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.

What a liar.

Last night my mental health hit rock bottom again. I feel so upset with myself. I keep going backwards.

The problem is I don’t think I have ever got over what caused it to first rear its head 8 years ago. Part of the breakthrough I had with my counsellor on Friday showed me that I have actually been ill for an awfully long time. Yes I managed to push it to the back of my mind for 7 years whilst I found my husband, got married and had my children but really it was still there. Hidden under the surface.

Today I have hidden this anguish and pain. I have hidden how poorly I feel. I have hidden the desperation. I have hidden the wish to give up. Many times I have been asked “how are you” and each I have lied “good thanks”. I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry for not being honest and open.

I have got on with my job today despite not wanting to go on anymore. I have held meetings. I have taught classes. I have even volunteered and done extra duties to help out a colleague.

I’ve done all this without showing anyone how I really feel. A burden. A failure. Absolutely exhausted. The depression absolutely overcoming my soul.

The depression curse: I’m really poorly.

I haven’t written a blog post in over two weeks, the longest period between accounts since I started this blog back in May. Depression is overcoming me. I am isolating myself. I am absolutely exhausted.

To the outside world I’ve been well. Certainly at work I have been thriving. With no time to think. Being constantly challenged. Trying to support a colleague. I’ve managed to take control and shown the best of me. However, perhaps inevitably the stress, pressure and high workload are having an effect on my mental health too.

In other ways I am also being an amazing actress again. I’ve started running again. I’ve been going twice a week with a colleague and friend and at home I’ve tried to do one exercise session at the weekend (usually with two kids jumping on top of me). It would appear to others that I am well, motivated and getting stronger.

Nevertheless this all feels like a show. It is taking enormous amount of effort to keep these areas going. Combined with the image I am trying to portray with friends and family, I feel like I could hibernate for the rest of the winter.

Well it’s time for some heartbreaking honesty. I’m poorly again. I’m struggling so much. I’m feeling very low. It’s so hard to admit this at the moment. This post is almost impossible to write. I feel like I might delete it even before I post it.

I am scared of certain people reading this. Friends and family. I think my husband has already worked out I’m not great at the moment so this probably isn’t a surprise for him. To others there will be disbelief or shock. I’m breaking the illusion.

So what’s going on? I’m not entirely sure. I’m feeling so very low. Completely numb. Devoid of emotions. Almost like I’m sinking into a swamp of confusion. Almost like I’m lost in a dense fog. Almost like I’m being tortured by my own brain.

I hate myself. I hate my body. I hate who I am. My self esteem and self image are not existent. I don’t believe there is anything good about me. I pick at every hole. I pick at every decision. I pick at my own body, the self harm is rife.

Externally I am very snappy at my children. I feel like I have lost all patience. With my husband I am constantly pushing him away, feeling consumed by my own world. With friends I refuse to talk about anything with feelings or emotions. I am there on the surface but underneath my mind is wondering. I have lost enthusiasm for my Facebook group, twitter and communicating with people I have started to know.

Mostly I’m absolutely shattered. I feel so so tired. I have a deep wish to spend a week in bed. I would probably sleep for most of it. I want to hide from the world.

I’m also upset with myself. I’m very angry with myself. I’m cross that this illness is consuming me again. I feel like a complete failure. I feel like I’m worthless. Im sorry I have let you down.

End of term compassion

The marathon has nearly been run,

The Christmas fun is yet to come,

The term has been long and tough

I love my job but right now I’ve had enough.

My mission this week has been to ease the ride

I’ve tried to support my colleagues, taken their side

Covering lessons, setting work, being there

Taken assemblies, lent an ear, trying to show I care.

Tonight it’s taken its toll

I’m feeling exhausted, right now I couldn’t support a soul

It feels good to have made a difference to you

I hope someday you will pass it on too.

Feeling lost.

Emptiness. Alone. Being eaten from inside. That is how I feel today.

Everything is so hard.

Worried and anxious for a family member. So stressed that tears flow and they look physically drawn. They are struggling so much. But I feel completely helpless. I feel useless. I feel like more of a burden than a support. I don’t know what to do to make things better. I don’t even have much time to talk. My life seems so busy at the moment. I am barely coping with me. Surely I am making things worse for them? The guilt is so hard handle to process. The feelings of I “should be doing more” overpower me. The worry for the person follow me throughout the day. I’m constantly thinking “what can I do to make things better?” But I have no answer.I have managed to cope with the day. Housework, Tesco shop, playing with my 1 year old, doing the school runs. I even hosted a play date this evening for one of my eldest’s school friends. That meant 4 extra for dinner and feeling on edge the whole time.

Right now the worry and guilt is back. I have sat down this evening and I actually feel sick with the emotions that a flowing through me. My husband who has come in from parents evening is being so lovely but I seem to be pushing him away.

