So I guess this is the bit where I say what's led to me being here. The truth is, I don't really know. We all have things in our present, or our past that maybe are not as perfect as we had hoped. But most people seem to continue to lead regular life's. I suppose that can make it harder for those of us that are affected by mental health issues. I currently suffer with depression and thoughts of self-harm.
There, I said it. Short and sweet. But these are the words that I either don't want to say (because I'm at work and trying to keep that 'professional' personal separation) or don't feel like I can (because I'm afraid of the reaction, or I don't feel that the other person will want, or will be able, to talk about this). There is, and can be many reasons why it is difficult to talk about our own mental health.
I think of myself as someone who would talk about any issue and not avoid a subject just because it was unpopular or taboo. However I have still felt the affect of the stigma that currently surrounds the issues around mental health. While I will happily discuss this topic (and at work I am currently delivering mental health awareness presentations) I have not felt able to talk openly about the issues and challenges that I face personally. I do not talk about this at work, and have only recently started to talk to friends about my struggles. It is maybe partly because of this inability to talk to others that I started writing my own blog (linked blow), with occasional posts about what I'm thinking, feeling or struggling with. While I hope this helps someone else out there, to read and hear someone else's story, I have also found it a great way to tell people, without actually telling them (face to face). I have had a few messages from friends that have seen what I have posted and that's helped start a conversation that we otherwise may never of had.
As I wrote this blog I reflected. I looked back on the time I returned to the UK from Australia and believe this to be the start of my first experience with depression. Having returned to the UK, I struggled to find the work that I wanted and this lead to low motivation, morale, thoughts of low self worth and a generally depressive mood. A few months later I received a couple of job offers and accepted a role which I enjoyed and found myself working with some great colleagues (who have since become friends), I accessed some online material from the Mind website (mind.org.uk) and I had progressed, I got 'better'.
However, just a couple of months later my wife left me, which started another downward spiral. I kept a lot of what I was going through to myself and only really spoke to one friend about the separation. Over time I became more able to talk about how I felt and what had happened in regards to the relationship. I now realise that at this time I started to have very negative thoughts that were starting to include self harm and suicide. However, over time, and having spoken to a few more friends, and I began to feel ok. I moved on and forward with my life. Sure I wasn't perfect, but I felt ok, I had accepted what had happened and move on.
This kind of leads to part of my problem. I believe that these issues are resolved, which means what I'm going through now is for no reason. Sure it would be easy to look back and say there is something unresolved subconsciously. Heck maybe there is, it's subconscious right?! But I don't really believe that it is. That makes this so difficult because this is for no reason. It feels like there's nothing to work on or look at. It just is.
At the start of this second depressive spell my sleep became very disrupted so I was tired and struggled to concentrate. I would often simply come home from work and go to straight to bed. My mood, my thoughts, my feelings became darker and were in stark contrast to the me I was showing to other people. To the me that I had been for most of my life. I started to have more thoughts of self harm and suicide. At some stages it was constantly on my mind, I would think of different ways I could die or hurt myself. I would consider how long my cats could live without me. How long would it be until someone forced their way into the house to find me, then the cats could get fed. It's funny the way your mind can work and what you perceive as important or logical. I've thought about drowning in the bath, but I'm thinking no way do I want to die in dirty water!
One night when my thoughts of self harm had started to turn to actions, my cat walked past and rubbed his head against my hand and that shifted my mindset, I was so lucky to have them that evening. At this point I realised I needed help. The next week I visited my GP for the first time in 16 years. She signposted me to the iTalk service and prescribed me antidepressants. I really didn't want to take the antidepressants, because I thought it would change me, that it would make me dependant and those were things I didn't want. I thought that was me giving up, saying I couldn't cope. When I look at it now I think of it as fighting a war and having artillery that you're not using because your only prepared to fight hand to hand. This isn't a movie, your probably going to lose if you don't use the weapons at your disposal.
Having visited the GP I felt good, I had acknowledged the illness to myself by going along and talking about it. So I decided to get the antidepressants, but not to take them yet. I mean I felt ok, so I didn't need them right?
This lead to so much self judgement. I tried to evaluate myself each day (probably every hour), was I doing ok? could I cope another day? what about trying to make it to the weekend? Could I do another week? Remember the tablets will likely take two weeks to have any affect, so got to keep that in mind when judging myself. It was tiring!
Christmas was a real challenge, being around happy people and families, it's a tough one when you're depressed. I have always loved Christmas; the songs, the festive spirit, everything! Not this year. I was deep into my depression and struggling every hour, let alone every day. But I got through, I talked to a few friends and had even made a close friend online that I was able to tell everything to. I think building up a relationship with someone who you initially have distance from (because we had never met) helped in someway to open up about what I was going through. When I had some real down moments and was thinking about self harm she was there to talk to and to help me back to a balanced place. While there have been challenges, there were rewards like finding and talking to those new friends. But the mind is a funny thing,
Having made it through Christmas (still not taking the antidepressants) I was thinking maybe I'll start to fight this off, I'm through the worst of it, right? At New Year, I had what I can only really describe as an episode lasting from 6pm to 5am, with waves of raging, desperation and hitting myself. I remember feeling trapped, alone and desperate for help. I was not in full control of my body or my mind. The struggles that I had kept inside started to flood out. It is still hard to describe and to work out exactly what happened. Eventually my friends called my dad and he picked me up. I say 'picked me up' like it was a regular thing. I was eventually (I don't know the timing) bundled into his car and taken to his house. The following day I had multiple seizures, where my hands became manipulated which set off another chain of emotions. All this meant I had to talk to my family about some of what was going on, and some of my friends became more aware of my struggles. From 2nd January I started to take my antidepressants, I knew I couldn't cope on my own.
Since then I have improved, my thoughts of self harm and suicide still happen, but they are less often and the thoughts are less dominant. The antidepressants have helped. For me they are only the starting process, I have just started a 6 week iTalk Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workshop that is meant to help lift low mood. Alongside that I have an assessment booked for two weeks time with a local mental health unit. I am hoping from this I will be able to find out more about my illness and what is going on. As I mentioned at the start, my job currently involves delivering mental health awareness information to others at my workplace. This has been beneficial because I have been able to look at and talk about mental health at work, however it has also been a challenge, as I feel more like I am actively hiding part of my life from those around me while trying to talk about mental health in an abstract way.
More recently looking at and engaging with different mental health campaigns (such as #ItAffectsMe and #TimeToTalk) and resources have been of great benefit to me. Additionally I still blog about my mental health which continues to help me to express how I am feeling and what is going on.
While the struggle continues, I recall the saying "it's not about the destination, but the journey”. Thanks for reading, I wish you all the best with whatever journey you are on. Stay strong, talk to someone and know you're not alone.
Massive respect and all our thanks to Mike for a brilliantly honest blog. Let us know in the comments below if you recognise any of the things Mike describes and how you managed it.