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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Mental Health Group

Good for you Dave! Go for it! I started a mental health group in our area when I found we had none and enlisted the support of the local mental health link service for advice and also as a support that I could call on if I felt under-confident or someone came in feeling more poorly than I could cope with. As it happened I never had to call them but knowing they were the 'professional back-up' for our little 'self help group' was comforting. I nearly gave up a few times thinking it must only be me who needed it......but one by one people dropped in and now after three years we have a very strong 'core group' of 12 of us who support each other, supporting and mentoring the new people that join us. We have about another additional 30 people who 'drop in and out' and some weeks saw over 60 people because we opened up to be come a whole support network with benefits advice etc. We are currently 'centre-less' and are looking for our new place, but the core group still meet up regularly and we are all, bar two, on a 'closed support page' on facebook....never a day goes past when I don't speak to at least two of the group on there...which is great because I don't do phones and at the moment, don't do 'face to face 'people much either! My advice is to start small and establish yourselves before you grow. As we have become a stronger group, we have become more strongly discriminated against, but I will write my own blog about that another time because for now, I just wanted to say.....I have come where you came from and now have a new found peace with people I can totally trust-a first for me! I will be writing soon to talk more about how I set it up and will be interested in hearing about your journey along the way.......because all groups will be different, with different issues in different areas putting extra pressure on people mental health. Would love to hear of other peoples experiences in setting up their own groups too....Good luck!

Depression group

Hi Dave, great blog , can relate to everything you have said. I have found that the people who are in a position to help us are the very ones who discriminate, label and marginalise us. It is so disappointing when you are desperate for some support or someone to listen but it falls on a closed mind and deaf ears. I too would like to start a support group in my area but it seems too overwhelming to do it by myself. Good luck with your new venture. Jacqui.

Dave s blog posts

So good read your experiences, I have been in a similar situation we can lose so many so called friends when we are suffering this illness. I to have become very insular wearing on a daily basis my painted smile because so many people are frighten by mental illness but wearing this mask is so harmful to the person wearing it because we are not talking about how we are feeling and so worried that we are going to completely crack up. I have been down that road so many times and currently feel that I am now back on the cliff edge yet again .........who do you turn to when you feel so alone

mental health

I suffer from Bio Polar I had nervous break down back in 1988 I stay in mental hospital for three weeks which was the worst time in my life I thought I would just go back to how I was before my nervous break down but it was not meant to be I am still take my lithium tablets I was take 800gms of tablets but I am taken now 600gms I was hope to stop taken my med I have try but have fallen ill I find the Doc dont like it if you ask to stop take your med after fourteen years it is long time to be take med and you do fill as if you will never be normal again, I have join mental health class to make friends I found that when I lived in Essex there was more clubs for people with mental health I have moved to Cornwall nine years ago now I still go to mental health clubs but find there now so many as in Essex and it is hard to find friend who would listen to your worry and just be friend to you.

Hi Dave,

Hi Dave, I have a couple of close friends who suffer from depression and although I am sad for them that they have to deal with it, I felt incredibly privileged that they felt able to tell me about it. Since then we have talked about it lots together, to help each other understand what is happening and exchanged links to videos/articles etc which talk about the condition: I'm always shocked at how many people lose friends because they are ill - from what I understand, depression is an illness just like any other - would the same people who desert their friends when they discover they have depression desert friends suffering from cancer or a broken limb? (Not that I'm comparing cancer to broken limbs, but I'm sure readers will know what I mean.) Knowing what my friends are going through and how difficult it is for them to tell other people about it, I think you are very brave and strong to set up this blog and open yourself up to the world. It saddens me that this should seem such a brave endeavor - that there is such stigma attached to depression that people speaking out about it is a brave act, and the more people talk about it and are honest and open about it, as you have been, then the more likely the stigma will erode and people with depression won't feel so pushed out from society. I have to admit, that had my friends not told me about it, I would have begun to think I had done something to offend them, that they were not accepting invitations because they were upset with me for something I couldn't fathom. Now that I know, I know not to be upset when they don't want a coffee or cancel a visit at the last minute, and I know that they know they can ask me for support whenever they need it. As a person who is lucky enough not to suffer from it, it was scary to find out my friends had it at first, as I didn't really know very much about it or what it meant for them - but being a friend and having a friend (both of them have been massive support to me in my life) was worth doing a little bit of research about the condition and talking to them about how they felt so I could start to understand it. People; If your friend tells you they suffer from depression, talk about it with them, read about it, find out everything you can so you can support them. And don't treat them any differently - it is not weak-mindedness, it is not something they can switch on and off and it is NOT something they choose to have! It doesn't change who they are, so it shouldn't change how you are to them! I hope you will continue your great work so that more people can come out to their friends and families about it and know that support is there. I think I've blathered on a bit, so apologies if it's long-winded, or if any of it doesn't make sense, but it all came from the heart! Best wishes to all, Katie

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