My Story, Uncategorized

Jigsaw Puzzles and Questions | Starting to accept the Positive

Here we are, some time later, ready to enter the surgery phase. Otherwise known as the tear it all apart only to put it back together phase.  This is mind surgery people, this is dissection at its deepest and most emotional.

You could also describe it as similar to cleaning out the attic, you are up there all ready to go. First thing you notice, there is a bunch of stuff just to heavy to lift alone, so who do you trust in your attic? Keep looking and you notice there are broken pieces and jagged splits in a lot of the most precious and important keepsakes in the attic, how on earth will you put these back together? What tools do you need? You also notice that some of the most beautiful pictures are dust-covered and mite ridden and need to be cleaned up, will it just take a spit-shine or do you need some professional cleaners to restore your pieces to their former glory.  Finally, there are all those cobwebs, slowing the whole process down, making it all look so much darker than it really is, the cobwebs only you can clean up, with a lot of elbow grease, dedication and love to keep everything else in tact.

This attic, can take weeks, months or even years to clean out properly. Each corner needs care and attention, every little thing broken needs dedication and detail to fix, most importantly – the attic needs time. To remember what light feels like, to appreciate the feeling of the cleansing. To bask in the glorious release of the hateful airs that have been circulating for, what seems like, forever.

The moment I realised that my sadness could be positive felt like the first ray of sunshine after weeks of grey rain. Yes it still hurt, but realising that this whole experience could really be a precursor to positive change made all of it seem worth while, made the sadness and the pain feel inconsequential, in short – it was a revelation!

In that strange way the universe has of placing opportunity at your feet, I was able remove some of the worst toxins from my life. Whole situations, personalities and responsibilities that had stopped being good for me, were out the window.  I removed myself from anything that didn’t fit right, that didn’t sit well with how I wanted my life to be. This upheaval was and continues to be huge, as complete Life-U-Turns tend to be!

First thing I had to do was get out of my Netflix phase. Even though I was still in the middle of some excellent television series’, I had to try to limit my escapism and attempt to face my issues head on. For each of us this process is going to be different, for some a round of golf gives you the head-space you need to think things through, a long walk through the woods or a long drive. For me, art and writing have always been a way for me to explore my thoughts and express some of my angst. I was definitely one of those teenagers writing angsty poetry about how beautiful some boy or that was, about how painful and confusing my very existence was.  I recall there were definitely some lines about my “life going down the drain” and “hello pain, my old friend.” etc!  Sometimes I read some of it back, it wasn’t all terrible but I was definitely writing about a lot of things I didn’t understand.  Interesting how 10 years later I had come full circle, the realm of my understanding changed, the pain had changed, the confusion and the questions were much much different – and yet it all felt somehow the same. A lot of questions about existence, purpose and life were circling around my head then and now! I would pessimistically say that I must not have answered my questions then, so how do I know I’ve answered my questions now? I think, these are not necessarily questions that need answers – they need to exist and the questions need to be lived, à la Rilke;

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
From Letters to a Young Poet

I was recommended a book called “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron.  It was written based on a college course she teaches to help artists, whether they be writers, painters, singer/songerwriters to unblock and release their creative potential. It has since grown into a tool for sufferers of depression and anxiety to unlock some of the questions we have and play around with them, explore, expand and embrace through creative activities.  You don’t necessarily have to want to become a writer or an artist, the activities are designed to really pull truth, emotion and feeling out of you and onto some form of medium.  It does not require skill or artistic talent, it taught me that we as humans generally don’t allow for a  release of the more difficult emotions and questions we have. The Artists Way simply gives you basic activities which outlet a lot of these pent up feelings.

It was at this time that I decided to start this blog. I didn’t start writing right away, I brainstormed, spent some time just writing small paragraphs and reading them over and over.  What was most interesting about this practice is that a lot of where my pain came from was linked to how I initially approached writing this blog.

With Fear.

I had lived a large part of my life with a constant inner dialogue saying; “I should, I would, if only something would happen, why don’t good things ever happen to me? Why aren’t I lucky enough? This person was just at the right place at the right time, that never happens to me.”

It was all words and no action, all desire and no initiative, all negative and nothing positive.  If I actually came up with a viable path to start working towards any of my goals, there would always be some huge hurdle – a mountain made out of a mole hill. Finances wouldn’t allow, how can I find the time, I’m happier living in my fantasy world. (Random side note, It was at this time that I decided that somewhere in my family I must have a royal connection and everything would be fixed when they discovered I was alive and available to inherit some title. I haven’t completely dispelled this idea, it’s a nice dream to hang on to.)

