What if we treated physical illness the same way as mental health?

Following on from yesterdays post hoping for a greater understanding of mental illness; last night I came this wonderful and thought-provoking item, posted by @Nikkitita69 . The point being ‘What if physical illness was treated in the same way as mental illness’.

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I think that this brilliantly illustrates the lack of understanding and education that surrounds mental illness and those who suffer from it; both in silence or those receiving help. Changing attitudes and perceptions is vital; even something as small as copying this graphic and posting it on Twitter (or heaven forbid Facebook). Personally, I would love as many people as possible to see this, so feel free to share EVERYWHERE.

 

*Huge thanks to @Nikkitita69 for bringing this to my attention.

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‘Seeing’ Mental Illness

As the sad departure of Jonathan Trott from the England Ashes tour in Australia has shown us over the past few weeks,  we humans have a remarkable, if ill-advised way of ‘living’ with mental illness; of ‘dealing with it’. There is a popular misconception amongst some who feel that those who suffer from mental illness, specifically various forms of depression, should be able to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’.

Of course, unlike other medical conditions, let’s say for example, a broken leg; depression / mental illness can not easily be seen – those affected will often find it hard to talk about how they feel or the problems they find even completing the most basic of day-to-day tasks that other people take for granted. It can be extremely hard to articulate ones feelings with regards to this; partly because of the stigma still attached to these conditions or due to embarrassment – feeling as if it’s not a ‘real’ illness.

It is – depression is no less an illness than developing pneumonia and is more common and widespread than many of us think. In 2010/11 the number of reported cases of depression in the UK fell just below 5 Million. This obviously doesn’t include the number of individuals who for various reasons either refuse or lack the ability or courage to seek treatment; or indeed those who do not in fact realise that they are in fact suffering from a form of mental illness.

Mental illness is a huge problem in the UK – it’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate; it can debilitate anyone, young or old; and despite the still popular misconceptions, succumbing to depression is not a sign of weakness or a flaw in an individual’s character. As Jonathan Trott has shown; here is a man attempting to live with a serious illness whilst still attempting to maintain a high level of performance as one of England’s leading batsmen. Of course, anyone attempting to lead a ‘normal’ life whilst attempting to keep their condition hidden or under control will face problems. Therefore the more we can do to highlight mental illness and to show support and understanding to those, like myself, who suffer, the sooner we can begin to break down the misguided barriers that help to contribute to making people’s basic every day survival potentially much harder than it really should be.

Depression can show itself in many forms, quite often the symptoms will be physical as well mental, as these examples show:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Persistent sadness
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/ or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Self-harm

Of course there is no particular pattern to this and no two people will suffer from the same combination of symptoms. I was finally forced to admit to and face my own problems recently after and during a severe bout of insomnia that lasted almost a month. To put that into perspective, during those four weeks I probably averaged about 1 to 2 hours sleep a night – as a general rule those periods of sleep came at the beginning of the night – the rest of the time was spent awake. I have suffered from mental illness for twenty years and whilst I don’t intend to go into the reasons or triggers for that here, I can confirm that for the majority of that time I have gone without both medication or therapy.

So, just for moment try to imagine the mindset and internal pressure of someone attempting to cope with mental illness, knowing full well that they have a problem, yet trying and failing to live a ‘normal’ life. I’ll be the first to admit that one becomes rather adept at covering up any traces of illness – during the whole of past twenty years I can honestly count on one hand the number of people who I have discussed my situation with and that includes doctors. Obviously I would urge anyone showing any of the above symptoms to contact their doctor immediately or at the very least try to discuss their problems with someone close to them. Of course, it is very, very easy for me to say this, after all I have become extremely skillful at NOT discussing my problems with ANYONE, and to be honest I couldn’t give you a good reason why. Again, I don’t intend to make this too personal, but what I will say is that by not seeking help a long time ago for this illness I have built a wall around myself that is so impenetrable that even I, now at the age of forty, almost fail to recognise myself.

If I could give one small piece of advice to anyone it would be ‘ don’t become isolated’. I have driven people away and ruined most of my close or meaningful relationships due to what at the time was my inability to confront or admit to myself that I had a problem – let’s put it down to my upbringing, stiff upper lip and all that other bullshit.

Should you be in that position – seek help. Talk to your doctor – I’m very lucky in that I’ve discovered that in fact I have the most wonderful doctor, who in the past month or so has made a huge difference to my life and has helped me to see a way forward and a way of not just coping, not just managing, but living a better and hopefully more meaningful life.

