I mentioned briefly in my last post, “A new year plea on behalf of those already in the teaching profession” that I was a mental health sufferer. Very few people know this. I’m one of those that have (and to some extent still am) embarrassed to admit I suffer from mental health problems. Why this is so is a massive barrier in solving what I believe is a growing problem of mental illness. I want 2018 to be the year I’m more open with my particular problems. In this way maybe I will make it slightly easier for someone else to admit that have problems and I also hope it may make it easier to deal with the troughs I often find myself in.
Whilst I’ve alluded in the past to the fact I am cursed by the barking of the black dog (using Winston Churchill’s euphemism for his bouts of depression) (see Martin Ling leaves – this is important) I’ve never really gone into any detail of what I suffer and I certainly am not open about my particular issues. This is going to be a difficult post to write. I’ve done something like this before but within a day or so of posting it, I removed it.
Whilst I went to the doctors and properly opened up about 4 years ago, I know I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression for a lot longer. I remember in 1999 – just before the new year – going to the doctors and describing how low I was feeling. Unfortunately, the doctor just told me to go away, try and think positively and avoid drinking alcohol over the new year period. The feelings I felt then were similar to those I’ve felt on regular occasions since then. Because of the reaction I got the first time I went to the doctors about this (in 1999) it stopped me going until I went and saw a different doctor at a different practice 4 years ago.
I don’t want to blow this all out of proportion – I’ve luckily not reached the point where I’ve seriously considered taking my life – though I have to admit to wondering, at my lowest points, whether the world and my family would be better off if I weren’t there. I’ve not reached the point where I’ve had to take time serious time of work or been hospitalised.
When it hits, it really hits. I just want to curl up into a ball and hide away from everyone. I feel utterly worthless and useless. I become uncommunicative and the anxiety I feel is awful – my stomach just cramps up and the fight or flight mode really does kick in. And then you have the internal voice. Brian Moore the rugby player, what is also a sufferer calls his Gollum. I don’t have a name for mine but its incessant voicing that I’m utterly worthless and its habit of blowing every minor thing into something major really is awful. It is particularly difficult to deal with in the middle of the night when it really does kick in and keeps me awake. I often have to put a podcast or an audio book on through my headphones to try to silence it so I can calm myself and try and get some sleep. When I’m like this I can’t really focus and reading – one of my passions – is totally out.
I struggle to focus on anything – particularly my work. When it hits I dread going to work – I’m sure that 90-95% of my issues are triggered by work pressures – some that are placed upon me by work but probably more because of the pressures I place on myself and the fact I have an inbuilt reluctance to “fess up” to how I’m feeling. Whilst I dread going to work, I force myself to go. I am typically “British” and try and keep up the “stiff upper lip” and bottle it up. I don’t want my mood or my feelings to impact on others – of course they do because my partner isn’t stupid and can tell when I’m at that low point.
As I said 4 years ago I built up the courage to go to the doctors for help again. This time I found someone who had a little more understanding of depression. I talked through my feelings with him and, yes, he did prescribe something. I’m on a mild anti-depressant. I know people have strong feelings about popping pills – so do I! However, certainly at first, these worked. They allowed me to get a good nights sleep for one and the power of good sleep cannot be emphasised enough. I got off them after about 6 months an was fine for a couple of years or so. The feelings I have are not stopped by the tablets. I still get troughs but the troughs aren’t as deep and are more manageable. About six months ago, the feelings started getting to the levels they had been four years ago. This time I recognised the symptoms and knew that my doctor would understand. I still find myself on my ‘tablet’. I’m currently going through a trough at the moment and whilst it isn’t as deep as it was when I wasn’t on the tablet, it’s as deep as I’ve known it when I have been on it. If things go as normal, the trough should lift in a few days (I hope) though I’m starting to think that maybe what I’m on isn’t working as well as it has before. I’ll give it more time. I have to visit my doctor every month or so to review how I’m feeling and my medication, so if this continues, I will talk to him about this.
As I said in my previous post, my reason for writing this isn’t self-aggrandising or seeking sympathy – believe me sympathy is the last thing I want. My reason is that I don’t want to be part of the problem of improving the treatment of mental health. The biggest barrier is ignorance and embarrassment. Unlike if you have a broken bone or something like that, you can’t physically see mental illness. People are frightened about it. Because of this, sufferers are embarrassed to admit they have a problem – often this stops them getting treatment (which it did me for a while). For some, unfortunately, the consequences can be dreadful.
I’ve opened up in this piece about how I feel but ultimately I’ve opened up that I’m a sufferer of something that you cannot see but which has an awful impact on the quality of life of the sufferer but also, just as importantly, the family and friends of the sufferer. This time I will try and avoid the temptation of deleting the post after I’ve posted it. It helps to talk and I want 2018 to be the year when I try and get over the embarrassment barrier of admitting I’m a mental health sufferer. After all it isn’t something I choose to be (believe me there is no way anyone who suffers would ‘choose’ it). Talking may help – time will tell. If you read this and you want to contact me – whether you are a sufferer or not, please do so.