Rather a grand title isn’t it.
True though. It’s now the middle of November and we’re tiptoeing into the wintery, dark months. Unfortunately for me, and a lot of other people, that means usually one thing. Season affective disorder comes knocking.
Mine decided to finally officially join the table a couple of weeks ago, after poking through a couple times. As an asthmatic, it’s hard to stay physically well in cold months anyway, but trying to stay well mentally is sometimes even harder.
The exhaustion and absolute tiredness are incredibly debilitating. Some days on that front are so much worse than others, it will literally just hit me like I’ve been hit by a double decker bus. It’s like crawling and walking through treacle and thinking and concentrating can be like the “gears” of my brain are clogged in shite.
I’m also still undergoing investigations for the mystery neck/arm/hand pain, weakness etc that been going off for about 9 months now. Back and forwards to GP and outpatients appointments, scans, tests. And that’s just for that one issue. It’s emotionally and physically draining after each test and appointment, something which is probably massively underestimated.
I’m also awaiting investigation for suspected fibromyalgia. Now, I’d be surprised if that wasn’t what the diagnosis ended up being as I’ve got the vast majority of the symptoms – otherwise unexplained pain, usually musculoskeletal, unrefreshing sleep and poor sleep quality, fatigue, which can range from background to absolutely crushing, and something called ‘fibro-fog’ which is pretty much a cognitive issue where your brain goes a bit mushy as I call it, or the correct way is to say having issues with remembering things, learning new things, and having issues with attention span and concentration.
Apparently fibromyalgia can fluctuate in severity depending on things like weather and stress levels….. Which makes me wonder if my wonderful experience of being gaslit last year had anything to do with me actually noticing the symptoms?
This time of year is obviously not my favourite, but so far it’s significantly better than this time last year. I have felt flat, and low in places, probably more than feeling depressed , and I have felt flashes of anxiety, some mild, some moderate and a couple seriously bad. I think the change from last year is probably because of the huge decrease in stress and major arsehole decrease, if you see what I mean.
I’ve also actually got a life outside of work now too because the commute isn’t absolutely ridiculous. I’m doing some work as part of being a Time to Change Champion in my area (York) and that’s one thing that if I’m honest, helps to keep me positive and keep me going in the darker months. I recently did a live radio interview with our coordinator with a local station talking about the work we’ve been doing in York about mental health, breaking down the stigma and discrimination of mental health and the importance of it. 8/9 months ago I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near this kind of thing, my confidence was well and truly shot thanks to both being unemployed and then previous experience of manipulation and gaslighting (hey I could write a book on this) , but working at a new place where I felt understood and accepted, and then becoming a Champion , though not what it used to be I have got a lot of my confidence back now, sadly, yes I am a lot more cynical, self deprecating (however this is a defence mechanism) , but I’m in a lot better place mentally than back then.
I recently went to see the play “Reasons to Stay Alive” which is the stage adaptation of Matt Haig’s book based on his own personal experience with depression, and though because of the subjects covered, personally it cut very closely because I could really feel myself nodding and agreeing, going “that was me, I went through that” or even, I’m going through that now. It’s stories like that that need telling to the world. People with lived experience of mental illness and mental health problems speaking about their experiences to people without that experience is something that will start to change perceptions and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Is it wrong I want to write a book???
Now, a few things that help me with my own mental health when I’m feeling flat:
– Walking. Even though some days it’s less manageable than others, I’ve found that getting out each day, even just for a bit, really helps.
– Photography. It’s one of my interests and I find that while I’m focusing on subjects and taking the photographs , I don’t notice that anxiety or depression are there.
– Music. Music is an absolutely brilliant, wonderful “weapon” for me. Sometimes it’s like being in another world temporarily. I can pick and choose what I want to listen to depending on my emotions. Singing is great too. Belting out some Queen or P!nk is what I need to do sometimes. Sometimes I need to shut the planet off with my noise cancelling headphones. Other days I’ll happily engage with others.
– Reading. I love immersing myself in a good book and for that duration I forget where I am and my imagination is thinking about the book story.
