I guess it’s been quite a while since I last wrote. I’m not really sure where I should start to be honest, but here goes I guess.
So quite a lot of things have happened in the months since I last posted, but I’ll start from the ‘top’. Rolling back to mid to late April 2020, I didn’t see the signs coming, but I will next time. I was getting progressively more moody, irritated with those around me (bearing in mind the UK was in lockdown thanks to COVID-19) more than usual, and basically not looking after myself, which in my case was not showering often enough or shaving/grooming enough to normal standards. I didn’t want to go out and I felt trapped. This all came to a head at about 1am on the last day of April. I pretty much went SLAM into rock bottom and hit my lowest point. I had the most intrusive thoughts I had ever had, of a suicidal nature. I won’t go into exact detail here as that is my decision but I was so scared of my of mind. I had and have never had any intention of acting on these thoughts, so I suppose the best term to describe how I felt at that point was passively suicidal. For some reason, and I’ve not the faintest idea why, I didn’t tell anyone until the following morning. I kind of just bawled silently into my pillow, shoved my headphones into my ears and put on music I knew would ground me. I also ended up writing two pieces of poetry to express the raw emotion and way I was feeling, which definitely helped manage the feelings.
The next morning, I knew it was back. The most unwanted, invisible visitor, that makes you feel like you can’t feel anything, like you are worth nothing, that you are a burden to everyone. The depression demon. Last seen circa 2013. It doesn’t schedule its visits, it sneaks in the shadows. Long story short, I almost ended up going to A&E, but spoke to a lovely GP at my Dr’s surgery, who let me talk and we discussed options and how I felt, with a result being an increase in my current antidepressant (sertraline) and a review in a month. For reasons unknown I also put out a tweet, which I got a lot of support from as a result and a few heart to heart conversations from friends that knew what depression felt like, that helped to pull me out of that deep hole.
It’s now been 12 weeks since then and my mental health has improved considerably. It just so happened that I started CBT on the morning after those suicidal thoughts, which was supposed to be for social anxiety, but I’d been on the waiting list since mid-2019, so I had since conquered that beast on my own with randomly occurring, albeit, small , episodes. So in the therapy sessions, we tackled the demon depression. Important to note a couple of things at this point – firstly, I had to put in the work, it wasn’t all about just ‘going to therapy’ like a lot of people think – it was phone therapy, due to the pandemic situation, but still involved answering the phone and speaking to a therapist level of commitment, and secondly, it wasn’t just the CBT that helped my mental health to improve, or helped me to get ‘well’ on its own. (I’ll say at this point I had a session of EMDR in that 12 week period because my PTSD flared in a nasty fashion, which I acknowledge had a part to play in the return of my depression. But it wasn’t therapy alone that helped me become as ‘well’ as I am today (note: I’m not a medical expert, but an expert by lived experience, and 99% of the time it is never just a single thing that will make me better or ‘fix’ me, it’s always a combination of different things). Alongside the forms of therapy and the medication, it was being able to reach out to family and friends and knowing I had their support – it took longer for me to feel I could talk to some, even close friends, because I was afraid of the potential response I might get, as the stigmatisation of suicide and suicidal thoughts is serious and horrifically unhelpful, but yet the loss of anyone to suicide is considered tragic – I’ll come back to this in a minute, but continuing from my original point, recovery from depression is not a linear thing in my twice experience. I went through the initial raw, horrible ‘creek with a bit of paddle’ stage as I like to describe it, where I was either barely sleeping or sleeping a lot, days when I’d just sit and plug into a book or watch mindless telly or play games on my phone because I literally had no concentration span at all (which was 80/90% of the time for the first 2 weeks to be honest) and the odd day where I had sparks of concentration – the odd hour where I could focus on things, I’d draw tattoo designs, go to the odd zoom meeting, or a bit of writing.
I did find a sort of therapy in writing poetry throughout my recovery from depression, getting the raw, virtually unfiltered emotions and feelings down in a surprising way that made sense. I had written poetry before (as mentioned in previous posts) but I guess it was never this raw and personal. I found it really powerful. I’ve also got closer to nature during lockdown and am a bit of a bird watcher now and a dab hand with a camera (and I now have a photography twitter account! @lozzz_photog)
I had a few cacky moments , where I got waaaaay ahead of myself and thought I was “better” and had a little crash and cry, but with reassurance from family and experienced friends, I got back on the road in a typical wobbly fashion! I had smaller mini crisis wobbles too, where I thought I’d just lost the ability to think or make decisions, or because I’d had a couple of crap days the way I was thinking (learned this in CBT therapy by the way) was that I had both a “black and white” way of looking at things, and catastrophising them – so in this instance, having 2 days where I’d felt flat, down and generally pants, my thought pattern had kind of gone along the lines of “now you’ll go downhill again because of the last two days, you can’t be happy” which to anyone with a rational and/or non mentally ill mind sounds so ridiculously irrational. But the brain and mind are complex and powerful, and in mental ill health, not a lot may seem rational to someone that hasn’t struggled with mental health issues.
