The Best Of Intentions

Firstly, I just wanted to again say thankyou for all the nice comments I’ve received since I started this blog, it means a great deal, and makes it all the more worthwhile.

Following on from my last blog about negative attitudes towards mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, I wanted to look at the flip side, in terms of peoples support towards sufferers. The worst thing about anxiety/depression is the fact that it doesn’t just affect the person diagnosed, but also the friends, families and colleagues of them as well. If your son or daughter/husband or wife/boyfriend or girlfriend has got pneumonia, then you know how to care for them, and help them get better. With mental illness, this isn’t really an option, as its such a complex issue, that perplexes even the sufferer, and therefore offers little signposting to the friends and family of what to do and what to say.

Over the course of my illness people have kindly said various things that they think will help, or will offer encouragement or a solution. I want to make it clear that these are completely understandable things to say, and if I were in the reverse situation, I would almost certainly suggest them to a struggling friend. But I just wanted to touch upon a few examples of things that have been said, and try and explain the reasons why they sadly don’t have the intended beneficial effect.

“There are people worse off in the world than you” – This is a difficult one, because it’s undeniably true that there are people in horrendous situations in the world, with tragic illnesses and circumstances. However, a person who suffers from anxiety or depression knows this, and often they already feel guilty about their illness, and the comparison with those in terrible situations can then further fuel that guilt or sense of inadequacy. Also, mental illness is not a rational illness, in the sense that it can rear its head for an unknown reason, and so its not possible to relieve the symptoms by rationally comparing it to another illness.

“What you are worrying about isn’t a big deal” – Anxiety sufferers understand that a lot of their worries are not justified, or are in themselves insignificant, but the whole frustration with the illness is that it can’t be rationalised. As Ally Boguhn says (see link at bottom) “The truth about anxiety is that it is all about getting caught up in minute little details and scenarios that are completely irrational”. Clearly some mental illness is caused by life events or can be traced back to a trauma as the sole cause. But generally its just there, lying dormant, waiting for the next moment to wake up and rear its ugly head.

“Think of all the great things you have going for you” – This is a very common remark, and I reiterate again, completely understandable. People often say “but you’ve got a great job, flat, friends/family, just think about that if you are feeling low”. While its irrefutable that many sufferers do have these (myself included), as previously mentioned the crippling thoughts and worries that come with anxiety, and the loneliness and hopelessness caused by depression, do not recede or distinguish because of the recognition of other positive factors of your life. If only they could! Robin Williams’ tragic suicide is a pertinent example of this. From the outside he had everything, but this didn’t cure him of what he was suffering, or allow him to deal with his ‘invisible illness’.

“Get some fresh air or exercise and you will feel better” – This was the very first thing the doctor advised me when I first saw him, and which other healthcare workers have also insisted upon. While this advice comes from a good place, and fresh air and exercise are without a doubt beneficial, they are not a solution, or a cure. For a start, sometimes you feel so anxious or low, that going out to exercise is not an option. But secondly, if you go for a run, or cycle ride etc, you may briefly escape the previously mentioned ‘Black Dog’, but once you stop, he soon catches up again, and you are back to square one.

“You’re bringing everyone down” – This is one of the hardest and most emotive of issues. As mentioned at the start of this blog, depression and anxiety affect two groups of people: suffers, and the people that know and love them. The families and friends who live with sufferers are without a doubt the unmentioned victims, and so being told that you are bringing them down can feed into the guilt of how your illness affects others, but also cause a frustration that they don’t understand what you are going through. Of course they don’t, but how could they be expected to!

These are just a few examples, and again, I can’t emphasise enough how this blog is not intended to be accusatory in any way, but merely a point of information, and a discussion on a labyrinthine topic. As intimated, these are logical, reasoned things to say to people when you don’t know what they are going through. And the knowledge that there are people who care enough about you to offer their advice and help is invaluable. But I thought it may be helpful to try and dissect some aspects of the illness and shed some light on the realities of how certain words sadly can’t be taken on board as they are intended to be.

I thought I would finish with a quote from one of my heroes Stephen Fry, who can put things into words much more eloquently than myself:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Footnote

Here are a few links that I came across on the subject:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-22342/7-things-never-to-say-to-someone-whos-suffering-from-anxiety.html

http://metro.co.uk/2015/09/24/6-things-not-to-say-to-somebody-with-anxiety-5404995/

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/things-shouldnt-say-people-with-anxiety/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/things-you-shouldnt-say-to-someone-struggling-with-depress#.rkzGp1yVd

 

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Are Attitudes Changing?

I was sat in the doctors surgery the other day, which is in itself a horrible experience. A room full of sick people, screaming children, heating ramped up to ridiculous levels, and nothing for entertainment other than some Readers Digest magazines that weren’t even written this decade. After sitting there for about 20 minutes a man came in, who was probably in his mid-forties. At first I didn’t pay any attention to him, engrossed as I was in June 2009’s Readers Digest. However, after a while it became impossible to ignore him. He started talking to people about everything and nothing, as well as swearing under his breath as each person was called ahead of him to see their doctor, and wondering aimlessly around the waiting room. A few of his bizarre words exchanged with people included “what finger do you wear a wedding ring on?”, “I’m hoping to be a body guard, not so I can smash peoples heads in though” and “I’ve probably got children somewhere, I was quite a lady’s man in the 80’s”.

