Saturday, 27 February 2016

Why am I here then? By Garry.

Hi all,

I'm Garry, I'm 46 and I have had depression for over 30 years! I have been on medication for 10 years yet I'm never fully happy or appreciative of much. I have lived with my partner for 18 years and we have two young kids. We both work and I don't take so much time off now so that's a success isn't it? I wake up each morning so there's another success. I see my beautiful family every day so there's another.

What have I got to be depressed or anxious about then?

I don't know even though I've had psychiatrists, psychologists, self help, GP's and CBT. I can't address the problem if I don't know the reason can I? Why I'm even writing this I don't know!

There is a stigma attached to mental health and I believe it. I don't know why but I don't ever make it public because I believe people don't care or believe. I don't want this published but yet I'm still writing it. That's my life right there, so full of I don't knows and why's and why not! I am writing about something which is destroying me but I can't fix it. I should be happy right? Maybe I am part of the stigma problem. Maybe I should just open up and scream it from the roof tops. I won't though because I'll just sit here and go through this and try and play my part in society.

 This email will be full of contradictions but you need to understand that my life is full of contradictions. How do you all open up in public? How are you able to do that? The stigma surrounding these issues is real isn't it? People don't want to know about this surely.

Why am I here then? I don't know. Just like I don't know why I feel like I do, I also don't know why I'm here.

 It's painful to believe the stigma but I do.

Can I save this as a draft or can I send it? You see, I don't even know if I'll send this so if I do then surely that's a step closer right? If you're reading this then either in a moment of elation or deflation I have sent this. I'll regret it if I do but that's my life. Just because I believe in the stigma please don't let yourself. I also believe in all of you and what you are trying to achieve. That's for now though as I may not believe that tomorrow. #itaffectsme

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Not Everything is Covered in Darkness by Alessandra Botham

My mind doesn't allow me to process things rationally.
If my mind were a child's toy teaching them how to sort shapes through the correct and fitting hole, my mind would force the circle blocks through a triangular hole. Misconstruing every thought, every moment, every sense.

Rationality escapes me and catastrophising takes over.
There's been moments where I've pushed myself over the edge; one self abusive thought that harms my mind and my body.

A lust for my own blood shed is what I long for.
A want to be swallowed up whole by the earth, the ground, the soil that is beneath my feet. That soil underneath me is as low as I can get.

Nothing is straightforward. Happiness isn't just happiness. And sadness isn't just sadness.
Many a thing contributes to my mindset and thought process.

Anxiety, self esteem, a not quite normal relationship with food. All of these things add up and band together to bring me down. They hit me harder than a tonne of bricks. Some days they anchor me down so I physically feel their weight, not being able to find motivation or able to find myself.

But still, always still, I go on. I play my part. I play it so well that Oscar nominees writhe in jealousy at my skill. Flawless and tactile I go on through life; my outer shell is hard. It's painted with confidence, finished with positivity.

It is fake. As fake as those Oscar nominees who would die for such a skill of facade.

Not everything is covered in darkness.
I have sought help. And plan to get better.
I plan to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And when it's within my reach, to grasp it, grasp it hard and to not let go.
I understand there will be steps forward and steps back. But I'll take it as it comes. We all need to take it as it comes.

But one thing I'm certain of is a little bit of help can go a long way.
Find yourself some help today.


The Truth Behind a Smile

I can’t remember when it was that I began to feel ‘unhappy’. I guess that’s because I never questioned it. There wasn’t a day as a child where I woke up and thought, ‘today I feel depressed’. Rather, every day I felt empty, hollow, numb whilst simultaneously feeling constantly panicky and worried about everything. It was hell. But hey, that’s just life, right? Get on with it. So I did. 

I suffered in silence, scared to question my terrifying world and dreading a lifetime of feeling this way. I went to school each day and smiled my way through. I was always the joker of the class, the bubbly one, the smiley one. What did I have to be unhappy about? I went to a lovely school, had gorgeous friends and a beautiful family and home. I was lucky. 

So I kept quiet. But the more I silenced and forced a smile on my terrified lips, the more difficult things got. I developed obsessive thoughts around food and hygiene and began hurting myself multiple times a day just to get through. Sometimes the pain was to numb the panic, sometimes it was to make me feel less empty: to feel something. Often I did it because I hated myself. I was only a little girl, but I hated the way I looked and I hated myself for feeling the way I did. I’d tell myself, ‘why can’t you just get on with things the way your friends do?’ I started crying myself to sleep, hoping that this would be the last time I would close my eyes, hoping that there wouldn’t be a tomorrow morning. 