I know I’m poorly again at the moment because of my reaction to him. I am struggling to sit next to him on the sofa. He is snuggled into me but my body wants to scream and push him away. I have no idea why.

He is done nothing wrong. He has only been loving. Perhaps it’s I don’t feel I deserve being loved today. I don’t deserve his care or affection. When poorly I also push people away. It is so hard to be with anyone.

I’m desperate for this to pass. Please please don’t sink low again. I was doing so well. I’m really struggling right now.

Depressed teacher 4 – what a week!

If there was ever a week where I felt the full range of the human emotions it was this one. From start to finish it threw challenges at me.

Logistics

My first challenge this week was sorting out lifts. Not being able to drive due to my wrist has been very difficult. It has taken away my independence and affected my mood. This week was going to be even more difficult as my husband was away on a school trip Monday to Wednesday evening.

So how do you get a 1 year old to a nanny’s house? A 4 year old to school? A mum (aka me) to work when you can’t drive? Luckily all the locations are no more than a 10 minute drive away.

Friends and family have come to my aid. I have had lifts from a range of sources! My mum has turned into my personal chauffeur many times this week.

All of this has left me feeling like a burden. I hate asking for favours. I hate having to rely on others.

Monday night just one day of these logistics after a day at work and solo parenting at home I was feeling very low. Desperate even. I went to bed at 8pm in an effort to push the depression back.

Broken arm

So on Tuesday I was hopeful my cast would come off. I had an appointment at the hospital. The doctor seemed hopeful to start with. I started talking about driving and began thinking about exercising my withered arm. Then the worst of news it was healing but needed to have the cast on for

at least 2 weeks longer.

I underestimated how this news would get to me. The thought of the complications of getting the children and me out every morning stressing me. The thought of the independence that was still out of reach making me uptight.

Lack of sleep

The thing that affects my depression most is a lack of sleep. When tired I can’t seem to handle the daily war with the illness. My boys always sense when daddy is away. Monday and Tuesday night the youngest was up for hours coughing and generally unsettled! It’s so hard to function with little sleep. Let alone when I’m struggling to manage an illness.

Work

There have been highs and lows here too this week. From positive meetings to lessons I have been disappointed in. From enjoying teaching to feeling like the worst teacher in the world. Why do I take it all to heart? Why does one bad experience knock me for 6 but a good makes no impact on my mood?

I had a meeting today at work to check all was ok. It has actually been fine. Probably better than expected especially considering the broken arm. But today I could have cried. Why? I have absolutely no idea! I just felt tired. Emotional and low. That’s the thing with mental health there is not always an answer. And no I didn’t share this in the meeting because at the moment I’m hoping it is just a blip, like the one on Monday that I survived.

Tonight

So I’m much better than earlier. Currently lounging on the sofa. Just ate pizza. Watching the new Star Trek and now designated survivor on Netflix. Unfortunately my counsellor is away this week so where it would have been good to talk i can’t today. But hopefully rest is all that is needed to survive this topsy turvy week!

The Power of Counselling.

So I currently have regular counselling every Friday evening. I’m not ashamed of this. There is nothing to hide about it. It helps me, I do it. I’ve been extremely ill, lucky to be alive. I need it.

Sadly people do feel a need to keep the fact they are having counselling a secret. They are worried about what people think. They think it is something to be looked down on.

In the last few months a couple of people have shared with me that they are having counselling when they have been too scared to tell anyone else. Although I am very happy they feel they could do this. Im sad that society would judge somebody for getting the help they need to be well.

Why is something that can help so many people a taboo? Is it the British stiff upper lip? Is it the fact our culture makes it an alien concept to share our emotions? Why when we value chatting with mates do we see it as weird to chat to a counsellor?

Why do people (including myself) think they are going to be judged for seeing a counsellor? It doesn’t make me less of a person. It doesn’t make me a failure! It makes me brave. My whole life I have never been encouraged to share how I feel so to do it is the scariest thing there is.

So how does it help? Yes talking is medicine for my sick mind. It is a tablet to help me get over my illness. My depression ensures my mind plays tricks on me. It is like living with your worst enemy in your own head. It constantly questions me. It constantly puts me down.

Counselling helps me with that battle. Sometimes I get too tired and overwhelmed to fight that voice in my head. I begin to believe it. I’m blind to reality. Counselling let’s me share how I feel and what I’m thinking. Where normally I’m useless at opening up. I am encouraged and supported to.

Inside my head just becomes more and more worked up. Imagine a bottle of coke that has been shook over and over. Counselling helps me release it slowly so it doesn’t explode everywhere. It helps process the muddle that is in my head. It is like the peacemaker finding a truce in the war.

Last night I went feeling very topsy turvy. My broken wrist was sore and annoying me but i had enjoyed a good day at work.

