting me for days and I’m exhausted from fighting it. So why do I do it? Why do I keep trying to change what seems to be inevitable?

Stubbornness: My Greatest Character Flaw

One thing many people say about me, is that I’m stubborn. It can be one of my less desirable traits.  Like my dad before me, I dig my heels in and won’t back down. One of his favourite songs when I was a teenager was by a band called Chumbawumba, it inspired him to keep going with his small business even in the face of increasing odds of failure. It kept him going. Last year when he was in a coma after collapsing I played this song to him over and over, trying to get him to come back to us. Sadly, the truth was he’d already gone.

After his death last year, I truly thought I would not recover. My mental health was already devastated. Losing my dad on top plunged me even further into the darkness. But I kept hearing that song. The same line, over and over.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down.

Every time I think about giving up trying to change my mental health state, I hear this song. Like a whisper from heaven, I hear it and see my dad, telling me not to give up.

Keep Trying to Change, because it’s Time for Change

The reason I keep trying to change is that I want to show that even when you may not ever be cured of a mental health problem, you can change enough of your behaviours to manage it. You can be the person to break down the stigma surrounding mental health by talking about it. By sharing my experience I have come into contact with countless others, and we’ve learnt from each other, supported each other. These are changes I want to continue making. By sharing my story at work, it’s helped others step up and voice their concerns over mental health and how it’s treated in the workplace. To make the change, we have to be the change.

So yes, it’s difficult. There are times I feel it would be easier just to sink back into the darkness. But I don’t. You don’t have to. It’s okay to have a mental health problem, no matter what it is. There will be bad days, there will be good days and that’s okay too. By being honest about it, hopefully we can bring someone else out of the darkness where they thought they were all alone.

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.

Getting Out of The Comfort Zone

A Safe Place

This week I attended my first in a series of coaching sessions aimed at helping me cope with the challenges that I face when I am at work. My first of several 3-hour sessions. All aimed at giving me some tools to help me manage my anxiety and depression in the office. There have been times when I have been struggling. Yet despite my manager’s initial scepticism, she agreed that some in-work coaching would be beneficial. Now, not every employer would do this. Luckily the company I work for has strong links with a mental health charity. This in turn means that sometimes they are willing to go the extra mile and get things for their staff to help them cope.  For me, it meant getting out of the comfort zone of what I am used to.

One thing I have never really realised is how important a safe place is to me. Getting out of the comfort zone of home is one thing, but I hadn’t realised how much I needed to feel safe. Even at work.

Getting Out of The Comfort Zone and Progress

Sometimes it can be challenging to see the progress we are making. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we see as our failures and short comings.  But very time we stretch ourselves, doing things that make us uncomfortable, we are making progress. So for me, this was doing this coaching session. I was having to be very open and vulnerable about how my mental health impacts me in the office with a complete stranger. I’ll be honest, I found it really hard. When the course was first recommended by the DSE representative, I really couldn’t see me doing it. For want of a better word, it seemed another bit of fluffy nonsense that really was just there so employer’s can be seen to be ‘helping’. But it wasn’t.

What it highlighted to me was one of the places I feel least safe is at work. I often feel exposed. The feeling of everyone judging and looking at you as you crash into a panic attack is terrifying. The logical thinking would be that no-one is ACTUALLY looking at you, but it’s still palpable.  Some of that comes because there is that fear in my head of ‘what will people think?’. It’s been hard enough when colleagues have glimpsed my self-harm scars and asked about them.

But here’s my challenge to all of you. When you’re next asked about your self harm scars, or about your mental health, try getting out of the comfort zone and be honest.  It is a challenge, but it also helps you progress.

The Challenge

Now it doesn’t have to be anything huge (my son recommended base jumping off a bridge to really push those boundaries!). But do those little things. If you struggle getting out of the house, try each time you go to be out that little bit longer. Without even thinking about it, I’ve been subconsciously doing this with Alex for a while. He struggles to be out of the house for long. Yet we’ve managed excursions that have been for 3 or 4 hours, when previously he could only have coped with 1 or 2. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s progress.