That’s when I started to think things might not be quite right. The more I saw the girls around me, the more they looked so care free, so un-troubled; their arms unscarred and their laughs somehow more resonant and real than mine could ever sound. I began to not quite believe that they too had to bleed to get through, that they too had a dark cloud encompassing their every move and that they too were waking up to thoughts of death each painful day. So I reached out for help. 

I told my amazing best friend who confirmed these worries. It wasn’t ‘normal’.
After talking to her, I knew I needed help, it was my GCSE year. I had to get better. But I was ashamed and frightened. I felt that telling more of my friends and family would only disappoint them. I was so worried how they would react. Thankfully, the school had a confidential counsellor and I began seeing her on a weekly basis. It gave me a chance to let out all the worries consuming me, but it wasn’t enough and as I began being more open with the counsellor, she was worried for my safety and the time came to tell my family. 

Despite my fears, opening up to my family was a huge feeling of relief. They were not disappointed, only concerned and got me the help I needed straightaway. After sessions with a GP, psychologist and psychiatrist I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, BDD and contamination OCD. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by this diagnosis, it was a relief. It indicated to me that life wasn’t ‘just like this’, I wasn’t going to feel like this every day and I could get better! I was put on medication and began weekly sessions with an amazing psychologist who I will be eternally grateful to.

My road to recovery was a long one and certainly not easy, with big ups and downs along the way but I am proud to say that with the love and support I now know what happiness feels like and look forward to my future. Reaching out for help was the best decision I ever made and to everyone that helped and supported me along the way (even if that was just a hug one day or a squeeze of the hand) I owe my life and happiness to you, so thank you so much. It is possible to get better and believe me it’s worth it. Now that I am better, I want to make sure that fewer children experience such pain and when they do, they are not afraid to speak out and get the help they need and deserve, so #itaffectsme <3
Let’s get mental health education on the curriculum.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

I am a Work in Progress by Laura Darrall

So I think I’ve needed to write this since the beginning. I am a work in progress. Running this campaign has given me such hope and strength but it also, sneakily, led me to believe that I was fixed. I’m not. I have had relapses along the way, being on social media so much has increased my anxiety and I am tired. So very tired. But it is worth it. Worth every single yawn, heart palpitation and tear.

I wanted to write that because I needed to take my own advice, to start a conversation and to look after myself. Here I am asking you all to be honest and share your feelings and stories about your own mental health whilst I’ve been trying to hide mine, to be strong for the campaign.

And I am strong for the campaign, but I am also human. A human in recovery. And do you know what? That’s ok. I wouldn’t be adhering to my own advice if it wasn’t.

I think what is so hard about coming out the other side of difficult mental health is looking back on all the destruction and pain that it caused both you and your loved ones and being able to forgive yourself. Now that is hard. But you must. And I must. I am trying every single day to forgive myself. To tell myself that it wasn’t my fault. 

When your mental health causes you to act a certain way or to make certain decisions it is hard to separate that from yourself, to tell yourself it is an illness. But you must. And I must.

This campaign has been the most important, overwhelmingly incredible thing I have ever been a part of in my life. The community we have built and continue to build is one so full of resilience, strength and hope that it quite literally blows my mind. 

I have been so lucky to be contacted by so many people whose bravery floors me. To face depression every day, to have your brain buffeted by OCD thoughts, your chest tightened by anxiety and to carry on, to fight, that is the heart of humanity.

We are the heart of humanity. The truth. The hard bits, the difficult bits and the ugly bits. And I for one am proud, so very proud to be a part of that community. When I see people who have never met before encouraging and supporting one another in the #itaffectsme Facebook group or on Twitter @itaffectsme, I know we have created something pretty special.

We are building a family, an army and the change won’t come from David Cameron, it won’t come from the government, it will come from us. Because we want it, we need it and we will make it happen.

I am travelling to Australia in a week’s time, a journey planned before the campaign was even a glimmer in my imagination. To rest, to feel free and to give myself some time. I will continue to spread the word while I am out there and have thankfully found some incredible support from #ItAffectsMe angels Sophie Winter (@on_thebutton), Ann Akin (@Harts_Theatre) and Robyn Cooper (@RobynJICooper) who will continue the momentum on social media whilst I am in a different time zone.