SSRIs are not for everyone, and after a painful and very frightening time taking Seroxat in my late twenties, I was very unwilling to go down that particular route again. However, I believe it is possible for the right combination to be prescribed although it might take some time to find the right medication for you, (if at all).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also help. Keeping your feelings to oneself is the worst thing that you can do – there has to be an outlet, a way to let of steam, to release the pressure. Again, this might not be for everyone, but I am finding this to be a massive help. It can be very painful, however I feel that the benefits will pay off over the long-term.

Talk to people, friends, family and fellow sufferers – learn about your illness. It can be a long battle and you need to be as prepared and well equipped as possible. Know your enemy.There are plenty of support groups out there, full of people going through the same thing, seek them out.

Finally – this is NOT an illness to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s a real illness with millions of sufferers, many of whom are fighting the double battle of both mental illness and the stigma attached to it and to themselves.

http://www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/what-is-depression.php

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssris-(selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors)/Pages/Introduction.aspx

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

I’ve been wondering what constitutes the difference between a novel and a novella. Julian Barnes’ 2011 Mann Booker Prize winner could certainly be considered to be on the short side, at only 150 pages – however, in the same manner as J.L Carr’s ‘A Month in the Country, it’s slight appearence does not in anyway diminish it’s power.

This story begs the question, do we ever really present a truthful representation of ourselves to the world? Or, do we settle upon a version of ones personality, be it accurate or not. Memories can play cruel tricks upon ones mind – a group of friends will quite often have completely conflicting memories of incidents from their shared past. The end of a relationship or friendship will be seen from two opposite points of view.

It it only as one gets older that we are sometimes forced to confront our perceptions, and re-evaluate past events – in the process perhaps reaching a conclusion that we would rather not have reached at the time.

Life will often throw up unwanted and sometimes unexpected surprises – this novel captures a mans attempts to cope with this, in the process accepting what he was always too blind to see.

A very moving and thought provoking novel….

High Anxiety

There has been a lot of coverage in the past week about England cricketer, Michael Yardy taking the decision to leave the world cup early to return home due to suffering from severe depression. The reports of this have been mixed; thankfully though, we live in a time where there is a greater acceptance of depression as a serious illness, however there are still those who hold the view that sufferers of mental illness are simply ‘unhappy’, or a ‘bit down’. These are the people who look at a sportsman like Yardy and generally think that he should be grateful for the fortunate position that he has found himself in, and that perhaps he should just stop moaning.

I think it takes a great deal of courage to admit and be open about depression, even in these enlightened times; after all, even though you might be able to talk about it, no one really knows the pain and suffering that a person goes through during these times.

During most of my twenties, I myself went through several bouts of serious depression and panic attacks. These episodes became so serious, that at one point during the mid 1990’s, I went through what could probably be considered a complete nervous breakdown. It’s very difficult for me to describe to you how this felt; at the time I certainly felt unable to talk about it; I was embarrassed, almost ashamed, and considered myself to be very, very weak. Throughout this whole period, I struggled to maintain a normal life; including holding down a full-time job. I became very withdrawn, and although I’ve always been a very sociable man, I quite often felt like shutting myself away from the world. Panic attacks added to the pain; I occasionally would be unable to set foot in a shop if too many people were there, I would become a nervous wreck if someone as much as spoke to me. There was one incident where I ran out of a hairdressers half way through a haircut; I simply felt unable to be around people, or any amount of pressure. Sporadically, I also started to drink a lot; a hell of a lot.

The root cause of my problems was the sudden and unexpected death of my Mother in 1993. I had no idea how to deal with this at the time, so I shut it out; I almost pretended it hadn’t happened. The last thing I would have been able to do at the time would have been to talk about it; that just didn’t seem to be an option, and of course, over the next few years, the pressure of this continued to build up inside me to the point where my behaviour began to become increasingly unpredictable and self-destructive.

I don’t think I can begin to describe just how dark these times were; there are periods that remain firmly locked away in my head; to be honest they will probably always stay there, and this blog is certainly not the place to relive them. This is down to self-protection;  I’ve tried very hard to maintain an image of being very thick-skinned; however, this is only partly true. I have become fairly tough over the years, I’ve had to, there wasn’t really any other option. It was, and sometimes still is, just a question of surviving, of getting through the day, and of waking up the next morning.

