The best colleagues for the mentally unwell.

Exhausted. I’m writing this in my bed (at 8pm). Shattered. Very much due to my 2 year old being up intermittently for 3 hours last night for no other reason than he is an utter scamp! Oh why can’t he be a good sleeper like his older brother?

In between the various get ups for “Mummy where’s my water?” “Mummy my cover!” “Mummy dog dog gone!” “Mummy I have a cough” … you get the jist, my mind raced. Everything screamed at me, you can’t teach, you are a bad mother, your husband hates you etc. I cried and cried. In the middle of the night I was so convinced that I couldn’t go to work today.

Awoke at 6:15am my mind was still at war. On days like this it is literally like I fight a battle all before 7am. On days like this it is desperately bad. Having a voice constantly tell you how awful you are in every way and you can’t possibly teach is like a 6ft wall to climb before breakfast.

So I text my friends in my department. My job share and one other. I explain that today is a truly horrendous day and I’m battling to get in but just giving them the heads up that no way am I great at the moment. I explain to them it’s my impending guilt and feeling bad for the students that is driving me into work kicking and screaming.

At this point I should explain. Things still aren’t great at the moment. They seem to have come to a head the last few days and I’m very snappy and wobbly. I know some including my husband would be advocating a visit to the doctor and a return to the antidepressants but hold your horses!

Yes I’m struggling but in a weird way I’m ok with the emotions that seem to be much more freer than normal. This is a general problem for me and something I still see the counsellor for so I’m kind of trying to roll with it.

I’m incredibly anxious, which I’m actually learning is the start of the problems and seems to bring on the depression not the other way around which I had always thought. Some current concerns:

  • Mum worry is through the roof. All I want is for my children to be happy but it seems to be such a daily, weekly, monthly battle with so many external pressures to ensure that happens.
  • News about a friend and her career choice brought me into floods of tears and has rocked me in so many unexpected ways.
  • Constant emotion connected with my dad’s Alzheimer’s and the pressures on my whole family.

So back to my colleagues. By the time I had got to school one had offered to teach my year 13’s period 5 so I could go home and get some rest. The other was straight in to check how I was.

By lunchtime I had taught 4 lessons which I had handled fine and generally gone well (I have this ability to teach well even when I am extremely unwell- most would never notice). Inside I still felt like I was being torn apart and the negative voice was still on full blast. But knowing I had got this far I was determined to keep going.

In the staffroom at lunchtime another colleague asking how I was got a perhaps unexpected honest response “I’m not great at the moment”, “what’s up?”, my response was to point to my mucked yo head! She immediately offered to have my children sometime if I needed the space and proceeded to give me her telephone number.

The original colleagues offered to collect my student who was in after school detention and let him work with them so that I could go home straight at the end of the day to get a little bit of a rest.

They also reassured me that I wasn’t a failure or a let down. They said I could have been puking and then I wouldn’t have been apologising I would have just gone and mental health is no different.

The rest never quite happened as a petrol pump incident and a poorly, over tired two year old conspired against me but at least I was in my pyjamas earlier than I would have been!

Thanks for caring. Thanks for making a huge difference to my day. Thanks for understanding that I live with a mental illness and it’s just as valid as a physical illness.

Swings and roundabouts

Ups and downs

Lows and highs

Swings and roundabouts

My life with depression.

Positives and negatives

Energy and exhaustion

Focus and confusion

My mind spirals all in one day

Help and pushing it away

Listeners and supporters

Knowledge and misunderstanding

My life full of different contacts

Too little and not enough sleep

Lonely and yet too many people

No time and too much time

My never ending circle of illness

Don’t give up on me.

Belief me. Listen to me. Understand me.

Respect my illness.

Respect my story.

Respect my journey.

A letter for those who don’t “believe” depression.

Dear unbeliever,

Firstly I want to start by saying I’ve been where you are now. Before I became ill with depression at the age of 26 I had no clue what it was. If you had asked me I probably would have said people get sad and low sometimes but they can pull themselves out of it. It’s all about mindset! How wrong I was!

How far from the truth. Even now I would agree that unless you have suffered from a mental illness you can never really appreciate what it is like. Although to be fair either can someone who has! Each mental health issue is unique.