The last few weeks and months my depression has been plagued by my overthinking mind. The anxiety can be uncontrollable and very irrational. Talking about this opened up a whole new perspective. It made something that has been plaguing me for years become a little clearer. It certainly hasn’t solved the problem but drawing it into focus is a step in the right direction.

I have an awful long way to go and have been told it would be best to have regular counselling for even a couple of years. So I will. I will also not hide it. I am not ashamed of something that helps me.

So please if your reading this and you have counselling well done for being brave and doing something for yourself. If your reading this and someone tells you they are having counselling don’t laugh, scoff or make them feel ridiculous. Be proud of them. And finally if your a counsellor thank you. It may be just a job but everyday you help people. Help people, be happy, be content, be themselves and stay alive.

I currently access counselling via The counselling foundation.

Depression: the need for headspace.

So today we got back from our holiday. Yes we had a wonderful time. It truly was lovely to have a change of scenery. The sea air felt like it started to clear my cluttered, muddled mind. Belly laughing at my husband trying to row a boat was a real highlight. But there was a pure sense of relief when I drove onto the drive of my house this afternoon. Home. The place where I can just be me. My sanctuary. My haven.

Depression truly is a horrible illness. Like the hungry caterpillar who seems to eat a whole through everything in site, depression eats through my soul. It destroys my confidence. It destroys my identity. It destroys who I am.

It is so tiring to be alive. The over analysis of every action, comment, look, is exhausting. Being on holiday with my parents and my mother in law is like having to put an act on at times. I don't want to spoil anyone else's holiday with my mood. It's hard when you aren't really sure if people understand what depression is like. Do they know I can just wake feeling low? Do they know my dreams can make we wake with anxiety? Do they know how hard it is to talk when all I want to do is sleep?

Home is where I can get headspace. Yes I have two young boys who want and need me constantly so it isn't easy but I can be myself. I'm not trying to put on an act. If I'm tired and low I don't feel like I have to be happy. This doesn't mean I can't laugh and smile at their amazing qualities. I can still feel happy.

Home is where I can take time for myself. My husband fully understands. He appreciates that sometimes all it takes is 15 minutes on my own to reenergise. Sometimes I need a nap to sort my head. Sometimes I need to zone out on my phone or in a book to clear my head. Space.

So yes I had an amazing holiday. It was very special to share moments with my whole family.
Moments that made everyone laugh, like when my youngest strutted his stuff in his nanny's sunglasses. I wouldn't have changed any of it for the world and I am already looking forward to next year. But by the end of the week I need some time. Perhaps you may say well this is only natural everyone probably would. Well I agree you are right but the depression means mine is a deep innate need. I can just feel I am beginning to slip into the illness again and space is needed to avoid that!

Managing the depression on a family holiday.

So we've been away since Friday. It's been 5 days. Staying in Aldeburgh on the east coast of England. Me, my husband, two boys, my mum and dad and mother in law.

I find there is a lot of anxiety before the holiday begins. What do we need to take? Will the holiday house be ok? Will my husband like the place when he wanted to go elsewhere? What time should we leave? Will the journey be ok? But this time my son being poorly was thrown into the anxiety mix. On the day before we went away he had a temperature (probably another ear infection as he seems to be particularly prone to them). Should we take him to the doctors before we go? Will he be ok? Will he be too ill when away? So many questions. So many unknowns.

5 days in and all the worries have gone. The holiday home is perfect. The location next to the beach and the shops perfect. My husbands remarks that he loves the town, also perfect! Everyone gets on. The weather has been glorious. The day trips enjoyable and well chosen.

I feel relaxed. I feel happy. I feel content. The night we arrived, having a drink at a pub for our 5 year wedding anniversary, my husband said you seem chilled out. And that in general I have been. It has been lovely to be away from my home town. Good to get away from the day to day. And there is something very special about sea air. Walking by the sea. Listening to the crashing waves. Throwing stones into the water. All are special, especially when your home town is a two hour plus drive to the nearest coast.

It has been a pleasure to see my boys happy. I love seeing my dad light up in the company of my children. He has Alzheimer's and at times struggles with adults now but he is a magician with children. He always has been to be honest. He plays and plays with them for hours and hours. He never tires. He was like that as a dad when I was younger too. The best dad.

So I am happy but that doesn't mean the depression has disappeared. Most of the time so far on this holiday it has been hiding. But it is still there lurking in the shadows. There have been times where i have felt its presence.

My son was very poorly the first two days. His skin was so hot I could have fried an egg on him. The worry involved in being a mum seriously causes problems for my depression. I can get so wound up in worry and stress that it tires me out even more and drags me down. So when he has been poorly and extremely whiny and clingy, I have struggled when I just want a moment to myself.