Days, months and years soon pass, and I left it too long before deciding to try to get help. I have untold amounts of respect for anyone finding themselves in that position. The first step is always the biggest and hardest; even before you feel able to discuss your problems, you have the far harder task of coming to terms with it yourself. This took me a long time to do, and I often wish that I’d been able to take that great leap of faith far sooner than I did; after all, my illness took its toll not only on me, but also on those around me, and especially upon those closest to me. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I hurt those I loved due to my inability to talk or express my feelings; even now this still crops up from time to time, it has prevented me from allowing people to become too close to me; this has always been a great sadness in my life, and I’ve often felt that I’ve missed out on a lot of living.

Receiving treatment can be a long and painful process; I went through a very tough period whilst taking prescribed antidepressants. At the time it didn’t feel as if they were actually doing anything to help me. Of course, realistically, you don’t start taking these and suddenly wake up a week later feeling and acting like Mr Happy and on top of the world. They simply help to provide balance in your life, they level you out; although, in my case the side effects were horrendous. I found therapy to be of much greater use; the beauty of this is that they don’t actually say that much too you, they leave you to talk, to release everything that you’ve storing up over the years.

I found that over time I was able to discuss not only my Mothers death, but also her in general. I was able to go back to my childhood, talk about my parents divorce, address a lot of issues that I’d long kept buried. It was a long and very rocky path, taking probably the best part of a year to even myself out. However, there is no magic cure, only acceptance, and an ability to recognise the signs of oncoming depression. What I managed to learn was how to deal with depression when it comes knocking on my door; for example, these days I only really suffer during the winter months, and I find the Christmas period very hard to deal with. I now know the signs though, and I deal with it accordingly. It’s been eight years since I last visited the doctor, or took medication for depression, and touch wood, I’ll never have to again for the remainder of my life.

We shouldn’t judge those who suffer from this illness. It can and does take over your life, dramatically changes your personality, and can leave one feeling totally helpless and useless. What we need is more acceptance, understanding and empathy for those people who are undoubtably going through the fight of their lives.

How to tell your mid-life crisis to piss off….

I recently found myself on an evening out attempting to chat up a young woman, who upon reflection, was quite possibly young enough to be my daughter. Of course, at this point I’d had more than a few, and as I’m sure we all know a few stiff ones can suddenly make one believe that you’re the funniest and most charming man on the planet. Now this can go one of several ways; they’re either as pissed as you and you end up in bed, (more of which I’ll come to later), they pity you, and put up with the smarmy offensive for a while, whilst hoping that it’ll soon be past your bedtime, or they’ll take the more direct approach and tell you to fuck off.

What is it that makes a man of my age suddenly think that he can still be attractive to someone who was still learning to talk whilst he was starting his first job? I’m sure there are those out there who thrive on this; who still love the thrill of the chase, whilst at the same time worrying about their pension. I’m not one of these people; I can think of nothing worse than being thought of as a ‘dirty old man’, or whatever term is used these days. This has happened to me on far too many occasions though, and more often than not I’ve woken up the next morning, (or afternoon), wondering what the bloody hell I was playing at in the first place. There is nothing worse than that horrible creeping feeling when your mind clears and you realise just what an ageing lothario you’ve become; especially if the other poor individual involved is still asleep next to you. You feel frozen to the spot, unable to move, even though all you want to do is to get the hell out of there. Of course, if you happen to be in your own bedroom, then you’re quite literally screwed.

Can I put this all down to the onset of the fabled ‘mid-life crisis’? Perhaps. I think you do start to panic a lot more about life when you reach a certain age; in fact I know you do. Little problems that you would have once laughed off, ignored or took in your stride suddenly become magnified; it doesn’t matter what it is; it could be work, money, relationships or your appearance. Or it could just be the fact that you’re getting older; and let’s face it, getting older sucks cock. Big time.

This isn’t all about sex; I don’t particularly want to be thought of as some ‘dirty old dog’, clinging onto some lost, halcyon days of youth. Perhaps it’s a fear of commitment; for many years now I’ve never been involved in a relationship with someone the same age as me; the problem is of course that all those people are getting older too. They want to settle down, get married and perhaps have children. It all suddenly becomes very serious and very real; a feeling that your carefree life is now in all probability over. So, you move onto even younger people, and that’s where you start to look silly, and a bit desperate. That’s not to say that I don’t want all of those things; in reality I do, probably more so now than ever before. However, before one can get to that stage there has to be a degree of acceptance; not only of your age and where you are in life, but also an acceptance of yourself as a person. I’ve always had a young outlook on life, I don’t feel any differently in my mind from when I was eighteen, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, you have to adapt that young outlook as you grow older; for example, how often do you see a man pushing forty still trying to look like a twenty year old? I don’t think I really try to do that, although, I will confess to growing my hair longer this year in a vain attempt to ‘knock a few years off’ – this has resulted in several different reactions from work colleagues. One told me it made me look younger, the other asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis. I decided to go with the first response and ignore the other; there is no better way to massage my fragile ego than to tell me that I could still pass for thirty. In fact, if anyone reading this actually knows me in real life, perhaps you could just email me, or phone, and just tell me that! Male or female, I’m not that fussed; you’ll make me a very happy man….