But that doesn’t mean I am giving up! Yes you maybe one of the lucky ones and never suffer from depression. You may never know how crippling it is. You may never know that it is as serious as cancer and claims many lives. I hope you don’t have to suffer. But I do hope you will try to understand what it is like for those that do.

I want you to know that I understand it is so difficult to know what it’s like. I want you to know it is hard to see the invisible. I want you to know I have been where you are now.

But I need you to trust me. I need you to believe me. I need you to realise that depression is an illness as serious as any other life long condition. I need you to know that no one would ever make up this hell.

I can’t just snap out of it. I can’t pull myself together. I can’t just be happy. It is not about a positive mindset. Depression is an illness.

I will probably live with this my whole life. I hope it will never attack me again like it has done over the past year. I hope I can keep it in control in the future.

You have not seen. You have not experienced it. But please believe. I am not sure there is any analogy that will really help you understand.

I know you are sceptical. But everyone has mental health. Everyone has a mind. Why does our brain not get as much respect as any other part of our body? I broke my arm and you understood. Someone you know has diabetes and you realise they have a life long condition that needs medication. Your family member has cancer and you do whatever you can to help.

Depression is an illness. It is real. It needs help. It needs understanding. It needs compassion. It needs treatment. Perhaps the problem is that it is different for every person. For some medication helps. For others it is counselling. For others a combination of different strategies.

So unbeliever I am not making this up. I cannot just have a positive mindset. I wish it was that simple. I have an illness which I live with. Sometimes I have it in control. Sometimes it overtakes my whole life. But it certainly is real.

Believe me. Listen to me. Try to understand me. I am 1 in 4 with a mental health condition. But I am 1 in 1 that has mental health. Yes all of us do! So take care of yours and respect other people’s.

Love from

Becky

A letter about mental health for my children

Dear my gorgeous boys,

When you are older I will explain to you what depression is. I will tell you how it affects me and that it is an illness. I will encourage you to show empathy, understanding and kindness to others when they need you.

What do I want you to know about depression? What do I want you to know about your mum? What do I want you to know about yourselves?

Most importantly I want you to know it’s ok to share your emotions. It’s also ok to not be ok. I want to encourage you to talk about how you feel. I want you to know I will always listen without judgement if you need to let it out.

It is important to know that mental health is important for everyone. Physical health and mental health both need consideration and looking after. I hope you live in a world that becomes kinder and fairer to those who have a mental health.

I believe that you will grow up to be people who will understand mental illness better than me. I’m hoping my openness will ensure it is something that is not kept secret but brought out in the open. I believe you will help others.

I am sorry my dear boys for all the times my depression has got in the way of our family time. I’m sorry for the times I have been so low for no reason I have gone to bed. I’m sorry when my mood has been so bad I have snapped at the slightest thing. I’m sorry I haven’t felt like doing much some days. I’m sorry some days I have been distant and vacant, physically but not mentally present.

But I hope you know mental illness doesn’t make you any less of a person. It is not something to hide. It is not something to be ashamed of. I hope you know that you can still have an amazing career and a lovely family life if you get the right support.

Boys I hope you won’t suffer like I do. I hope this illness is not something you have to learn to cope with like me. But boys if it is I’m trying to educate more people so that you may have a smoother ride. So that more people may understand. So that more people may help.

Boys if you’re lucky enough to have great mental health I will help educate you on how to support others. I hope you will be there for the ones you love, friends or colleagues. I hope you will listen.

Love your

Mummy

8 quotes for depression.

A few months ago I started using Twitter (again). I was set on a course to help overcome the stigma of mental health. I used quotes to inspire me. Months on I wanted to write a post which picked 8 which are important for my mental health journey.

A bonus one is the one as the image of this blog post. This for me is the most important. We can’t always see what others are going through or the illnesses they have. Depression is often invisible and many of the stigmas I have struggled with are due to people’s lack of belief because they can’t see anything is wrong.

1.

Depression is all consuming. It can eat you a way till you feel like there is nothing of your being left. It is exhausting. It is a battle just to get out of bed. So for me this quote is so important. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to just have breathed today. That’s an achievement!

2. I often use the words fighting a battle in your own head. Trying to overcome the war. Every day is so tough.

3.