Only yesterday I found myself in the middle of a hugely busy Ikea store. I could feel my anxiety ramping up, I was cursing myself for not thinking about how Saturdays are awful in there. So many people, so much noise! But I coped. A few months ago I wouldn’t have. The reason I coped was I have been bit by bit pushing myself. Getting out of the comfort zone of home and into environments that, while I still feel reasonably safe are still busy and potential triggers. Practising the breathing techniques I have learnt from counselling in a moderately busy supermarket. Having my fidget cube on me when I went for an interview. Having people with me who help those feelings of safety. Just little exercises to try to push me that bit more.

And if I couldn’t cope? That was okay too. I tried. For every time we achieve a little win against whatever mental health condition we have, it will only because we have tried dozens of times before. Sometimes we will have failed outright. Others, we will have been able to cope for so long, then fell apart over something small. It happens. And it’s okay! Each time we try getting out of the comfort zone we are a step closer to , if not recovery, at least managing the condition. The important thing is to try. 

 

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.

 

 

This Is Me

Why This Is Me?

For anyone who is a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that music is incredibly important for both myself and Alex. It can help us describe how we feel, lift us when we’re down and be a balm when our mental health is at its worst. A few weeks ago I came across ‘This Is Me’ from the Greatest Showman soundtrack and this wonderfully anthemic piece really did something marvellous. It gave me a massive push, to try, to get out of my comfort zone and do things that terrified me. It reminded me that I’m stubborn and I’m not giving in to depression and anxiety.

Now, okay. To some, going for a couple of job interviews isn’t that big a deal. But to me it is. Going on holiday with Alex and my children for the first time was terrifying. Tonight I’m going to an outdoor performance of Macbeth and it’s been a struggle to find the motivation to make the picnic that I promised I would take. I want to go but the thought of going anywhere today is terribly daunting. This is the impact that having depression can have on me and for some people, well let’s be honest, they neither understand or like it.  Like many others who suffer with depression and anxiety, I’ve heard them all. The ‘just get over it’, the ‘snap out of it’, the ‘what is wrong with you?‘, the list of comments that can get slung at you is endless.

Because They Just Don’t Get It

A lot of people just don’t understand mental health issues. They don’t want to, can be just ignorant or sometimes just downright idiots. Unfortunately the idiots are the worst. Like the ones who think social media is the place to start ranting about how things like depression are because people are weak minded, or lazy. These same people are often the ones who call self harm attention seeking. This kind of thinking is what builds into the stigma that already surrounds mental health.

So what has this got to do with a song you ask? Well, as I was listening to the words I saw how this song could be an anthem for those suffering with mental illness against all those who disparage and belittle. Here’s a snippet of some of those lyrics that got into my head.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
The Shame Game
That’s the thing. At different times I’ve been told that no-one would love me as I am. I’ve been told I am broken and unworthy because of my mental health . I’ve hidden the scars on my arms, stomach and legs from the world and made to feel ashamed.
But I’m not. One thing Alex and I, and countless others like Hope Virgo, Rebecca Lombardo, Rethink Depression and more are all doing is taking a stand. We are not ashamed to share our mental health journey, we won’t be embarrassed into hiding our symptoms because it makes others uncomfortable. Whether any of these warriors realise it or not, by sharing their journey, like me they are shouting to the world THIS IS ME! Yes, I have a mental illness but it does not define me. I’m not ashamed of my illness and the damage I’ve done to my body when I was at my worst. I was severely ill, but I survived.
So, This Is Me!
Yes! This is me. I’m a mum to 2 children, I work in a call centre, I’m in a happy relationship. One of the things I love is watching The Big Bang Theory, I love cooking and having friends over for dinner.  Oh and yeah, I have depression and anxiety. I take medication for these conditions and there are days that are worse than others. No-one can call me weak minded or lazy, so I am as worthy as anyone else. The same goes for anyone who is suffering. You are not lazy, weak or a failure. You are worthy. Like it says in the song  ‘we are warriors’.
If someone is telling you any of those awful things, put ‘This Is Me’ on and drown them out. (Yes, I know the song is sung by the bearded lady, but what better song to demonstrate inclusion in a world where many are seen as outcasts?) Whether they like it or not, there’s a flood happening right now. People are taking notice and starting to talk about mental health issues, changes are happening. The more people who are standing up and sharing their stories, the more we can normalise the conversation about mental illness.
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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.