My personal brand of ‘crazy’…

I wrote this first a few weeks back, to come back to. I’ve tried to focus less on fact, and more on feelings – after reading something about being clear in expressing how you feel to help your mental health. So I’ll put a *trigger warning* at the top of this, that if you don’t want to be reminded of how depression and anxiety feel, and the thoughts it triggers, it’s best you don’t read on.

Taking a deep breath first, as this is the first time I’m publicly disclosing this, and it can be difficult to talk about…

I’ve had clinical depression and anxiety disorder for 15-16 years. Describing this feels odd, as I’ve only just realised that the impact it’s had on my leading a ‘normal’ life (don’t like that term, need to think of a better one!) in that time classifies it as a disability. A lot of the time you’re too busy trying to keep your head above water trying to hold it all together, to step back and really think about what it means in a bigger context.

I go through flare ups, sometimes for weeks, sometimes a couple of months that make life really tough. The change is more micro than that too. So I can be having a bad period for a month and a couple of days I think I’m balancing out again, but I’m really not, and I crash again. It’s unfortunately an unpredictable roller coaster. I think the longest I can remember not feeling this way for without an interruption of some kind, is probably about 3 months of rational/happy. That was about 2 years ago.

My self-esteem plummets, I become more reclusive, over-sensitive, and my negative thinking about myself takes over my life – giving it a really cynical hue. I become suspicious and untrusting of others (a consequence of projecting my own feelings of low self-worth on to others) and the idea of doing anything fills me with dread. I’m right now hitting that time of year where I lose all motivation to do anything. But the anxiety means all I do is sit and worry about all the stuff I’m not doing.

I basically become this husk of the person who I actually am. And because I can see that, I don’t like myself even more. It gives me more material to beat myself up about. It’s really hard to stop the downward spiral once I’m caught up in it, and it can make day to day functioning pretty near impossible sometimes. It gets worse in winter, and some flare ups are worse than others.

In these bouts, amongst other symptoms, I can’t face plans I’ve made. I become a nightmare flake to friends. Then I worry they just think I don’t want to see them, which makes things worse. But I have a problem leaving the house. Which means not making in to work sometimes.

In the past I’ve had to lie about absence reasons in some jobs, but am fortunate enough to be able to be honest with the managers I currently have. So I can work from home during bad flare ups, which helps me avoid too much sick time. This is still loaded with needing to judge when is bad enough and worrying about what others think about these absences from the workplace, though.

So going back to the beginning, when it started. I realised that how I felt wasn’t normal… I took myself to the doctor from the age of 15, telling them I thought I was depressed, and was patronised (the guy looked and dressed like Timmy Mallet, which did not help). This continued for the next 6 years of my life as I tried to get diagnosed at different points.

At 21, I went to the doctors one day after no sleep, having had panic attacks all night, shaking and looking awful. I was finally diagnosed, put on meds, and sent for therapy.

I then spent ten years yo-yoing on different dosages of an anti-depressant that was supposed to be a 6 month temporary fix. I’ve decided to come off medication now, which makes anxiety tougher to deal with – it rules a lot of my thinking. I’d never say never about going back on meds. There were times where it was more severe than it is now, and without going into too much detail, I’ve needed them to keep me alive.

If you have any questions about my experience, please ask in the comments, as I know one post doesn’t cover anything. Also open to suggestion about what you’d like to hear, or what else you think would be useful for me to include. If you want to talk about your experience too, I’d love to hear from you.



World Mental Health Day: how to smash stigma at work

Firstly, DISCLAIMER. I’m not an expert. I’ll try as much as possible to link through to relevant resources, but, this is my first time attempting to do anything on this actively at work.

I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where disclosure hasn’t cost me my job – and where I’ve been accepted onto a Diversity and Inclusion group that has been set up to enable this type of activity (don’t get me wrong, there’s still a hell of lot of improvements that are desperately required culturally, but this is a step in the right direction).

I know that not everyone has this “luxury” in their workplace.

But mental health & stigma is personal not structural, and shouldn’t be publicly talked about, right?

So most of us have been lead to believe. People love making their lack of knowledge and/or tolerance about unifying, universal conditions that make you (the minority) different, about YOU PERSONALLY. And you alone. This attempting silencing usually happens because they identify with one of the following scenarios:

  • The I don’t understand it or have it myself, so I’m going to presume it’s you being weird/attention seeking/wanting special treatment/always moaning.
  • The I think I understand it, but I don’t want to jeopardise my own position/relationships here to support or help you, so it’s easier to think about it like no. 1, or sit on the fence.
  • The I suffer it myself, but everyone around me deals with it like 1 & 2, so I hide it to cope, and don’t like the fact you’re publically talking about it when I feel I can’t.

I have genuinely felt no. 3 in the past. This was before I’ve been able to be more open about it, and ended up feeling like no. 1 about individuals who do speak up. I was wrong. But it takes everyone time to realise they’ve been brainwashed by societal norms (also called ‘internalised oppression‘), feel they’re able to talk about their experiences. As more of us do this, more will change with organisations we’re part of, and it’ll help those who really have no voice at present, be able to speak up.

So why talk about it openly at work?

Smash the stigma! 😀 If you can, break the silence on mental health, by talking about it. (Again, if it’ll cost you your job – or cause you to have a complete meltdown – don’t. It’s your personal decision – and this is just my way of doing things.)

Making diversity issues about the individual, therefore removing them from their wider context, strips minority groups of the validity of their shared, and very real, experiences. It alienates and isolates people in these groups. And whether intentionally, or not, focusing on the personal, rather than the structural, is used as a tool to dismantle the legitimacy of their experiences – and their power to change things.

It can be so hard for those going through mental health problems to stand up for themselves anyway, but faced with being marginalised like this, makes things worse. All we can do, is fight to change this, if we have the strength to. By trying to speak publically, and make our voices heard.

How do I go about it?

Provide a space, day, time, whatever… where the spotlight is shone on mental health. Its key people realise they’ve got one too, and even if they’ve not been diagnosed with a long term mental health condition, 1 in 4 people in the UK are likely to experience a mental health problem within the course of one year.

And how do you communicate this? I’m using World Mental Health day – October 10th. I’m putting this messaging on the posters and emails – that advertise the bake sale I’m organising. The event will just be a Friday afternoon bake sale, with coffee, tea and handouts on mental health. I’m using materials (including leaflets) from the awesome Time to Change campaign, run by mental health charities Re-Think & Mind. You can find them here.

If colleagues want to just bake, or just donate and eat cake, they’re showing support. Or if they want to sit and have a chat about their experience, or ask questions, great. If it triggers conversations wider than inside the room I’ve booked out, even better. But the main thing is, people become aware, even for that one day, and think about it. Instead of it being ignored, or treated as a sign of individual weakness.

I know not everyone works in an office, so there may be challenges around beverages/cake sales or room bookings. Time To Change also has a range of stuff you can do for World Mental Health day at work, and action you can take to make your employer more mental health aware. So check out their resources, as they’re the experts 🙂

Time to stop talking about it and get cracking organising – wish me luck!

~ MCL x

*UPDATE 20/10/15 – really impressed by the turn out (thanks to everyone for showing support), the baking skills & the fact we raised just under £125. We also used my tongue in cheek poster strap line ‘smashing stigma one bake sale at a time’, which I was pretty pleased about 🙂 *