June 10, 2013

LionWhen I last wrote a blog for Time For Change I was feeling very low and very isolated. Due to the mental health discrimination I experienced at the hands of my previous employers I had been made redundant from a job working with big cats, amongst whom there were three lions I adored.

Being around these lions gave me so much positive emotional support despite the fact they didn’t know a word of English between them and were terrible at holding a conversation! Joking aside, it may sound very saccharine, but working with these animals was the best therapy I’ve ever had.

When depression and anxiety get a grip of your mind they lock you into a world where there seems to be no hope, a world where you feel no one cares and that every effort you make is doomed to failure. Of course, friends and family do care, they care very much, but it must be difficult for them to understand an illness that most of the time we struggle to understand ourselves and find even harder to articulate into words.

If we don't talk, how will people understand?

And that’s the catch 22 of the situation. If we don’t talk about it how will those people we care most about ever understand how it feels for us on a daily basis? How can we say that no one really gets us if we don’t at least try to tell them how we’re feeling? Of course, when we do try and talk and are on the end of a negative response it can be devastating and almost certainly means we’ll not want to try again anytime soon.

I feel I’ve lost a lot of friends because of my depression, but after much angst and torment about how it must be my fault, I’ve decided to give myself a break. I can only go half way in helping to make myself understood. I can only say so many times how I’m feeling. It needs the people I’m talking to, to want to listen and to want to help. Conversely, there’s only so many times a friend or loved one can ask what’s wrong whilst we continue to wear our masks and say everything’s ok. If we don’t say what’s on our mind when we’re genuinely asked, can we really bemoan our shrinking social circle?

I finally settled on the idea there was no right or wrong in these situations and it’s was best not to dwell on lost friends, I couldn’t afford the nervous energy. Of course I will miss my friends and I will always miss my lions, but I had to find a way forward. I couldn’t continue to take part in that never ending merry go round of negative thoughts that so epitomises depression and anxiety.

My GP, who is fantastic, had told me during my darkest moments that one day I would reach ‘the bottom of the barrel’; that place where I felt myself standing on top of a cliff edge in the midst of a storm with the black sea crashing against the rocks below. He told me that eventually a moment would come where my energy and hope would slowly return. Coming to terms with the loss of friends and animals alike, appears to have been that moment.

I thought a mental health support group would be a good place to start

I decided I wanted to talk more openly about my mental health, but wanted a safe environment to do so before risking rejection from less than empathetic ears. I thought a local mental health support group would be a good place to start but alas couldn’t find one in my area.

So I’ve been in contact with the Depression Alliance and we are in early discussions about starting a new group in my area with me as the facilitator! Frankly the idea terrifies me, but I feel the exposure to a little terror will only be good in the long term. If the support group is a success then folk with depression and associated mental health issues in my area will have somewhere to go, have a chat and enjoy a cuppa and a bit of cake.

They won’t need to feel isolated waiting for the text or message from a friend that never comes asking them how they are feeling or if they fancy a coffee. Ok, so keeping the talking ‘in house’ at first may seem a little insular, but hopefully the group will give everyone who attends some additional confidence to maybe talk outside of the group when the time feels right for them.

I feel I may have already made a little difference in being more open. I recently went to my eldest daughter’s school review. She was 15 at the time and her teachers were telling me about the social issues they would be covering in the coming term. The usual suspects of drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex were mentioned. I really want my two daughters above everyone else to understand mental health, so I suggested to the teacher that she should give some time over to the subject.

My daughter spoke to me for the first time about depression

My eldest daughter has some complicated learning difficulties and as such her emotions can tend to swing from one end of the scale to the other, so I feel it’s essential she is aware of mental health issues as I feel she may be more vulnerable to them. I quoted the 1 in 4 stat to her teacher and she seemed genuinely amazed. To her credit she took on board what I said and a few weeks later my daughter spoke to me for the first time about depression after they had discussed it in class following the sad loss of a fellow pupil.

In addition, I’ve also started writing my memoirs which may sound very self important, but I find writing my inner most feelings down to be great self therapy. What I hope is that my emotional energy continues to rise and that I will come to a place where I’m ‘better’ and that I can present a fully rounded picture of depression through my book. At the moment it’s not a very positive read so I’ll give it a few more years before I unleash it on the literary world!

I’m not entirely sure what the point of this blog is, other than I feel I am on a slightly upward spiral and I feel I’ve come to that place partly through talking or wanting to talk I feel it is essential to ending the outdated, stereotypical and appalling stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health.

Oh and I’ve learnt to spell discrimination properly because I’ve typed it out so blooming often!!!

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