Just because you’ve not reached your ideal place in life by your late thirties, it doesn’t mean that you’re a complete abject failure. I know I’m not alone in this; I’m sure there are many of us out there feeling a bit washed up and passed our best; I’m sure it doesn’t have to be that way though. I think the secret is just to relax a bit; don’t take it all so seriously, and learn to come to terms with who you are. In reality, people like you for who you are, regardless of your ability to stay out until 4am every Saturday night, although I think doing that once in a while does you a lot of good. It’s about achieving a certain balance in your life; the fine line between growing old before your time and still trying to look as if you’re a guitarist in a band on the cover of the NME.

Now, until next weekend……

Uninteresting List

Since 97.5% of the people who read this have no idea who I am, I thought it would be the decent thing to do if I revealed a few little known, but harmless facts about myself. Since I’m in a giving and sharing mood for once, here we go…

  • I can’t swim
  • I used to pull out grey hairs – no longer though, there are far too many
  • I’m frightened of butterflies and moths
  • I failed my driving test three times
  • I have inverted nipples! (Most of the time, and I have no idea why!)
  • I refused to eat the majority of vegetables until I  was about twenty
  • I’ve not eaten an egg since I was six years old, (that was in 1979 in case you wondered)
  • I’m not really a miserable bastard
  • I have an older 1/2 brother and sister that I’ve never met
  • I love gardening, and will have an allotment later this summer
  • I’m a hopeless romantic
  • I lost both my parents by the time I had reached twenty
  • No form of mushroom will ever pass my lips
  • I suffer fools badly
  • With no family left, my friends are the most important thing in the world to me
  • I have serious issues about getting older
  • I have an odd obsession with striped t-shirts
  • I try to read one book per week
  • I love cheese
  • I would love nothing more than to be able to live out in the countryside with lots of animals
  • I adopted a donkey called Timothy
  • I’ve been in love at least three times in my life, but only one was ‘the one’
  • At times, I get rather jealous, even when I know there’s no reason
  • I think too much, (I often drink too much as well, these two things often coincide)
  • I still want to stay out all night dancing
  • I’m often oblivious to whats going on around me
  • I’m very stubborn
  • I quite often stay in bed all day
  • I secretly would like to have children one day
  • I hate lists

All that I’ve lost, and all that could have been.

We’re all alone in the end.

I’ve always blamed myself for what happened. Impossible I know, but I’ve always felt responsible. The nagging doubt has always been there, eating away at me inside, refusing to budge, refusing to let me go.

This has always been a huge invisible barrier in my life; even though it’s entirely one of my own making. It has held me back in my career, and it has acted like a white elephant to any meaningful relationship I may have been involved in. It might sound odd to say that I have never minded, or been afraid of being alone. Being an only child makes one used to your own company, even if at times it becomes rather tiresome. After all, we’re all alone in the end.

Has this left me incapable of feeling or showing love? No, I’ve been lucky. There are those who entered my life, those that stayed for a while, whom I have loved. On the other hand, there were those who were never mine to love in the first place; they may have been the deepest, most heartbreaking love of all. The love of your life.

Those moments when the guard comes down are rare these days. I began to fill the empty space by other means; be it drink, meaningless sex or other ill-conceived relationships. This may provide you with some sort of temporary respite, a brief diversion; however the reality is always there waiting for you. You become cold, hard, cynical, almost machine like. Showing emotion becomes a sign of weakness, letting people become too close to you something to be avoided at all costs. You isolate yourself, become oblivious to those around you who care about you, and in time, forget what real happiness feels like.

No man is an island; but you can build a tall, unbreakable wall around that island, constantly checking for possible gaps. Over the years this is bound to take its inevitable toll. You become tired; not only of the constant effort required, but of yourself, and your own stupidity. Surely only a complete idiot would set out to screw up their own life? Who would actively make their existence cold and empty?

It all comes back to guilt; a debt to be paid for that event where the responsibility still hangs like a millstone around your neck.