One of the things about my depression is my need to be alone. I need space. I need down time. I need time when I don't talk to others. I need headspace. It is quite difficult to get this when away with children, husband, parents and in laws. There isn't really any space. There isn't time alone. It would be rude to take myself away in the day. I have gone to bed early. Reading a book my outlet (the first book I have managed in 6 months due to the illness).

There have been times when I have wanted to shout and scream. Times when I want to have space. Times when I'm so tired I lack any patience.

But in reality I'm having a great time. I'm really enjoying seeing my boys so happy. I love that everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. I am loving the change of scenery.

What is anxiety?

Just like depression, anxiety can be majorly misunderstood. Many struggle with anxiety without the burden of depression and vice versa. However, for me when depression has been at its worst anxiety has been there holding its hand.

So what is anxiety like? How does it affect me day to day? Essentially it turns quite a normally shy, but internally confident me, into a shaking wreck. Yes anxiety actually brings physical symptoms too.

My chest tightened, my breathing became fast and shallow, I felt extremely faint and dizzy, I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I was having my first panic attack. Luckily I have only experienced two of these and both times the same amazing colleague and friend has managed to come to my rescue. Panic attacks are devastating. A close family member suffers from these regularly. Ambulances have been called. Is it a heart attack? Is he going to live? What is happening? No just a severe panic attack.

But anxiety isn’t just a panic attack. Anxiety has affected me physically in the following ways:
-A tight chest. Sometimes I have been teaching classes and not been able to catch my breath. It is like a breathlessness that I experienced when climbing stairs whilst pregnant. Pain and spasms across my chest have led me to worry even more. Am I seriously ill? Is this the start of a heart attack?
– Pain in my back and shoulders. At their worst these appear as a dull ache and make sure that with everything I do I’m reminded of being unwell. Rolling my shoulders is constant. I try in vain to relieve the pain.
– Ok yes I’m going there. It seriously affects my water works and digestive system. Needing to urinate regularly when you cant just run to the toilet because you are teaching 30 teenagers is tough. Diarrhoea. Constipation. An endless cycle.
-Muscle and jaw ache. Muscle aches in my legs at the end of the day are a common place. They make it even more difficult to sleep as the constant dull pain plays on my mind. My jaw is constantly tense. At one point it ached and even caused tooth pain. I started to worry that I needed to go to the dentist and then I realised that my anxiety had been translating its way to my jaw as well as everywhere else.
Loss of appetite Most people will be aware of the analogy butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety means that my stomach feels like it is so full of those butterflies, that their flying around inside it is making me nauseous. Sometimes I have actually been sick.

One of the worst parts of my anxiety has been adrenaline overload. Now adrenaline is a powerful “fight or flight” chemical that is so helpful in the right situation. However, any situation where we feel stressed, threatened, insulted or guilty can signal our body to raise the level of adrenaline. It can be helpful in the right amounts, however when there is an overload it can hijack your thought process. When these parts of our brain have been shut down it can lead to us making risky decisions or judgements.

The physical and mental symptoms of this adrenaline have been really extreme for me. Almost like a panic attack I have had a pounding head, a heart that seems to be beating out of my chest, I get sweaty and hot, tense, and have shortness of breath. My thoughts seem to become all jumbled together, I can’t seem to take anything new on board and I can’t seem to speak clearly. I often talk very fast and appear quite frantic.

The adrenaline leads me to come draw rash conclusions. It makes me feel like the whole world is against me. I develop a stutter and struggle to articulate myself. After the adrenaline overload I am usually so mentally drained that it leaves me physically exhausted. I have to sleep to overcome how ill it makes me feel.

As well as depression anxiety has seriously affected my ability to function. The often irrational and continual worry has infected my every thought and moment. Anxiety is a barrier to you being able to do your job, be happy in yourself or enjoy your friends and your family. Your mind, is consumed with fear. It loses perspective on everything else.

At its worst all of these symptoms appear in the run up to teaching a class. Amazingly I have always managed to overcome this anxiety when in front of the class. It is like I walk through the classroom door and a switch is flicked which turns off the anxiety and turns on the teacher. However the after effects of putting myself through this are horrendous.

Unbelievable tiredness. After any anxiety causing situations I’m wiped out. Physically it is like I have just run a marathon. Mentally it is like I have just been grilled on mastermind. This is why I sleep so much. I have to. Also the anxiety is a major cause of being unable to rest effectively. I have sometimes tried to relax, by turning on the TV. I haven’t even been able to focus even on this and have spent hours flicking back and forth through the channels almost in a comatose state.

And I haven’t even started on anxiety at night. It is so bad I struggle to switch off at all. It is at night I have been the most suicidal. When I eventually drop off I’m usually awake an hour later with my heart racing and head pounding as a dream/nightmare has been so real I feel so anxious. And then the overthinking starts again. This isn’t one night. This is every night!

Depression with anxiety is so difficult to face.