Green fingered – over the last year or so I have discovered an interest, and perhaps hidden talent, in gardening. This summer I grew tomatoes (over 100!!), spring onions, garlic, garlic chives, peas and a host of flowers including a lot of bumblebee friendly flowers, mesenberantheyums (probably spelt that wrong lol), cosmos, which grew to about 4ft tall!!, and basically took charge of looking after the other plants, including my dad’s dahlia’s, geraniums and others that I can’t remember the names of haha! I also helped my dad with garden maintenance – a lot of this was while I was unemployed and jobseeking so even though I had the neck arm thing plus ouchy joints etc going on I knew I had to get stuck into something or I’d sink into a dark cloud of depression very quickly. I took a lot of pride in maintaining a lot of the garden, including pressure washing the patio, rockery and paths and the driveway, plus the bindweed/knotweed removal project. At the moment going into winter I have planted some winter bulbs, so hoping for some January movement , fingers crossed 🤞
– Going out with friends. Important to keep forcing myself (in some cases) to get out with my friends.
– Writing. Like this blog. I used to be reasonably alright at English at school looking back through my reports, so I don’t mind a bit of writing, I get very focused on the story or facts or whatever it is that I’m writing about.
– Doing work for and with Time to Change York. It’s so rewarding and worthwhile and something I care a lot about and I really am passionate about changing people’s views on mental health.
That’s a few examples I can think of off the top of my head. Oh hang on, there’s one more – talking about how I’m feeling/self care.
I’ve said this before. Self care isn’t always bubble baths and foot spas, as much as social media portrayal seem to make it out to be. Sometimes self care is just a day or a few hours sat in your onesie in bed or in front of the fire watching telly or and old film/series (personal recommendations are Mrs Doubtfire and Dinnerladies), or sleeping until 10, calling in sick if it all feels too much, stepping away from Facebook or emails for a day, going for a walk in a park, anything. My opinion is that it depends on what kind of person you are, what you need to help you feel okay for that day.
I’m not for a second suggesting skiving work for a week or anything daft – I do think a lot of people are actually afraid to call in sick to work and say their mental health isn’t good. I know at a previous role I was. Unfortunately the only person I would speak to about it was the gaslighter because of the level of control she had over me. But on another hand, we don’t know how many workplaces would actually take it seriously. If your mental health is poor, why would you lie about it? Equally don’t put yourself through horrendous stress, pressure and pain by forcing yourself to work through it. I tried that – paid the price, and then ended up in a worse state.
Say the words “mental health” to people and I bet half would run a mile. Risk averseness of people and companies really doesn’t help either. Talking about suicide, mental health, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia etc does NOT mean you are suddenly going to ‘get’ it. It’s not like chickenpox where contact with others with that illness means you’re likely to get it. It’s not contagious. It’s not dangerous. Being risk averse makes it so much worse for others, they’re likely to feel trapped and worse about how they’re feeling, that they can’t talk about it. It’s okay to talk about mental illness and mental health. It is, however, NOT OK to shame people who have mental health problems.
So what if she has anxiety? So what if she has depression? Is she still great at her job and a great person? Yeah? Then why is her mental illness a problem to you? Would you be making an issue if it was a broken arm, leg or wrist? Thought not.
People also seem to make an issue of people with depression/mental health problems being overly sensitive. Matt Haig (author of Reasons to Stay Alive) mentioned it on Twitter the other day in fact, my take is fairly similar – being more sensitive isn’t always a bad thing, it sometimes means you get to experience joy more intensely, like when York score a try I get really involved, or I get really emotionally involved in a song or play.
Equally, for anyone that does think that my anxiety does write me off or something along those lines, there are some real real positives. For example, I’m an absolute perfectionist and that’s one of the reasons why I get anxious if something isn’t right. But because of this it means everything I do is of an extremely high standard and I thoroughly check everything. It also means I’m not afraid to ask questions – though this is something I’ve had to work hard on with musical anxiety and the effects of the gaslighter and my previous toxic workplace atmosphere. Another example (okay maybe not the best one) is my anxiety means I’m constantly on the alert so any “strange” behaviour is something I pick up on. Equally I’ve just done a fire warden/fire awareness course at work so in this sense anxiety can give me extra danger alertness.
Anxiety also, though I have control issues, does allow me to take charge of some workplace situations, or at least to not have the fear if I did need to take control of a situation, as I can just refer to being methodical and use what I know.
So you see, mental health problems are not an issue, no more different than a broken wrist. I can function just as anyone else would do. I just happen to have mental health problems too , and some annoying physical ones. People with mental health problems can be members of society, go to work, watch the football, rugby, go the pub etc etc.
Sorry this post has been rather an essay and a long time coming, but there you have it.