But also to you: #itaffectsme belongs to us all. We have built it together and it is all of our responsibility to keep the conversation going, to make people talk and to create the kind of world we want to live in. A world with no judgement, no fear and no stigma. So, social media: take this campaign and let it fly. I am rooting for every single one of us.

#itaffectsme and it always will. Laura x

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Hello. By Nick Delvallé

Hello. My name is Nick Delvallé and I suffer from depression.

Mine is not an especially sexy story of depression. There’s no descent into alcohol abuse or drug dependency. There are no elaborate suicide attempts or divine salvation at the end. It’s just a story of feeling really crappy for a really long time. However, as beige a story as this may be, it strikes me that this is probably the case for many of us who have gone through or are going through it, so I hope this helps in some small way.

I’d long held a less than phenomenal opinion of myself but my problems only really started to become debilitating during my first year at drama school. After a few months, I started finding it increasingly difficult to socialise with my classmates. I would still go out to parties and such; I would make myself go out as I did not want to raise any alarm bells about my state of mind. I would then spend the entire evening convinced that people would be having more fun if I weren't there. I still feel that way sometimes. This wasn’t a case of feeling like I had no friends. These people around me were kind, genuine people and I knew that they weren’t solely putting up with me out of politeness (although that suspicion has never disappeared entirely). This was more a case of not being able to understand why they put up with me and of feeling entirely undeserving of their friendship.

I happened to mention to a friend over a cup of tea about my feelings of self loathing. It wasn’t done in a breakdown sort of way (that would come later), it was almost matter of fact. My friend looked at me with puzzled expression and said “You know that’s not normal right? you know that’s not how you’re supposed to feel?”. I didn’t. I’d felt this way for so long that I didn’t bother to question it.

I took his advice and promptly did nothing about it. I was almost physically incapable of talking about this with my friends. I didn’t want to be a burden on them and I was afraid of being looked at differently, either with ridicule or with pity, both of which seemed equally abhorrent. What seems ridiculous to me now is the double standard I was living by. I know (or at least I would like to think) that had any of my friends come to me and told me they were struggling, I wouldn’t have looked at them as weak or mad and would have done everything I could to help them because they are my friends and I loved them. Yet I was utterly unable to apply these rules to myself. My self loathing, inexhaustible sense of guilt and fear of being “found out” (of what I still couldn’t tell you) also conspired to make me feel undeserving of help.

There was also a fear of change. It’s true I felt immeasurably miserable but this was all I’d known to one degree or another for as long as I could remember and as such was completely tied up in my mind with my sense of identity. If you took that away then I’d be left with what?

Yes, I have had suicidal thoughts and still do from time to time. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever had any intention of acting on them. For one thing, the overwhelming guilt at the prospect of how it would affect my family and those closest to me is enough to deter me (and further conspires to make me feel worse than I already do). More than that though, I have no wish to die especially, rather these thoughts stem simply from a desire not to feel this way anymore. I think it significant (and possibly symptomatic of this country’s general attitude towards mental health) that when searching for a solution to an unbearable situation, my brain reached for “suicide” before “talking to someone”.

Eventually the situation reached critical mass and I broke down in another friend’s kitchen. Fortunately for me this was a friend who had gone through similar problems. I knew I couldn’t continue feeling this wretched but was still supremely reluctant to get help. “If you broke your leg, you’d go to a doctor. You’re not weak for needing help and you’re not crazy, you’re sick - go see a doctor”. It seemed so obvious when she said it, or perhaps I was just ready to hear it.

I went to go see a doctor who, in all honesty, I did not find especially helpful. After a few sessions with her, she referred me to an NHS specialist who I found a little more useful but still not brilliant. Incidentally this is fine and from what I can gather quite normal. My friend (in whose kitchen I broke down) assured me that she had gone through 4 or 5 therapists before she found one that she liked. If you’ve been brave enough to make the step to seek help, then please don’t be deterred if the relationship between you and your doctor is not a good fit right away, it can take time. 

Time passed and my day to day circumstances changed which helped me a great deal (getting out of the high pressure environment of drama school was particularly beneficial). I’m still susceptible to crappy days that have nothing to do with my depression just like everyone else. However I now have little alarm bells that go off if I wake up feeling bad for no apparent reason. “Is this just a bad day or am I heading for another black period?” This is one of the few instances where extreme self awareness is useful rather than tedious and demoralising. It allows me to monitor my condition and take any necessary steps before things become unmanageable. I definitely left it too long last time.