The reactions from people in the waiting room included shaking heads, self concealed laughter, or just plain ignoring him and hoping he didn’t speak to them (we are British after all!). And I must admit I engaged in at least 2 of those reactions. Before I had chance to think any further I was called through to see my doctor (to an accompanying expletive from the aforementioned man, as he still hadn’t been seen).

It was only while I was walking home afterwards that I thought more about the man. He clearly suffered from some mental illness, the specifics of which, and the degree to which, I can’t really say. But I think it was clear from anyone who encountered him that this was the case. And what were people’s reactions, mine included? Laughter, anger and bemusement. This in a nutshell sums up attitudes towards mental health. It can be confused for rudeness, shyness, anger, oddness, and if people don’t have an understanding of mental health, then they can judge or be negative towards a sufferer, without knowing that they are. This is not a criticism aimed at people, because it’s not really their fault. It just so happens that mental health is such a complex, and misunderstood issue. Even people who suffer from it don’t really understand it! I find it very difficult to recognise and understand my thoughts and feelings, so God knows how ‘non-sufferers’ can.

Today there was a fascinating news article on the BBC website (Link to article), in which a study found that “19% of adults thought ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’. This is an extraordinary figure, although again, these people can’t be blamed, because if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, or know people that do, its easy to mistake or misunderstand the truth of the persons affliction. The findings concluded that “attitudes were also related to people’s knowledge and experience of mental illness”, and that “if you know someone with a mental illness you are less likely to hold negative views”.

I myself am always reading and researching, because it’s the only way that I can try and understand the complexities. And from this research it suggests that if everyone did this, it may help create a greater acceptance and understanding of the illness. David Cameron recently promised action on “treatable problems”, including mental illnesses and addiction. Lets hope that he breaks the mould for politicians, and keeps a promise!

 

Introductions

Thankyou very much for the support for the first blog, it is much appreciated. It is extremely difficult to open up, as I’m sure you can imagine.

I finally managed to work out how to add a ‘follow’ option! If you select this it will mean an email is sent out when I post a new blog.

I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself in this post, to give a bit of context. My depression/anxiety came to prominence in my mid to late teens, although with hindsight it was in existence before then, but could be shrugged of as ‘shyness’. Mental illness also runs in the family, and I think its hereditary nature is one of those things that people don’t often think of. I first decided to go to the GP about it when I was about 22.

There are lots of websites about the symptoms/causes/solutions etc, so I won’t go into that too deeply. What I would say though, is that my illness is by no means at the upper end of the spectrum, the likes of people that have life threatening situations, consider suicide, and of who its clear from the outside that there is a problem. Mine is at a level that I can hide it much of the time (not particularly a good idea!) and it comes in peaks and troughs, with some aspects that are ever present. For weeks/months I can be ok, and then suddenly I can take a dip, which may be traced back to an event I can recognise, or may come from nowhere. It can then be very hard to get out of that dip.

When I was younger it was anxiety that was the prevalent symptom, which led to many missed opportunities, and struggles with/absence of friendships/relationships. As I got older, the depression joined the fold, and the two combined. I have in the past, and continue to have, therapy/medication, which help in varying degrees.

That’s a brief (well almost!) introduction, although doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that will come in time. I think the thing I have struggled with most is the fact that its an invisible illness. If you break your arm, you’d have a cast, if you had a cold, you’d be coughing. The thing that has been the hardest is that it is hidden within, and you develop excellent skills of hiding it. Which is partly why I thought this was an opportunity to change that. Plus hopefully to help other to open up. People have already admitted to me being in a similar situation…people that I would have never considered to suffer from depression/anxiety.

Finally I also want to emphasise that there are people out there suffering much worse than me, not just in mental health, but life in general, and I’m in no way asking for sympathy or anything like that. I’m just writing about this subject because you can only write what you know about.

To end on a lighter note, here is a photo I took at Richmond Park the other day! Exercise and fresh air/nature are supposed to be incredibly helpful for depression/anxiety, and so I try to engage in them as often as possible. What they don’t tell you is that 4 deers charging straight at you, can have a slightly reversed effect, as I can vouch for!

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A Journey Starts With a Single Step

So why start a blog now? Well for a long time now I have been living with a ‘Black Dog’ (as Matthew Johnstone called it – see video below). That ‘Black Dog’ is nothing visible, or evident from the outside, but is instead hidden deep down, on the inside. The ‘D’ word and ‘A’ word, which cause a wince reminiscent of a swear word, are not often talked about. This is in part due to the fact that sufferers of depression and anxiety can’t talk about it, or don’t want to talk about it. This is a vicious circle as not talking about it leads to further spiraling downwards, as it eats away inside.

I thought I would start this blog for 3 main reasons. Firstly I find it so much easier to express my thoughts and feelings through the written word, rather than verbally. Secondly I hope it may offer encouragement to those who are in a similar situation as well as provide some information to those living with/around sufferers. Finally I think it will be good to have a written account for myself so I can trace the peaks and troughs of my feelings and state of mind.

At the moment I’m not sure how often I will post. It may be as and when I have things to say, or maybe it will end up being daily. I see it as organic, and hopefully its structure will develop over time.

If you’ve got this far then a gold star for you! I look forward to sharing my journey with you.