Even if I had Royalty in my family, what had I done to try to get discovered? It’s a funny little dream, but even something silly like that, couldn’t happen unless you are out there. Being “Out There”  sounds like advice girls give their girlfriends when trying to find a new relationship. “You have to be out there, you know, available, open to the possibility of love.” Well, the same goes for life, how do you expect the universe to recognise that you are ready for a relationship if you are hiding away in your jammies on your couch watching hours and hours of Game of Thrones re-runs, as fun as that is it’s not exactly us at our best.  Much like I said in my last post, only you cure you and only you can show the world you are ready to live the questions.  I didn’t know what would happen if I started sharing my deepest darkest emotions in a blog, I initially shared more on here than I ever did in conversations with my friends. I didn’t know what would happen when I started digging deeper and deeper into those questions – but I had to go without fear.  If you trust it, the universe will provide.

 

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My Story

How do I get help? : Navigating the Maze of Healthcare

So what now? We know that we’re sick, we know we need help, we have probably accepted that this will be a hard run on our own.  No matter how much love our friends and family have for us it’s impossible for them to have all of the answers. We don’t know where to start! We likely don’t have the motivation to dig deep and work through this alone. So, what now? What do we do?

It is fantastic that there are so many resources out there, that the world is starting to wake up to the reality of depression, there are blogs and forums aplenty to help you read up, recognise and accept that you are not alone. But we’re all different, we all have different passions, loves, likes, dislikes and triggers, not one method can work for all of us. So we need to seek help.

My experience thus far is that no matter where you are in the world, access to Mental Health Professionals can be time consuming and expensive. When you are having trouble even just picking your head up off the pillow, the very thought of navigating the complex maze of your local healthcare system and having to talk over and over and over again about your condition, is just about as desirable as slowly being nibbled alive by squirrels.

I would like to add a disclaimer at this point, this isn’t going to be a general “wah wah medical health care sucks, boo hiss NHS” kind of post. Yes I think there is still some work to do, but our access to health care is actually incredible, especially when you really compare it to other countries.  We should all always keep this in mind when we take to complaining about having to wait 45 minutes for a blood test at our local hospital. Have you ever seen John Q with Denzel Washington?  If not watch it and then run to your nearest NHS hospital and give the first Dr you see a great big hug, which you won’t have to pay for.

I want to help people understand that you CAN get the right help, you CAN find Drs and Counsellors and Physicians who care. You CAN get better! It will require a little bit of work, but there are so many ways you can get that help.

So, what is your first move – as with any other illness you need to speak to your General Practitioner, your local GP.  Your GP should be able to have a decent conversation with you about what your needs are, whether medication is the best course and how to get access to talking therapies or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in your area.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I spoke to two GP’s before I found someone who I felt took me seriously, actually wanted to listen and attempted to understand my needs. This is important people!  Remember you are not stuck with a single GP, if you don’t particularly connect with the first GP you meet, ask the reception to see someone different, there should be no fear or shame in getting a second opinion, or even third or fourth. This is your health, we need to trust our guts and stick with what feels right.

It is incredibly important that you speak about medication, Psychopharmacology is covered by the NHS, but in most cases should not be used as a solitary approach to treatment. You and your GP need to discuss which is best for you, some drugs are better at addressing anxiety while others are better at simply lifting a low mood. Be honest and be prepared to give it a chance. It may take some time to get the right type and the right dosage before you start to feel the effects it can have. Some people take quite well to it, others don’t. While others take to it far to well and don’t look into further therapies.

I wish I could think of another word, but disappointment is the only word that comes to mind when I hear about someone suffering and only taking anti-depressants. It’s like trying to cover a black tattoo with a sharpie, it may look like it’s being fixed, but it certainly isn’t a long term solution. Anti-depressants work their best when they are coupled with talking therapy. They can help you to manage your anxiety levels in order to rationally address the underlying issues. They help you manage your sleeping, eating and social patterns so you can continue with the true challenge of healing. Your GP is not your fairy godmother waving her anti-depressant wand to make it all better.  They cannot cure you. Only you can cure you.

Another route to start is within your employer. Most companies will offer a completely anonymous Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Again I’ve mentioned before that they can offer short term support and counselling. For some, the three to six sessions that you can have for free are enough. If not, here again you have a resource to help you decide which route is best for you in working further towards optimal mental health. Ask the EAP counsellor what further services are available depending on your requirements, including free, low cost or private options depending on your financial situation.

My largest concern when it came to getting better was cost. By the time I had had three sessions with my counsellor and spoken to my GP, I knew I wanted therapy. I needed to talk to someone, figure out just what it was in my head that had brought me to this point. I didn’t know myself very well and I needed help understanding how to find myself again. Okay, decision made. Now what? I can’t afford private consultations, the cheapest you would be lucky to get are in the of £50-£75 an hour range, attending ideally once a week still comes to £200-£300 a month on top of normal spending money and bills. Hardly seems fair that mental health is only available to the financially stable.