I struggled physically too, with my fibromyalgia, but again as it’s an invisible illness, it’s difficult to explain to people what’s wrong. Depression and fibromyalgia, plus my hatful of other chronic illness shit going on, aren’t a nice cocktail to be honest and it’s a journey to learn how to manage these conditions best. I hate ‘competitive suffering’ as we all have different shit going on that is totally valid and should be respected. I get tired a lot quicker than a lot of people my age and indeed ten years older than me, and I’ve come across people saying that I’ve barely done anything to “be allowed” to be tired. It makes me so angry and there’s no need for it either……
I have put a lot of my limited energies into (digital due to pandemic) voluntary work throughout lockdown for something I’ve mentioned previously, Time to Change (TTC), both nationally and locally (York). Doing this is a form of what is termed purposeful activity in CBT – as it’s all about eradication of stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health, it definitely fits that bill. Knowing that what I contributed was valuable and that I was able to be myself within that community gave me hope, and also courage that I could come out of this difficult time with depression. A poem I’d written late 2019/early 2020 ended up being used in a national TTC project for Mental Health Awareness Week, and more recently I wrote a blog for national TTC on my experience having anxiety and being stigmatised and discrimated against in the workplace. Locally, I’ve taught myself (surprisingly successfully!) to edit videos and put together a spoken word poem and a collection of photos and footage about my personal lived experience of stigma and discrimination in employment. I’ll pop the links just under this paragraph –
Blog for National Time to Change – the blog post
Spoken Word project – video here
I’m starting to wonder now if recovery and positive support networks with purposeful activity has energised me, or to put it better, has given me both a renewed sense of purpose and increased passion or drive to help more people. I know though, that I can’t do as much as I ever used to or as much as I did at the start of lockdown, I have a habit of over empathising with other people on top of overthinking AND probably caring too much, putting others ahead of myself. While in small doses it’s not a bad thing, at the beginning of lockdown I pushed my own anxieties and worries down to help others to the cost of my own mental health. Sounds harsh, but I can’t sacrifice all my own feelings or health to give compassion to others. I can still give compassion, but now I can see, or at least am learning to see, when I need to step back compassion wise. My own health must come first.
In spite of that, and going back to the seeming renewed drive and desire to help others, working to eradicate stigma and discrimination related to mental ill health is something I really care about. It’s happened to me, and too many people get written off or treated shockingly because of a mental illness. It’s not right and most instances, the discrimination at least is bordering on illegal under the Equality Act.
And finally, I would like to say something. When I started this blog in March 2018, the initial posts that followed, or certainly some of the content , reading it back is a little haunting and frankly terrifying. As regular readers know, I was emotionally abused by my then manager (and on an occasion previous to that), the form of abuse which is known as gaslighting. They show how much I was manipulated in terms of my boundaries, how my anxiety was used against me, and how I was discriminated against, both directly and indirectly. I only learned recently a few things. First, I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor. Secondly, and this applies to anyone that has been abused, as does the previous point, I did not make her (my abuser) do what she did. She chose to do what she did consciously, knowing the likely devastating effects it would have. It was not my fault. And thirdly, I am much stronger now I have been through therapy, and done my own work on this. It took a long time to realise it but I am. I have a lot of confidence back, and thanks to my most recent employer, who treated me, with all my chronic physical and mental illnesses, with respect, and listened to my past experience, I was able to build up trust in myself again, and trust in those in leadership positions more confidently, and for those people to set out boundaries and stick to them. I still have issues surrounding boundaries and trust but these are somewhat minimal compared to January 2019. It’s been a long 2 years since then. I’ve learned a lot really, but a couple of things really stuck with me –
Depression lies – you matter. You are loved and you have a place in this world.
You are not your illness.
You are strong and you can do this.
Vulnerability is okay. It’s okay to remove your “mask” .
I’ve got a load of positive affirmations stuck round my wall with things like this on. It’s a reminder that on bad days that I’m not my thoughts and depression is indeed, a liar. I’m incredibly grateful to have people around me I can talk to, and I hope I am able to listen and give this back some day because truthfully I sometimes feel a crap friend when mental illness hits and I just can’t give anything or can’t function much more than eating and sleeping, not replying to emails or messages at my normal speed, even though it’s not on purpose.
2020 has been a bit of a weird one . Obviously the global pandemic and lockdown situation hasn’t helped and my depression was a huge low point, along with the effects of EMDR, plus three people I knew have unfortunately died (one from COVID), but on the upside , I have full control of my social anxiety, much more control of my generalised anxiety disorder, and I got treatment for my PTSD through therapy because I reached out for help. And as well as that I’ve unleashed a creative side of myself and written some poetry that I’m starting to believe is excellent (finally!), and have started a distance learning course in counselling. Sounds a bit selfish but I don’t always do things for me enough.
So, until the next time….