It almost doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find the right doctor for me. The fact that I have got to a point where I can talk to someone else and not berate myself for doing so, has been a huge step for me. I’m not currently seeing a doctor but know that I would be able to make myself go to one if it became necessary and knowing this has left me feeling better equipped to fight any future problems if and when they appear.

I’m not cured; I’m not sure if one ever can be entirely but at this particular moment in time I’m in a good place mentally.

I wish you all peace, love and good mental health. #itaffectsme

Friday, 12 February 2016

Social Anxiety

I was meant to write this over a week ago, and I’ve tried to write it three times already, but something keeps stopping me and I’ve been struggling to figure out what it is. I have suffered intermittently from periods of depression, days at a time when I can’t leave the toilets at work because I can’t stop crying, but I’m ok at the moment and I’ve been mostly OK in that respect for a while. However, the thing that affects me constantly and the thing I wanted to write about is Social Anxiety. 

I actually had to Google whether Social Anxiety counts as a mental illness as it isn’t often discussed in the same way that depression, anxiety and OCD etc are so I wasn’t sure that this would be a relevant contribution. It’s usually referred to in funny memes with pictures of cartoon figures; ‘Oh my God someone gave me a compliment and I went bright red, argh I’ve got such bad social anxiety!’ or adopted by people who think it’s another cute way of saying they’re a bit shy, but in reality Social Anxiety is an utterly crippling asshole who lives inside your brain and wants you to live a sad solitary existence away from all human interaction.

I developed Social Anxiety about two years ago after a hideous, gut-wrenching friendship breakdown when my relationship with my best friend (and housemate) imploded and I was made to believe that it was all my fault. For someone who only strives to be kind and likeable, to be hated with such vehemence and then discover the subsequent blog posts outlining your awfulness to the world was really tough and has had long-term damaging effects on my mental health.

Thanks to my socially anxious brain, I find it incredibly difficult to make friends. At this point in my life I would say I have many wonderful acquaintances but I really struggle to call those people my ‘friends’ – my anxiety stops me from believing that any of the people I enjoy spending time with are my friends. It stops me from calling them my friends, because they probably wouldn’t call me their ‘friend’, I’m sure they have other people they say that about, but not me. When I see pictures of people I know on Facebook on a night out, surrounded by a group of different faces all squeezed together for a photo with ‘I love my friends!’ written underneath it, I find myself thinking ‘I wonder how they did that? I wonder how they manage to have all of those friends?’ 

I sent a text message to a ‘friend’ this morning; painstakingly constructed first in my head then on my phone, writing and deleting it continuously for twenty minutes, double and triple checking that everything I’d written was warm and friendly and couldn’t be perceived in any other way. It’s now the afternoon and she hasn’t replied, and I feel with absolutely certainty that this means I have done something wrong and she isn’t interested in being my friend anymore.

Not long after my relationship with my best friend broke down, my Mum turned sixty and we threw a surprise sixtieth birthday party for her full of family and her friends. Standing in the packed kitchen, chatting to my many relatives, I felt a vice-like grip begin to take hold of my head. This has become a familiar feature in busy social situations where there are a lot of people to speak to. It’s like having an iron pole driven in to each of your temples and quick-drying cement poured in to your neck and shoulder muscles. At that point I have to escape and it’s not unusual for me to spend twenty minutes sitting in the bathroom practicing deep breathing techniques and going through ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ scenarios to prepare myself to return to the party.

I am lucky to have a wonderfully supportive boyfriend who I can say without question is my best friend in the whole world and doesn’t judge me one bit for being a social disaster. When we were meant to be going for dinner with his parents and I couldn’t get out of bed or stop crying at the prospect of having to speak to people, he brought me tea, tissues and a hot water bottle and just let me be alone, casually telling his parents I wasn’t feeling well. At other times he helps me to join in conversations in social situations by standing next to me and encouraging my input and calms my fears that I am inherently unlikeable by going through a list of people who like me and call me their friend.

I also feel Social Anxiety is a difficult thing to talk openly about, saying that you don’t have any friends and you don’t know how to make new ones seems to make you more of a weirdo than saying you’re depressed. I have only ever told my boyfriend and my sister about my anxiety, I fear telling friends would be counter-productive as I would then question whether they really wanted to be my friend or if they were just taking pity on me; it’s a vicious circle. 

