July 25, 2012

Photo of Johnnie, a Time to Change blogger"What is normal?" This is a question I've mulled over at many times in my job and personal life.

I always considered myself to be pretty 'normal'; good, solid upbringing, parents married (and still are), close family ties, good education and a trusted circle of friends. Only recently things have unravelled beyond anything I could have imagined...

That is not the opening line to some fantastical story. It's real and has tested everything I am. Without explaining my entire life history, I've been in a long term relationship since my final years at university and was happy enough as far as my judgement of a relationship goes.

I started to have feelings of general uncertainty about 2 years ago. I shrugged them off as work stress as I was teaching at the time and finding it a massive challenge to my organisational skills, time, patience and mental abilities. It was also something of a distraction from the real issues I've been fighting with for a long time. At this point, I'll add that I won't discuss my partner, as she has been, in my eyes, faultless.

You're not depressed, you're a lazy student and you are not a good partner

Flashback to when I was at university and struggling with juggling the demands of a degree, social life and a serious relationship. Through lethargy and apathy, I considered the idea that I might have depression, so consulted my GP. His words (and I paraphrase only slightly) were: "You're not depressed, you're a lazy student and you are not a good partner, you need to get real and start acting like a grown up."

Not one to question the advice of a professional, I took this in and got on with life. Finished my degree, got a job, of sorts. Got married, moved again, got a more 'grown up' job. I can't see a point where it all began to unravel but it l did. I didn't deal with things, rather hid any feelings of self-doubt, lack of self-confidence, uncertainty or unhappiness away to try and maintain the life I'd built up.

it takes a damn good actor to hide them in the long term

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it wasn't a perfectly good life to lead and I was loved. However, when you have so many issues bubbling away under the surface, it takes a damn good actor to hide them in the long term. I've made decisions that have led to my own undoing, overlooked the things I truly wanted and most importantly of all, not spoken up about things when they got bad.

The breakdown of my relationship was the hardest thing I've ever had to face, especially dealing with the fact it was my decision to end things and what effect it had on the other person. Saying that, it's the first time I've spoken about all my insecurities and 'flaws' (as far as I saw them) and my partner was amazing in listening to this and helping me through, even though I was orchestrating the end of things between us.

I've spoken to many people about all of my issues with depression

Getting back to the present, I've spoken to many people about all of my issues with depression and feelings of low self worth. I've sought help from organisations and GPs and I feel positive. Going it alone after 10 years is hard. I knew it would be but the one thing I've learned is not to hide behind this 'black dog'.

It was for fear of not being understood by others, even friends and family, that I hid it all away, but all it did was break me down. It's hard to talk about mental health issues when it's such a sensitive issue but when I did I was surprised and shocked in some cases at people telling me their experiences, even family. It really makes you feel less secluded and alone to know that other people have these kinds of issues.

The first step is talking to someone about it

The first step is talking to someone about it: a friend, relative, counsellor, GP, even social networking helps at times. As hard as it is, there is support out there. Yes, it's scary and you might think no one will understand or care but they do. All the worries about others’ perception of my issues were unfounded. My friends have accepted it with open arms, colleagues too. My family have been amazing and I realised that we don’t talk enough. Things get better.

If you're wondering...I don't think there is such a thing as normal. We're all very different, unique, constantly-changing individuals and we all have different strategies and ways of coping but, in the end, we're only human.

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