Your words and actions matter to people fighting hidden illnesses

Blogger Jonathan

As Christmas approached I was reminded that it is nearly ten years since my father died. He died at home, body finally failing from gangrene, diabetes and decades of heart attacks and strokes. I was 27 and my mother and I had been his carers for 17 years. They were not pleasant years; he was manipulative and abusive and put us through hell.

His death freed me to face another issue, crippling depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress. I spiralled quickly downwards until I ended up on benefits, unable to leave the house, unable to operate as a human being. I went into counselling and fought back, faced the clichéd responses from people with no understanding of mental health. I was nothing but a lazy malingerer to them, a parasite that had to “get his finger out”, “pull himself up by his bootstraps”, get over himself, get out of the house and get a job. I had people say “give him to me and I’ll whip him into shape in a few days”.

I went through hell, again, not because an idiot told me to, but because I refused to let my life be defined by an illness. Years of deep counselling, every week, that would leave me shaking and sick to my core. After I broke down completely it took two and a half years of that before I could leave the house, but I eventually got two hours a week volunteering with a charity.

They were brilliant, understanding and supportive. Two and a half years later, I got a part time job with them, two years after that and I’m doing the job of the brilliant lady that I started volunteering for all those years before. I’ve been signed-off as no longer needing counselling, and I truly don’t. I have my own house, I can stand up in front of rooms full of people and deliver training to them without thinking twice about it. I have things that were impossible dreams ten years ago.

So why am I not happy? Well, it’s not all been plain sailing. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year and I faced the spectre of becoming a carer again. Thankfully I had support and help this time and managed to get her into supported housing where she’s really happy, but the last year has been as brutal in its own way as all the others.

But that’s behind me, there are no threats left. No stresses and strains. I should be happy. So why am I constantly fighting the return of depression? Why do I feel worse than I have in years?

I fear that my life has taken its toll. I fear that it has hollowed me out, and the scars it has left behind are so thick that I feel nothing. I don’t know how to live a normal life. I don’t understand friendships or relationships. I feel things only when other people feel them and only feel alive when I can look at the world through their eyes, what was grey and irrelevant becomes vibrant and full of feeling, just because I’m with someone who sees it. If I’m alone I feel nothing and I fear that this makes me overbearing and hampers my ability to form relationships, because I crave that feeling of being alive more than anything else.

I have fought for decades. I have survived. And now, when I have achieved impossible things, I falter, because without the fight I have nothing left and nothing to live for. I did not expect to survive it and do not know what to do now that I have.

All I can say for sure is that other people matter. As much as I would have rejected that years ago I have to embrace it now. People saved my life, people have given me the foundation to fight back and people now give my life meaning. Their actions have an effect on how I feel, they can lift me up with common, everyday feelings that I can’t experience and light up my entire day, or they can sink me with a thoughtless word or careless action. While I struggle to find life and meaning, I find it in others and, very slowly, inch towards finding it in myself.

It’s a very vulnerable situation, but it is the situation I, and I’m guessing a lot of other people, are in. So please, be kind. Your words and actions can make or break someone fighting a battle that you likely can’t understand and, if you have a friend that’s annoyingly keen to spend time with you, please be patient. They may just be trying to live again.

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Comments

help

i suffer from social anxiety and am requesting for help as i feel of no use

Absolutely Timely!

Jonathan, I am so, so grateful for this. It could not have come at a better time as tomorrow I have a meeting with my employer about returning to work. What you have written chimes with my own experience; I need the support of others to see me through an horrendous period in my life. Mental health awareness is so important; it can make or break one's recovery. I have sent your blog to my employers as your words put it better than mine ever could and I consider myself articulate. I wish you well in your own battle

Thank you!

Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this. I have been deciding yes or no to 'telling my story' to some friends or colleagues. I finally decided yes, but was still unsure. What you have written has helped me to see that I should trust the people I thought about. Even if there is not anything they can do, their moral support could be invaluable. I will try to find the courage to hold out my hands. You should be so very proud of yourself Jon. It is the connections we have with other people that bring colour to all our lives!

