Give the day a chance to start…

It’s been a fairly standard day. I got some writing finished, sorted a little admin & did a food shop. No exciting hijinks. Nothing horrible either. Why then do I find myself feeling so overwhelmingly sad?

An hour ago I was just getting on with the daily grind. I wasn’t jumping for joy, but I was fine. From one moment to the next my equilibrium vanished. For no discernible reason I am flooded with melancholy. It is one of most baffling aspects of my mental illness. It extends beyond feeling miserable. My inability to comprehend what is happening leaves me powerless to combat it.

Control is a big thing for me. I think, because there have been major parts of my like that I have lacked significant sway. That leaves me very uncomfortable with the uncertain components of my mental health. It is very frightening to know that my mood may descend at any moment. It’s even more alarming when I don’t know why. I can’t tackle a problem when I cannot identify the cause.

Moon in cloudy sky

That leaves me just trying to ride out the low. With no clue as how long the trip may last, it is hard not to lose hope. It’s hard to compute how much of a hold these periods take on me. This isn’t deepest, darkest despair. It’s what I think of as everyday depression. More grey than black. A persistent ache rather than unbearable pain. Yet its unpredictability looms large.

So, how do I combat the urge to believe there isn’t any point fighting a battle when I know I’ll lose the war? This is good a starting point. I write about my crazy head in an effort to exert dominion over it. I try to talk about it or at least just label it out loud. Not having to pretend that everything is a ok can help. I remind myself that I can and have exited these dips. There is colour in my life waiting to reappear. Of course I take my meds and then I just hold tight.

Long term mental illness is a slog. It leaves you no option other than to dig in & get dirty. My heart goes out to anyone else who is stuck in the trenches.

Autumn leaves in street lamp

Talk is cheap…

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is, in theory, a good thing. Since all it seems to involve is people on social media saying ‘talk about it’ it is not actually all that helpful.

We absolutely should talk about mental illness more. We should educate our kids about symptoms & how normal it is to experience them. We should put better training in place for teachers, emergency services & NHS staff. We should all try harder not to judge or shirk away from people who are struggling. Employers should be flexible with staff dealing with mental illness. There should be more information, more understanding, more honesty. Yes, we should talk about it. Asking for help it definitely a good idea. All of these things are important & valid, but there’s still something missing from the conversation.

What happens when you do speak openly & no one listens (or seems to care). Can we talk about all the people who gathered all their courage &!swallowed their pride to ask for help and didn’t get any? Can we address the fact that as hard as is it to say ‘I’m not ok’, it’s a million times harder to hear ‘tough luck’ in response.

We do need to talk about mental illness, but we also need to listen and act. Funding is of course part of the problem. The NHS is chronically underfunded & mental health is the poor cousin. For all the political talk of parity between physical & mental illness, there has been little change to waiting times or scarcity of vital mental health services. Very often waiting to even be assessed by a mental health team is a long process. In my area the wait for psychologist input is 4months (that’s relatively short), in practise you’ll be waiting longer because you will first have to be referred & assessed before anyone even adds you to that list. During all this waiting time people can have no professional support.

Then there are the multitude who are deemed ‘not sick enough’. To be fair this has always been an issue due to stigma & ignorance. Lack of funding exacerbates the problem. When services are so stretched, access to those resources become limited. Lots of people who seek help for mental health problems are basically told to manage it themselves. Get some exercise, reduce your stress, get out more. When you summon your strength to talk about things that frighten you and are told it’s no big deal, it’s hard not to feel even more pathetic. It is difficult not to feel shutdown. Repeat that scenario more than once & people give up. Likewise for those who are informed that they’re not quite ill enough to warrant intervention. All that talk of early warning signs & speaking up doesn’t translate into much action. Having a professional ask you to wait & see if your health declines before they will help you is a kick in the gut. When you know that getting worse means your entire life falling apart, it’s not unreasonable to prefer to be proactive. When you don’t know what’s happening to you all, it is terrifying. So, yes, we do need to talk about it. I will always encourage people to ask for help. I will always strive to remove the shame of admitting you need assistance. I’ll also continue to demand that we talk about what happens after you take that step. We cannot ignore the fact that asking for help does not guarantee receiving it. We must acknowledge all the people for whom no treatment has been forthcoming & stop pretending that the problem isn’t much, much bigger.

People die because they did talk about it & nothing changed. Can we start talking about that?

Something to talk about…

A couple of weeks ago I got in a taxi (not an unusual occurrence) & engaged in the usual polite conversation with the driver. The weather, had I had a nice day & so on. Then he went quiet for a minute & said ‘can I ask your advice on something?’

This is the kind of question that usually rings alarms bells, but for some reason I decided to give this guy a chance. He had talked about his children in our short conversation & came across as a decent person. I’m glad I trusted my gut. He wanted advice on how to help his son, who had been self harming.

The taxi driver never alluded to my scars, but I presume that’s why he thought I might have advice to offer. He explained a bit about his son. How he had changed schools after a move, found it hard to make new friends, become more insular. Then how his wife had discovered their son had been injuring himself & how they were both lost. They’re son didn’t want to speak to anyone about it, they didn’t know if they should force the issue. He was increasingly unhappy, so far their attempts to help had been unsuccessful. It broke my heart. This man clearly loved his child. It was just as clear that he was utterly out of his depth.

So, I told him I had experience with self harm. Explained that it could serve a few functions. That is was habit forming & yes, it was a sign that his son was really struggling. I stressed that I wasn’t a professional mental health worker & that everyone was different, but in my experience it was best to get help as soon as possible. It was also important not to make his son feel forced into anything. Research some options & present them to his son, try to let him make choices. I suggested he make it clear that he & his wife were always available to talk about anything & offered some organisations he could contact for more advice. That was about as much as I felt able to say to a stranger during a taxi ride. I didn’t know any details of what was going on for his son, so I didn’t know what would be best for him. It felt insufficient, but when we arrived at my destination he refused to take payment. He said my words had lifted a load because now he felt like there was help for his son & he had an idea of how to find it. I got emotional, wished him the very best & thanked him for my free lift home. We parted & are unlikely to meet again.

So, why am I telling you this? I’m sharing because the more I think about it the surer I am that this kind of thing should happen more often. I think the reason it doesn’t is stigma. That taxi driver took a chance; he shared sensitive information & asked me to do the same. He dared to break a taboo & admit that he needed help. The result, hopefully is that his family will find that help. How many people struggle with mental health problems and never find the courage to ask for help? How many people just never know who they can turn to?

I’d love to live in a world where it didn’t even take courage to tell someone you’re hurting. It shouldn’t be so hard or so hidden.

If you are experiencing mental health difficulties it is imperative that you seek help right away. Mental Illness almost always get worse & harder to treat when left to fester. There is no shame in not being ok. You deserve any & all hell to feel as good as you can.

Your GP is always a good first step. Take someone you trust to advocate for you if you can.

MIND offer a variety of local services. You can find the in your area here.

SANE offer specialised mental health support. You can contact them on 0300 304 7000.

You can also call The Samaritans 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org