Since 2006 the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program has been in place and they have made some good headway. You are able to either self-refer or ask your GP to refer to you to a free or low cost service subsidised by the NHS in your area. Click here to search. As you can imagine, these services are very busy – for many struggling there are few other options than NHS services and therefore there is a waiting time. I completed a self-referral online, waited two weeks for a consultation phone call and was told I could expect to wait approximately six weeks before I was able to see a counsellor, I think this is fairly standard. For some this waiting time will be absolutely no problem, many will be able to get on with their lives and function – I was not in that space.

Your next option is Private medical coverage. In the UK your options are basically Bupa, Aviva or AXA. I would suggest getting quotes from all, finding out if you can whether a recommended Psychiatrist or Counsellor is accessible to you with their coverage, and questions around any concerns you may have. I have seen news articles about coverage stopping after two years, some that will not accept pre-existing conditions and limited access to different types of therapies. Understand your options, your limitations and any important considerations before you choose one. Don’t just be sold on a cheap premium, this is an investment in you and a healthy mental state.

I had Private Medical Insurance and was referred by my GP to a Dr at a private hospital in London. The insurer I worked with was surprisingly easy and fairly stress free. I submitted my query alongside my GP referral letter which detailed my requirements. They approved my initial three sessions, I then responded saying my therapist has suggested a minimum of six psychiatrist sessions and eight CBT Counselling sessions. To which they replied – go ahead, use this reference number.  Phew! Done! That was easy!

Okay it wasn’t the easiest, but with only three GP appointments, a few online forms, some telephone calls and some kick myself in the bum motivation I got myself to a place where I could focus on getting better.  I hear a lot of sufferers say that the system doesn’t work, that no one understands them, they’ve seem a million GP’s and NO ONE is willing to help. It is simply not true –  yes sometimes we have to go through several avenues, but if you want to get better you can find a way. That is what it comes down to – YOU CURE YOU.

One final thing to note, I am not a Dr or an expert on the NHS. This is just from my personal experience and I hope it helps!

 

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My Story, Uncategorized

How can I put this into Words? | Sharing your Depression with someone you Love.

I finished my last post with a plea to family and friends of any one who is suffering with depression, here it is again:

I think the worst though, the absolute worst is when your family will not support you. This I just don’t get. I would ask any Partner, Brother, Father and Mother – if you found out that a member of your family was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer would you simply stop talking to them? Would you tell them they were being over-dramatic?  As a friend, if you were approached to just be understanding of how someone felt following a major surgery, would you tell them you just don’t feel able to help because you’ve never had major surgery and really don’t understand how they feel? I would hope not

I almost want to finish this post here because I hope that that would be enough to put the feelings of a sufferer into perspective, they are sick, they know they are sick, but many will not tell their friends or family, will not ask for help because they feel they just won’t get it.

I wish I could say that being there for a loved one when they are going through Depression is easy, you are carried by your Love for them and never ever have fear, doubt or frustration during the process. That is obviously flowery love bull crap. It’s hard, you doubt, you have fear, you are frustrated, but the best of us stick by and fight alongside this loved one because you do love them.

All of my posts so far have had “I’ve been lucky”, or “I was lucky because,” or “I’m so lucky to have …”, well I am. Not lucky to be one of so many inclined to depression, but lucky in that I am surrounded by the most loving, understanding and caring group of people that I could ever ask for. For the good, I have my own experience to draw from.

I am so lucky to have my partner. Alex has been (prepare to gag), my cornerstone, my resting place, my rock, my sanity and so many times my sounding board when the roiling thoughts in my head just needed to get out.  I know he won’t mind me saying though, that he didn’t necessarily start out this way, because neither of us had any idea how to start dealing with my depression.

First step is to talk, even this can be an incredibly difficult, no matter how good you are at opening up to your partner, no matter how close you are, this is that next step to admission, admit it to yourself, admit it to those closest to you. The problem is, how do you say it?Somehow “I’m sad” doesn’t do it justice, if you start ranting and raving about how shitty you feel, either your partner could end up feeling attacked, like something is wrong with them, that must be the reason you are ranting and raving like this! Or, if you start talking after you have already gone to the Dr, gone to a Therapist/Psychiatrist/Counsellor, your partner could wonder why you couldn’t trust them with the admission sooner. This can be a mine field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, miscommunication and fear.  You do need to tread lightly, which is much easier said then done. There are quite a few potential issues here, a) really, you’re not quite in your right mind, sensitivity and compassion may not be your strongest points at the moment, b) your partner could react badly no matter how you put it, your emotional state then could be further fuel on that fire and c) typically your fuse is a lot shorter when you are depressed, if your partner doesn’t react how you imagined they would, KABOOM! An explosion could ensue and that is not good news for anyone!