Mental health awareness

I am a psychotherapist by trade and have suffered with depression most of my life. Many times the depression can be biologically associated-i.e., hormone imbalances, allergies to foods or environment, Vit deficits..check that ongoing to get good readings. Often parents suffered similar imbalances and had uneven organizational skills. Whatever the issue. Seek help- build yourself up. People expect you to perform during work and find a job that fits you. Ask about what will be your duties and if it is a demanding position. In terms of other people being kind to you, don't expect it- they may be incapable of supporting your needs( their issue). Writing blogs/articles can sensitize people and/or possibly help them understand that people have struggles. Educating people throughout life is a good thing. Trying to get people to be more humane is not an easy task in our fast paced, computerized and competitive society. People are more self absorbed to keep up with their own life; and, we need to teach people that it is a benefit to be good toward others. I notice that people are afraid to be an outsider and work toward being part of a group- if you're not part of the group, you feel like a misfit. Thing is, there is work etiquette and there is social etiquette to be learned. Sometimes, work groups form to make each individual feel stronger- it's out of insecurities. Find out what your needs are and experiment. I found myself being on the outside, do to cultural differences or language barriers. I wanted to feel connected to my co workers and they preferred their own. I was giving and open- it didn't work. Now I don't try, I became a great worker and found other ways to enjoy myself. It was hard at first, I struggled and I let it get to me. Lol- now their friendly- they noticed I wasn't asking about lunch or getting together. I smile and I'm cordial to them. It took a long time for me to be okay with it. Now some have become more interested in me- I don't know if it's a game or not. I learned my lesson and realize that I probably would not have sought them out- if it was a social encounter and not work. Life lessons make us who we are and the more you develop yourself, the more interesting you will be to others. The more giving you are, the more likeable you will be. Don't be a door mat- you have a right to be here and everyone can make this world a better place with our unique differences. Have a great journey!!!

well wishes

Hi Jon, I was very moved by your post. Just want to wish you well and say it has reminded me I have a strong belief that we can grow and heal from so much in life, and to remember what gets me through. I am involved in a situation caring for others and having to put much else on hold too, sometimes feels ilke too many challenges for one person, and feel somewhat scarred by it all. What helps me often is to work on creating an ongoing 'survival kit' on my laptop, which empowers me so much and cheers me up, and I feel will be something to share with others one day at some point.My lists include things that are known to address depression, adhd, anxiety etc, and include mental, physical and spiritual approaches. Then I feel very abundant when I see on a page how much can be done in so many different ways. Regarding depression, I would include meditation, prayer, (Although I do not subsribe to one religion, I do feel my spirituality has kept me going, when I practice connecting with it. This has been amazing and humbling)gratitude journal, bach flower remedies, aerobic exercise, a recent discovery is cold water swimming, talking to people, friends or helplines, enough protein, omega 3 oils, creativity either writing or whatever else, the arts. Remembering that everyone we meet is fighting a battle. Some more than others though, granted! Watching stand up comedy online, and films about overcoming stuff..Recently singing in a community choir, where people are very friendly. I do feel that my adhd helps protect me from depression spiraling, as it keeps me finding out all kinds of interesting and hopeful things for myself and others. reading about how others survived it. if adrenal exhaustion has occurred, then salt loading and pantonthenic acid supplements. Appears neuroplasticity correlates with relief of depression and we can achieve that by simply learning new things anyway and walking barefoot! TED talks I find hopeful and mood lifting too. Just watched one about a woman who, when hit by sudden depression, started a trend sending love letters to strangers - which inspired me to finish this note to you I started earlier and may have not got around to finishing otherwise! Hope some of that has sparked some extra hope for you! And gives you something more to share. Best wishes and Namaste

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