However, I’m striving hard to beat my condition. I read books and articles on how to be a good conversationalist to try and counter my inability to speak to new people. I put myself in social situations that I find difficult to practice new techniques, I reach out to friends even though it’s scary to ask if they want to hang out, because every time someone says yes I’m reminded that it probably means they like me.

I hope that in time I will have beaten this crappy part of my brain in to submission and I will find it natural and easy to have friends again, I’m working on it and I do believe I’ll get there, but in the meantime, #itaffectsme.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

I Was Born Like This by Sarah Griffin

My first night terror took the form of a waking dream wherein the crocodile from Peter Pan was swimming up my bed, its mouth open, its vacantly happy eyes bobbing back and forth. I was four years old. I screamed so loudly that when my mother rushed in to find me apparently wide awake, still convinced that there was a cartoon crocodile on my bed, she actually checked to see what it was that I had seen that had scared me so. Of course, there was nothing there. 

Just like there was nothing there the first time I went cold turkey off of Paxil, which they would later take off the market in America because of a supposed link to heightened risk of suicide in teenage patients. I was ten years old and I suffered a panic attack so acute that I overpowered my 6’4”, over two hundred pound father as he was trying to drag me out of my hiding place. There was nothing there. I knew there was nothing there. But if I didn’t hide—if I didn’t hide— 

I have attempted suicide three times in my life. I have not attempted suicide since the age of 11. 
My hiatal hernia, or the congenital muscular weakness that caused it, went undiagnosed for eight years, even though I would stop being able to eat solid food for months at a time if I was under unusual stress or in a new situation. 

Even when I was in counselling, no one thought that a girl my age with a history of anxiety disorders and depression could possibly have a physical reason for this kind of behaviour. I was told I had an eating disorder, even though I desperately wanted to be able to eat. 

Not until I was 24 and sitting in front of a doctor who also had a stomach condition was the possibility even floated, and I still had to stage a sit-in at the GPs in order to get the endoscopy which would confirm his suspected diagnosis. By that point I had been unable to eat solid food for nearly three months. 

People who knew me at that time still make fun of me for carrying food on me at all times so that I could eat small amounts throughout the day. They still don’t understand that it was not a choice, not a fad diet, not just me being how you are’. Translation: being crazy. 

I am thirty years old. I am living in one of the most expensive cities in the world as a legal immigrant. I have two degrees and am part of an internationally recognized scholarship organization. I teach at universities. I teach in homes. I work with kids, many of whom are SEN students. I volunteer in my community. I read good books and am in the process of writing a bad one. I’ve been married, happily, for nearly five years. I am an artist and a comic. My first feature film is in the final stages of post-production. 
I will always be like this. 

I spent a morning a few days ago curled up on the rug in my bathroom, unable to do anything but sob for half an hour. Then I got up, got dressed and went to work. I never miss work. Well, not because of how I am, anyway. 

I take no drugs, prescription or otherwise. I eat a lot of fruit and not much meat. I seldom drink, and because I don’t do it often, I don’t do it well. I exercise, and when I don’t exercise I try to do something physical for 15 minutes. I talk it out, a lot, even when no one is there to hear me do it. I’m learning to sing. 

I am registered with my local talk therapist. I will go to them first when things get hard. If that is not enough, I will go to my GP and go back on medication. I have not been on medication for nearly four years. You have to have a plan. 

When speaking to a friend about my experience, she was surprised--  
“You’re the sanest person I know,” she said. 
“Yeah,” I said, “because I’m probably the only person you know who’s had lessons on how to be sane. Everyone else just makes it up as they go along.” 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

#ItAffectsMe in the Workplace by Laura Darrall

As I've been talking to people throughout this campaign, what has become a prevalent issue is employment and whether or not it is okay to admit on a form or to a colleague that you have a mental health condition, for fear that they would doubt your ability in doing the job properly.

I would like to state now that I know so many people who manage mental health problems daily, that are brilliant at their jobs, that are reliable, trustworthy and in many ways genius at what they do. 

When I first came out of drama school I don't know if I would have been brave enough to have been so open about my mental health for fear that it would have affected my career. However, now, eight years down the line I have proven myself reliable, solid and good at my job, I feel confident in talking about it because I know thankfully it has never affected my work. But that fear shouldn't have been there in the first place. 