My advice, only some of which I followed with Alex, but in hindsight have learned; prepare for the conversation, have a strong idea of how you want to word what you have to say. I would start by asking that your partner allow you to finish what you have to say before asking any questions. I would have some print outs or websites open that detail the symptoms of Depression to help put your symptoms into perspective, and most importantly, be 100% honest. If you feel like aspects of your relationship could be a trigger point, then you need to tell your partner. If your trigger is something else and you haven’t told them up until this point, perhaps you should try to tell them now. This will not be easy, no matter what the cause, the background or how understanding your partner is, someone you love telling you that they are incredibly unhappy is fucking scary! You should also be prepared to answer any question they have, don’t be surprised if some of them are irrational, such as: is there someone else? Have I made you unhappy, etc.  You should keep reminding them that it is in no way related to them, or if it is, how you would like to fix it and that you love them very much.

As I said, I didn’t prepare to tell Alex, and I wasn’t prepared for his reaction because I was unable to be sympathetic to his emotions when it came to my illness. I had just returned from my final EAP counselling session, (the one in which my counsellor told me I needed further help). Alex asked me how it went when I got home and I blurted out, ” I’m depressed, I need to take time off work and see a counsellor and fix this.”  I can hardly blame him for how he reacted.  Alex and I are your typical 20-somethings living in an over-priced city, working our butts off to try to make ends meet, so of course his first reaction was, “Take time off work? We couldn’t afford it if you lost your job.” My reaction to that was to burst into a flood of tears because how could THAT be a priority right now.

You can see how being prepared to have this conversation, thinking ahead of how to say it, and being aware of what may concern your partner will absolutely be beneficial to all involved.

I don’t think Alex was prepared for the floodgate that ensued, the shock and guilt I read on his face reminded me that he wouldn’t, ever, intend to hurt me like that. This reminded me that I needed to give him more information, he needed to be taught what being depressed was about, and that was in no way his fault. It was at this point that I started searching the web for further information on Depression, I gave him a few links and asked him to spend some time looking at them, and that we would talk further. As Alex could now come from a view-point of understanding rather than confusion and fear, he was much better able to listen to what was hurting me, what the symptoms were (Psychological and Physical) and support any thoughts I had on the next steps, and offer a few of his own.

While going through Depression with your partner is difficult, I have struggled even more with friends, I will admit that I wasn’t there for a friend who herself had Depression, I had no idea how.

When you or your partner is going through Depression, you are there with them, day-to-day, dealing with the emotions, the confusions. You typically have opportunities to talk, or just to be there and to hold the other and make them feel like everything is okay, just so long as you are cuddling. However, with friends it is easy to continue on in your life without thinking about what a friend is going through constantly. Furthermore, every one is different with what they need, each stage of depression requires a different approach, if you don’t see each other every day it’s tricky to understand what they need at that time. This is a difficult one, and I don’t think I’m best placed to give advice on how to deal with friendship, but I can share my experiences.

At the beginning of my depression I was in my avoidance phase, if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind I didn’t want to talk about it.  If anybody asked how I was doing at this time I was doing fine, that was it, don’t want to talk about it, how are you? Move on. I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want help, I didn’t want comfort, I just wanted to know they were there, like before to have wine and a laugh with. I had to learn that these are the people who know you best, talk to them, tell them what is going on. Going to a counsellor is great for the third-party unassociated point of view, however your friends can have insights into you, your history, your personality and the best of friends can be your own Portrait of Dorian Grey that you need to see.

From that point onwards I just needed to know that they were there, whether I needed a laugh, a cry, a hug or a beer … or seven. For me, that was plenty. I’m often telling friends who have other friends with Depression that you cannot constantly ask how they are, how they’re feeling or give suggestions on how to feel better, constantly try to be chirpy because you think it will help – it doesn’t, it just pisses us off.

All of the above is from my personal point of view and I think it is important that if your friend tells you they are suffering from Depression you should ask them just to tell you what they need from you and you will be there.  These communication lines are incredibly important. As I said above a friend of mine suffered from Depression, we didn’t have these communication lines open, I got so caught up in my life I forgot how it felt to feel so alone in Depression,  I didn’t ask what she needed from me, I didn’t forgive her turbulent moods nor did I make myself available, just when she really needed me.

My lessons from this comes down to open communication. You cannot get through any relationship without communication, but it is even more important when the people around you need to understand what you need at any given time. Be honest and don’t be afraid to talk, remember that not every body understands, not through any fault of their own, but because Depression is difficult to understand.

Communication. Understanding. Patience.

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