As someone who has been extremely suicidal this is so true. Suicide is so misunderstood. People think it’s the cowards way out; that people haven’t consider who is left behind. That is so far from the truth. For me the depression was so bad I felt I was a burden to everyone in my life. I thought no one needed me as I was a complete failure. Therefore winning the fight and not throwing myself off the top of a car park when everything in my whole being was screaming to do it was the bravest thing I have ever done.

4. At times I wished I could have had the right words to explain how it felt. There are at times no words that can express what is going on, especially when you don’t understand it yourself.

5.

When I was at my worst two friends kept reminding me of this. It always felt genuine coming from them. One was a fellow depression sufferer and the other had a husband who had overcome the illness. It’s the message I think everyone with depression needs to know.

6.

This is a key tip for someone trying to support someone they know with depression. Being there and listening is key! You can’t solve depression like a problem but showing you care can make so much difference.

7.

This quote relates to the one above. Being heard and understood is so important to someone with depression. When your whole being lacks self belief and confidence it is very encouraging to know that there is somebody in the world who believes you.

8.

Lastly I would never want to inflict this illness on anyone. I certainly would get rid of it in a second if I could. However, it has taught me so much about how to help others. I have learnt strategies for supporting other people with mental illness mainly because I know what has helped me. I also know what has made me worse! Therefore I do think it is those who have experienced depression or some other form of illness or difficulty that will try to help others.

A poem of depression

Depression is tough

So often I have had enough

It’s hard to keep going

Through treacle I am rowing

The road to recovery is so long

To rush it would be so wrong

My mind tears me apart every day

Overbearing thoughts make me pay

On the outside I look so well

It is so hard to even tell

That deep inside me is a war

The biggest one you ever saw

But despite all of this strife

I do still want my life

I have often wanted to give up

As depression is a gloomy overflowing cup

My friends have held me tight

My husband mr right

My special boys my reason for life

To keep fighting despite the strife

Words of wisdom, listening ears

Have stopped the flowing tears

Love, understanding, belief

To be honest it is such a relief

Still more battles to be won

In order to see the sun

It will get better, it will be good

A battle won I knew you would

So how do you recover from depression?

So today I’m on a spa day with my husband. Seems rather apt that today is the day to blog about recovery as I chill in a thermal spa. However, surprisingly a day at the spa may not be the best setting for recovery for some…too much thinking time. Too much space!

I want to share with you some ideas for starting the recovery process. I think it’s important to remember depression is different for everyone. These ideas might not work for some. It is about picking and choosing what works best for you. It may even include trial and error before you find the right path for you.

So I have put together a list of ideas that work for me. I’m certainly on a journey to recovery at the moment. My counsellor keeps reminding me it is not a race. I’m always one to put a time limit to it. ‘I must get better before school starts in September’ is my current mantra. The counsellor advocates that this doesn’t help, it takes as long as it takes!

1. Rest. For me certainly the most important. This is both resting the body and the mind. For me taking a nap is a brilliant recharger and can at times reset my poorly brain. But I bare witness to the power of switching off from the world in whatever way works for you. When ill I struggle to concentrate on reading so where usually I can submerge myself in a good book to hide from the world, I can’t settle to that right now. In previous posts I have mentioned the world of TV and film as escapism for me. Lying in bed watching Netflix on the iPad is a real strategy I use.

2. Talking. For me this is like medicine. I still doubt whether anti-depressants actually help me at all but I know talking does. It’s hard because when I’m at my worst talking is the last thing I want to do. I tend to push friends away rather than opening up. But the times I have managed to talk have been amazing.

In particular I have had 4 friends over the past few months who have listened so well. They have understood. They have given me their time. They have been there for me. They have believed me when I haven’t believed myself. Either depression sufferers themselves or having someone in their close family who has had mental health concerns they have been like the rope stopping me from falling as I abseil off the cliff.

3. Exercise. If I am honest I find it so hard. The illness takes all the motivation I possess. It starves me of the get up and go. Despite this I really encourage you to exercise. The endorphins truly do help the mood. For me running helps pound away the thoughts from my mind. Walking in the countryside surrounded by the beauty of creation brings me a sense of peace.