In the same way people with a physical condition may have to take days off sick, people with a mental health condition may have to do the same but it is treated differently. 

People in physical pain may have their moods affected, they may become snappy or aggressive, weepy or vulnerable. But it is excusable because they are in physical pain. 

When someone's mood is affected by their mental health or mental pain it is seen as weak or worse, weird. But do you know what? It is not weak, it is not weird. It is understandable. And it is not their fault. 

We need to become better at understanding, at patience and at being non-judgmental, kind human beings. 

We shouldn't live in fear of ticking a box that says we have anxiety or depression or OCD. Nor, if someone is off sick with a mental health problem should they be scared to return to work for fear of what people might think. Nervous of the task ahead: yes, the recovery process: yes, but of people's reactions: no. 

It may be idealistic (I am an unashamed idealist) but I would like to live in a world where if I am struggling with a mental health condition I could rely on whoever I spoke to, regardless of age, profession or relationship to react in a way that puts me at ease, that makes me feel normal and makes me feel respected. 

That is not an unrealistic dream. With education, funding and normalising the discussion of mental health in the media this dream is achievable. Which is why we must not stop the conversation. 

I have anxiety, I have OCD and I work. So let's talk

Monday, 8 February 2016

Never Forgotten by Becca O'Neil

When people talk about having kids often it's just the next thing to be ticked off the Life List. No biggie: just get pregnant, have a baby... Easy. But it doesn't work that way for everyone. In fact, statistically most people encounter some sort of challenge during this process. I’m now ready to share my challenge. The taboo was one of the hardest things to get my head around and it shouldn't be. So here goes.

In October 2014 we found out I was pregnant after only a very short time of trying. We were ecstatic and busy planning our new life as a three. What we weren't prepared for, was at 7 weeks when the bleeding started but then stopped again, would the baby okay? We were told to wait another 2 weeks and take another test, the test still came back positive and the docs reassured us that everything was probably okay. Already an emotional roller coaster, up down and back up again and only just 9 weeks pregnant. 

Two days later I collapsed in the most amount of pain I've ever been in. I was in the car, on my own with a dead phone. I somehow drove myself to A and E and got taken straight through to majors, managed to call my husband from the hospital phone, left a message and hoped he would arrive. 

He arrived just as the doctors decided that my pregnancy was probably a ruptured ectopic but still they couldn't be sure. I had many tests and was on morphine which still wasn't taking the edge off. By this time it was gone midnight and I was transferred to a ward. I was terrified, left alone and all I wanted to do was to stay with my husband. He wasn't allowed back in until 3pm the next day by which point I'd been prodded, poked, examined and sent down for a scan to confirm what was becoming only a formality. 

It was a new born clinic where I was sent to wait and I can't explain how hard that was. Being in the same room with so many beautiful new babies whilst I sat in my pyjamas with lines coming out of me, knowing that I had a baby at that moment in time but that I was unlikely to ever meet them was the most horrendous experience of my entire life. 

I finally went in after 30 minutes of witnessing mums bouncing their babies and smiling at me, only to be told that my baby was ectopic and had ruptured my tube and that I would need emergency surgery to remove it. 

I was then put back in the room with the babies whilst they waited to transfer me back to the ward and at that point I fell apart. My husband finally found me after being misdirected around the hospital and scooped me up. He took over and I don't remember leaving the ultra sound or getting back to the ward. I do however remember several months later going for a check up and finding myself physically unable to go in to the ultrasound room. I was crying hysterically, reliving the horrendous memory all over again.

The surgeon came in and I was prepared for surgery. I signed the forms in a blur. By this point I was on stronger morphine and I think I've blocked most of it out. But what I do remember is having to sign a form to allow my embryo to be cremated. This stayed with me and is something I still struggle with. Despite knowing it could never have survived, I felt like I was killing my baby by signing this form. It took a long time to come to terms with that. 

I lost my right Fallopian tube, a lot of blood (several litres) and struggled with a reaction to the gas they had used and so had a 5 day stay in hospital and several weeks of disappearing off the grid to recover physically. Only a handful of people knew. I couldn't talk about it, think about it, or see a pregnant person without wondering why us, what did we do? The answer being nothing, it was just one of those things.