As I sit and think and write about this, I’m fully aware as to how stupid and self-pitying this must sound. I know that in reality I was not responsible for my Mothers death at such a young age. I know that it was just a complete fluke that on a cold November week in 1993, she caught the flu, possibly off me, that caused what in the end was a sudden, quick and fatal asthma attack. I also know that there was nothing that I could have possibly done to change events. Nothing could have prevented such a tragic, wasteful loss of such a young life.

Stars have their moment and then they die.

I don’t look for sympathy. I’ve never wanted it, or expected it. I’ve never wanted people to feel sorry for me. Despite the words that have gone before, I do not wallow in a pool of self-pity. I have always tried to get on with my life in the best way that I can, quiet and with as much dignity and self-respect as was possible. There are many periods of my life when I do feel happiness. There are those in my life who provide me with support, laughter and unconditional love.

Perhaps that’s enough? Perhaps at the end of the end that is all that really matters.

Time passes, memories fade.

I’ve noticed something rather disturbing recently. In truth, I notice a lot of disturbing things, but this one thing has become very hard to fathom.

Those that know me, or have read previous posts will be aware that I lost both my parents by the time that I had reached the age of twenty. As I race towards the grand old age of forty, this seems longer ago than ever before, and this leads me onto my problem.

The longer that time pushes ahead, the less I remember what my parents actually looked like.

This might seem like an odd thing to say, after all, why don’t I don’t look at some old photos? The fact is, I don’t have any. Not one. All my family photos were lost when I was in the process of selling my late Mothers house following her death in 1993. I don’t know how they all got lost; the answer to that remains as lost as the photos themselves.

All I have left are memories, and it breaks my heart that these are becoming more fragmented and distant as time passes. As far as my Dad is concerned this presents less of a problem, after all, I only have to look in the mirror and he’s looking straight back at me. What breaks me up is the fact that my Mum is slipping from my mind; not my memories of her, they will always remain and there’s never been a single day when I’ve not thought about her, however the visual recollection is almost lost to me.

This is what upsets me the most, the one person in the world who was closest to me, and I can no longer remember her face. I don’t think I could possibly begin to describe to you the sorrow and emptiness that has filled those memories, and if I were talking to you face to face, I doubt if I could even try.

Every once in a while I see my Mum in dreams. I always remember them, and for that brief moment I see her how I once remembered her. In those few, short, fuzzy minutes when waking up this always comes as a nice, warm comforting moment. I’m always thankful for this when it happens, although it’s not that often. The worst part of this is the feeling that a whole part of my past is now lost to me; I started writing about my childhood last year in an effort to help me remember. This was a difficult decision to make, by my very nature I’m a very private man, I try to keep my most personal thoughts and feelings to myself. I’ve always tried to protect myself from heartbreak, and perhaps the end result of this is a misconception that I’m a rather cold individual. I guess that by writing about these things it makes it easier to say the things that I would be unable to say to people in person. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m wary of giving too much of myself away, or sadly of letting anyone get too close to the real me. Of course, there have been rare occasions when people have got past the facade; have caught a brief glimpse of the other me. I hope those people over the years realised how very special I thought they were, and of how much they meant or mean to me. I don’t know if they do or don’t, but the fact remains that it takes an amazing person to get inside my heart and more importantly, my mind. Unfortunately though, life is often a cruel mistress, hopes and dreams are often dashed. Even when those you want and love the most in life are out of reach to you.

Random thoughts on the train to work (1)

Damp leaves. Empty streets. Crowded platform. Can’t concentrate. Late train. Sun rises over the fields. Starlings whirl.

Mist begins to clear, although not in my mind. Think about the day ahead – no enthusiasm, no point. I can’t get what I want.

Day dreaming. Rain on train windows. Take me far away from here. Who can save me from myself? Strength is not everlasting, something has to give. Brown eyes, deep sighs. Racing heart. Nervous goodbyes.

From the first I was lost and to the last I am yours. What’s the point of second best?

There’s not another soul in the world I could possibly belong to.

When I’m near you, my heart just won’t be told. Desire, pain and sadness – a continuous raging storm that will never blow itself out.

Like my childhood, I think I could miss you forever. I no longer know anything worth mentioning. Out of the blue, I must shoulder the blame for breaking myself in two.

Ripples, butterflies, driving rain, a hurricane. Life is too short for shyness and guilt. I must let you go, though I love you so.

Life shouldn’t be about “I’m happy, but…..” Always chase the impossible. Something’s in life are worth the chaos that arrives.