4. Planning happy times. I’m conscious fellow sufferers may not agree with this one but it works for me. The last four weeks have been good because I have planned and had lots of wonderful time with my family. They are my world. They bring sun to the darkest, rainiest day. Smothering myself in them really helps me.

5. Writing. For others it maybe music or another hobby but I have found writing is my outlet. Some people write a diary when they have depression. I have tried that but it didn’t feel expressive enough. For me writing allows me to pour my heart and soul onto a page. It gives the jumble in my head some order. It brings clarity to the emotions that I find hard to contain.

6. Holding on to glimmers of light. Some people in recovery write 3 things at the end of their day that they are happy about or proud of. For me it’s trying to treasure the good times. A few months ago I was so desperate. I had the most horrendous day. But at the end of it I was watching my two boys play so happily in the garden. They were chasing each other laughing and giggling. I started to cry. Not sad tears but happy tears. Capturing these moments, these glimmers of light helps the journey to recovery.

Finally I want to reiterate recovery is not a race. Like I have said before it is a rollercoaster with many ups and downs. Try to find what works for you. I hope some of my ideas help. I’m trying to listen to my counsellor who keeps telling me all in good time.

Message for a friend with depression.

So over the last few weeks I've witnessed the destructive nature of depression from the other side. "I'm a failure. I'm a burden. I don't want to live like this anymore. I have had enough. I'm too tired of fighting." A friend who has had enough.

Mental illness is different for everybody. Depression is certainly not the same person to person. But there are similarities. Listening to these words has been like hearing myself talk.

Over the past few weeks I've been in an ok place. Things certainly seem to be looking up. It is a slow process and I still have low hours or days but it feels like the tide has turned for now.

Listening and helping others with their own struggles is helping me feel needed. It gives me some value back to my life. It lets me to put into practice some of the advice I have been sharing.

I can empathise completely with my friend. A few weeks ago this was me. You hate yourself so much. You see no value in who you are. You feel a burden and a trouble to everyone. You are so scared of dying but wish you weren't because you just want to end it all. You can't live with it anymore.

Helping my friend has made me realise how hard it is for the person on the other side. It is a natural human instinct to want to make it all better. Give advice. But depression and mental health is not rational. It can not be problem solved. It is the most irrational thing in the world.

It is hard to fight my natural instinct to ask "what's wrong? Or what's happened?" I know from my own experience the answer is "nothing". There is no rhyme or reason to depression. It just hits at anytime often without an event to stimulate its growth.

So I've been trying so hard to remember my own words of advice for those wishing to help. Listen. Believe. Be there. I don't know how successful I am. I can criticise myself so easily I find I judge my responses.

To my friend. I want you to know. You are special. You are valued. You are wanted. You are needed. You have helped me and I am trying to be there for you in the same way.

It is your brain that is poorly. You have a mental illness. You are not all these things that it is telling you. I know you don't believe me when I say these things. But I will keep saying them incase there is something you can hang on to. Years after I first had depression I can still remember the words of a good friend who used to regularly tell me how amazing I was. I used to push it away. But somewhere it stayed in my head.

I will keep listening. I will keep being there. And more than anything I 100% believe you. I believe how bad it is. I believe what you say. I believe how awful you feel.

It will get better.

The Top 10 ways to help someone with depression.

Judgement. Stigma. Misunderstanding. Misconceptions. Suffering from depression is hard enough, dealing with these at the same time makes it impossible. I have had my fair share of these experiences. However, overwhelmingly I have been lucky enough to have had the most amazing support from friends and family. So what can you say? What can you do? What is the best approach to take?

My biggest advice is do something. I used to have a close friend, who sadly died from cancer last year. She was old enough to be my Mum, she had children the same age as me. I learnt from her wisdom. We often joked about some of the awful things well meaning friends and family had unintentionally said about her cancer. I listened to some of them and was honest with her that the naïve, young me could have said them.

Her response I will always remember. But it is better to be there and say the wrong thing than to not be there at all. Essentially the same is true for someone with depression. The greatest gift you can give is to be there. To try and understand. To do your best to help. You probably wont always say the right thing. But that doesn’t matter. Your intention to love and care will outshine any error.