I began to not function and completely shut myself off from the world. I finally sought help after 6 months, at that point I was crying on a daily basis and could think of nothing else. The thoughts wouldn't stop. After keeping everything bottled up I finally shared with my husband what I was feeling. His unwavering care, teamed with support from my GP and several online forums where I could share my story and found others in the same boat, allowed me to begin to feel ‘normal’ again. I said yes to going out with friends and finally felt free of the confines of my own thoughts.

Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies generally happen in the early stages of pregnancies and most won’t have told anyone they're pregnant. This prevents it being easily discussed and creates the isolation which is so debilitating. 

Hopes, dreams, excitement and happiness are all invested the moment you get a blue line on the pregnancy test. My baby wasn’t born but I will never forget them. I had to grieve for a child I had never met and only by allowing myself to come to terms with that grief did I start to get back to me again. Let’s create a world in which we can talk without fear of stigma. #itaffectsme. 

I am a Mother by Sarah M

I am a mother. It feels very strange to see that sentence written down in front of me. You'd think it would have sunk in by now, thirteen months down the line. Sometimes, I don't feel like a mother to my daughter. It's as though I'm looking and listening to her through sound proof glass. Or, when I touch her, that I'm wearing wearing oven gloves, unable to feel the warmth of her skin against my own. Everything is surrounded by a blurred edge, like I've had a bit too much to drink despite me not touching a drop for over a year. Then others, I feel too much. I love her too much. I lie awake next to her cot staring, wringing my hands, desperate for an inner peace that I know will not come. I'm in a high state of readiness, every sound making my stomach clench and my heart skip. I feel nothing or everything. There is no in between. There is no rest, no time out.

I am a mother with PND. 

My labour was difficult. I expected it to be but nothing prepares you for it. I thought I was. I attended hypnobirthing classes religiously. I downloaded my "Relaxing Labour Companion" CD. I practised my breathing techniques every day, twice a day. I was totally ready. Except when I wasn't. I've always been a bit of a control freak. I like order, I like to plan, I like to know what will happen next. Nothing went to plan during my labour, I had no idea what would happen next. I never managed to play my CD (despite the whole experience taking over twelve hours). I never used my breathing techniques or all my lovely hypnobirthing poses. It pains me to say it but it was the worst experience of my life. My daughter was not blissfully placed into my open arms (no skin to skin for me!) I was so pumped full of drugs that my arms couldn't function properly. I did not encounter that warm, glowing, all consuming love when I heard her cry pierce the air for the first time. I didn't even know she had been born. I was exhausted and my body felt like I'd been hit by a train. Everything hurt and nothing felt natural. "Your body was made to birth your baby". Countless times I had heard this. As a woman, I was genetically programmed to have children. I carried this little girl inside my body for nine months, talked to her, told her how excited we were to meet her. So why did I feel nothing. Literally nothing. Empty. Spent. A void. 

I put it down to the trauma of it all. The drugs, the stitches, the tiredness. "It's the baby blues" the midwife told me, five days after Evelyn was born. "It will get better". "Once she gets used to being here, to feeding from you, you'll feel 100 times happier". I didn't and I still don't. I was completely overwhelmed and terrified. I watched my husband holding Evelyn, so calm, so self-assured and relaxed. I hated him. I hated myself. How was he handling the situation so much better than me? I had wanted a baby for over five years and now I had one and she felt like an impostor. The first few weeks were a blur of tough breast feeds, painful recovery and midwife visits. Then it all came to a head eight weeks after the birth. 

My husband is in the forces and so was due to go abroad for a month. The night before he was due to leave I didn't sleep a wink. This was not an unusual occurrence as I had spent many nights previous to this one sitting on the floor of the landing outside of the bedroom, listening to my daughter and husband sleeping peacefully through the night. Morning came and my husband found me hunched on the bed, inconsolable, repeating over and over again that I wanted to leave. "I want to run away" I said, "I need to leave". I have a drama degree so I'm pretty good at putting on a front, playing the role of the happy, doting new mother in front of my husband had been pretty easy up until this particular morning. Something inside me snapped and I had no control. The thought of having to be with my daughter alone for four weeks was too much and all I could think about was leaving and never coming back. Anyone looking in from the outside that morning would have thought I'd lost my mind and looking back on it now I had been slowly unraveling from the moment we returned home from the hospital. 

