About 18 months ago I wrote about my personal mental health battle. As you will read later, I was surprised to find it still on my blog, undeleted! I find it hard to talk about my personal issues with mental health and anxiety and I’ve started this particular post about 5 or 6 times and then abandoned it, only to come back again. By writing about it I am not looking for sympathy and I especially don’t want people who may know me personally and who read this to treat me any differently. No, I am writing to try and help myself manage the particular issues I have – help me identify the triggers, the feelings and the effects. If someone reading this gets something out of it themselves that’s great and I’m open to people asking questions, but please no sympathy – I’d hate that and it would probably stop me writing about it in the future.
The reason I’m writing again is that I’m (hopefully) coming out the other end of another ‘episode’. Let me get on the record now that I am not at the point of some who suffer from severe depression. I am trying to work through this (and previous, shorter, episodes) without resorting to medication. I’ve been medicated in the past. The medication did help, at least initially. My feeling is that, in my case (and I want to stress that depression and anxiety affects people differently – there is no one way of suffering just like there is no one cure all) the medication masked the symptoms for a while but didn’t really solve the underlying issues because they just came back, even on medication.
Previous episodes usually only last for a day or a few days and I can sort of get myself back together again and be positive again. The trigger for trying to write this post is this current episode which has been longer and deeper than normal and that I’ve just read Graeme Fowler’s autobiography, Absolutely Foxed. He was a top class opening batsman for Lancashire and England and a cricket coach who suffers from depression. His issues started long after he finished his playing career and he uses a scale from 0 to 20 to measure his state of mind each day, 10 being normal. He says at his worst he has reached a 5 and at his best a 15, allowing for the chance that on one day in the future you can feel better or worse than you’ve ever done before. I like this idea and I think it helps me to pinpoint where I am – it appeals to the logical mathematician inside me. In most depressive episodes I’ve had since coming off the medication I’d say I’d not really gone below 8, maybe when it coincided with a dark and miserable day it may have got close to a 7. This particular episode started about 4 or 5 weeks ago and at its worst I’d say I dipped to a 6 – definitely the worst I’ve felt since being off any form of medication. I’ve sort of oscillated between 6, 7 and 8 for this period. As I write this I’d say I was a 9 but yesterday and Friday I was probably a 10. I’m on the right path I hope.
The triggers? In the past I’ve not been able to identify the triggers all the time but often the episodes have been linked to particular events in my life and periods of inactivity and boredom. I think this one is linked to an amalgam of events and made worse by the fact that because of surgery I’ve not been able to get out of the house on my own for weeks and my mind is lazy just like my body… fertile ground for that annoying internal voice (I call mine Boris – no connection to Mr Johnson!) to stoke things up.
I find it difficult to explain how I feel when I am at the worst point of an episode. The best way would be a total lack of interest in anything positive, the lowest of low self-esteem and self-worth, an awful tightening sickly feeling in my stomach and my mind…. oh how my mind is on full speed, but not with anything sensible or positive but just totally over thinking and over analysing. Building up the smallest things that normally, when on a 10 or higher, I’d just dismiss or deal with but now allowing them to build up to a crisis and fretting and worrying about them. This negative over-active mind allows no room for doing something like reading a book or watching something decent on TV because I have no concentration on anything other than the negativity. It feels like I have a negative feedback loop playing and building in my head. This exhausts me and I go to sleep but wake in the middle of the night and the feedback look is there to greet me and keep me awake. I often resort of putting a podcast on in the background to try and dampen that internal voice that is yelling all the negativity. Sometimes this works and I can get some, broken, sleep. I don’t particularly want to be in anyone’s company – I sense my negativity is affecting other people and this just exacerbates things and makes me feel worse. I’d rather shut myself away and curl up until my feeling lifts. I’ve never ever contemplated killing myself but at times like this (and during this particular episode) I have wondered whether me not being here any more would actually be better. I stress again I have never contemplated suicide and I can’t see my doing that in the future. At these moments I’m exhausted trying to be stronger than I feel.
I drink too much coffee and too much red wine. I don’t eat enough fruit and snack too much on crisps and biscuits. I don’t exercise enough (I’ve not been able to for the last 10 weeks because of the surgery). I’m sure all of these have a big effect on how I feel. All of these I’m trying to address to see if together they will help long term.
One thing I am trying to do is be more open about how I feel. I’ve bottled things up for far too long. Only a very small number of people know I have some mental health issues (I’m talking about the fingers on one hand really) and long term, trying to keep it hidden and hiding away isn’t healthy. I’m taking another leaf out of Graeme Fowler’s book and I’m going to try and be more open. This is why I’m writing about it on my blog. I’ve done this in the past and deleted the post a day or two later – the stigma around it is still great but doing that doesn’t help the stigma go away does it? (Thats why I’m surprised the post from 18 months ago is still there – there have been others which haven’t survived!)
If anyone reads this post (I’m not widely read!) and particularly anyone who suffers as well, please feel free to get in touch – though here or via twitter. I’m going to end with an excellent cartoon from my favourite cartoonist, Graeme Bandeira from the Yorkshire Post…