My top 10 to help someone with depression.

  1. Research the illness. A great number of people want to help. A great number of people want to be there for their friends or family. A great number of people are scared of saying the wrong thing. Recently a good friend, an experienced professional, in her sixties, spoke to me openly about this. She shared her lack of knowledge about depression. I had written a book about my experiences in order to aid my recovery. She was so keen to read it. She said reading it was like reading my soul. She said I am starting to get this illness now. I am starting to see how it affects you. Developing this understanding of mental health is key. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a little while. Walking on their path. Find out what you can. Find out what its like. It will help you understand.
  2. Listen. Truly listen. Take in what the person is saying, study the implications and be with them in their sharing. To listen effectively there is a real process that needs to occur. To begin with let the person talk. Don’t interrupt them, don’t add in your own personal experiences or share your own stories. Not to start with-just listen. Actively listen. Engage them with your eyes, reassure them with your smile, and use your facial expressions to respond to what they are saying. Show compassion, empathy and understanding. For the person suffering with depression there is something very special about being truly listened to. It can make you feel like someone believes you. It can make you feel like someone really understands that you are unwell. It helps you feel like what you are saying is worthwhile. It gives you hope that not everyone in the world thinks you are crazy. It is so powerful.friends9.JPG
  3. Give up your time. It is the greatest gift. It is a common belief that the British have a ‘stiff upper lip’- remaining resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. It is so unnatural for us British to feel comfortable with situations where people share their souls. Firstly it is alien for us to communicate our feelings and emotions. To those of you who feel uncomfortable with these discussions my advice is I know it could be awkward but just being there, being prepared to give up your time is very beneficial.
  4. Believing them. Remember how much effort it has taken for an individual to share. Try to realise how scary it is for them to communicate their inner feelings. When they do so, the key job you have is to believe them. They are not exaggerating or making things up, they are trying to get help and be well again and they need to know you believe them. How do you show them you believe? Don’t doubt them. Don’t be judgemental. Don’t try to trivialise something so big. Instead ask them open ended questions. How does it feel? What is helping you to get better? How can I be of help? They may not know the answers to all these questions but your openness shows you believe them.
  5. Personal experiences. I find it very reassuring to know that I am not the only one to feel like this. I like the fact that others have suffered and found a way through the darkness and are now highly functioning again.
  6. Offer suggestions/guidance.  If you are someone the person trusts then it may be helpful to offer some practical advice to certain issues. Do not expect to solve everything. Do not expect to take their illness away or improve how they are feeling completely but the person may be encountering some situations that you can help with.
  7. friends3.JPGBe there for them. Keep in touch. They may want to isolate themselves and shrivel up into their own little ball but it is amazing to know that even when you push people away they will still be there for you. It doesn’t have to be scary to support your friend when they are going through a mental health problem. It can be really simple just text, call or reach out to them in anyway. I have a friend who since I have been unwell has text me every day. Just a “hi, how are you today?” has made me feel constantly cared for.
  8. Be patient. Someone suffering from depression can change their mind every 30 seconds. My mind goes round and round in circles constantly. When they change their mind every other minute, when they don’t know whether they are coming or going with their lives or any decisions they have to make, try not to rush them. Remember they are not intentionally trying to be difficult or even wind you up with their changes of minds, they can’t help it, as it is part of their illness. In the same way when they snap at you, when they are so low or down they don’t want to do anything, be patient.
  9. Remind them it will pass. Keep reassuring them. It will end. It will be over. There will be a new journey to take. They may be resistant to this. They may disagree. They may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tell them they will get well again. Even when I have shrugged this off. Even when I have refused to take this on board. There is a part of me that held onto these words. They swirl around in my head and pop up occasionally.
  10. Take time to share things you love about the person. Many friends have spent time telling me how important I am, what a good Mum I am, how the students I teach love me, how colleagues learn from me and respect me. They have shared that in their opinion I am a lovely, kind, caring person who is fun to be with. Although I certainly don’t feel any of these things at the time, it still helps. These words certainly resonate in the back of my mind and stay with me.

So when you encounter someone with depression. Don’t shy away from the person. Don’t ignore them. Don’t avoid them. Be there for them. Listen to them. Believe them.