I am incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive and understanding husband who immediately sought help. Within hours I had been referred to Community Mental Health as well as a wonderful charity called Cross Reach who specialise in counselling and therapy for women suffering from PND. My journey to beating this illness has only just begun and it's safe to say that I have a long road ahead of me. However, I believe admitting and acknowledging that something has to change is the first big step. I am currently taking each day ten minutes at a time and there are good days (where I feel I have done a half decent job as a mum) and awful ones where my anxiety levels are sky high and the slightest problem (today it was losing the nappy cream) can push me over the edge. Knowing that there are people fighting to end the stigma surrounding mental health is a huge comfort for people like me who have always struggled to express what's really going on inside their head. Living with one's thoughts can be a scary experience but verbalising them or even scribbling them down can be an incredibly effective, cathartic release. I'm still learning to do this and I urge anyone else who is going through a similar situation to find someone who can help. 

Don't be afraid because you are not alone. Depression: it affects me. I'm not ashamed to say it, and neither should you. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Shame: The Social Pressure

Part of the problem of my personal experiences with depression, OCD and anxiety, apart from the effects of living with these issues, is the very obvious and unnecessary cultural aspect we as a society have attached to mental health; shame.

I have recognised shame in a number of guises over the years as a very peculiar form of policing how we think, identify and speak.

The taboos we face are particular to the cultural definitions of what is supposedly worth feeling ashamed about.  In this economy, hard work is viewed as a virtue in a false dichotomy with the concept of being lazy.  These are largely subjective definitions as we are all built differently, have differing talents and energy levels.

I contracted glandular fever when I was about 15.  The energy levels were disabling, my ability to complete my GCSE’s were affected and I suspect I have been affected ever since in my ability to energise and self motivate.

I work as an actor, its my passion, the most powerful work I have ever enjoyed. Yet I recognise the pervasive attitude that arts are frivolous pastimes in comparison to ‘serious’ subjects such as abstract finance careers in speculative finance economics, or traditional ‘real’ jobs viewed in a Victorian moralising light.

I think this has permeated our culture, this prejudice of who is worthy and unworthy.  Deserving of support and undeserving.  It cultivates two tiers for care and support.  It enters our very own psyches as a form of self policing which only enforces depressive and self-judging mentalities, feeding intrusive thoughts about being unworthy, about needing to earn safety, peace and love, rather than having these as a right.

I think, ultimately, how we interact socially affects very closely how we fare and heal mentally.

We are still essentially a Victorian society when it comes to the *morality* of mental illness.  There are way too many people who still falsely believe that being ill in the mind is a form of moral failure.  

It is a cultural, political ignorance which holds us back from honestly and maturely linking our scientific knowledge of mental illness to how we as a society face that and support the vast numbers of us who are affected by it.

It is pervasive in our language, when arguing, people tend to shut a person down by labeling them ‘mad’.  How many women over history have been imprisoned using the excuse of ‘madness’?  How many abuses have been concealed by such a morality of silence?

I think cultural identity operates in this vein of self policing.  Thus we don’t ask for help, even when we are breaking inside.

The myth of masculinity is a powerful case in point.  Look at the suicide rates among young men.  When the internal reality of being ill faces the crushing pressure of social expectation, many tragically end the pain the only way they know how.  Somehow, suicide has become more acceptable than asking for help.  Another myth; the noble end.

We are triply burdened; by the illness, by the toxicity of the shame associated with it and finally by the lack of resolution or integration we allow in ourselves by not asking for help.

Funding for mental health care services is a powerful indicator for how significant we actually, officially consider this to be a concern.

How we treat the weakest, those least able to help themselves, is a reflection of how we view ourselves internally.  The priorities we give ourselves as a society and a political system reflects this.

Communicating the experience of depression or anxiety often requires abstract forms of explanation to another person who has not experienced it.  Yet communicate we must.  Because it is ignorance which has fed fear over the years, ignorance which exacerbates the isolation and atomisation which has traditionally burdened those already in pain and need of help.

I have chosen to write anonymously because my point is this isn’t about any one of us, but all of us collectively.  

I know I have been harder on myself than others have.  Its easy to forget that the best friend we can have in this life is our own self.  If you judge yourself so harshly as deficient to your expectations, what hope can others expect of you?  

The internal policeman isn’t you, it is learned.  As is the idea that exhaustive work earns, or qualifies you for, happiness. Give yourself the grace to ‘fail’.  Prioritise compassion for your self.  And in that practice, compassion for others becomes habituated.  The point of this campaign is to normalise communication about issues which affect us all, without fear of consequence and without shame. #itaffectsme