On the week commencing Monday November 24th, the university I work for has an internal Mental Health Awareness Week for staff and students. Basically to challenge the stigma surrounding the topic. As someone who deals with mental health issues myself, I figured it was as good a reason as any to put up a few posts about my own experiences with depression, anxiety and the like.
Since 1999 I have been dealing with depression on and off. It may go back further than that, and probably does, but that was the year I first started to properly deal with it on the back of graduating university. I was on various antidepressant medications for about five years. I also took various therapy options, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and classes for confidence building, before I reached a point where I could effectively deal with day-to-day life without medication.
I never was quite the same after that. My ability to cope wasn’t quite as strong as it had been previously and it left me prone to anxiety (especially social anxiety, being that I’ve always been a natural introvert) and an unpredictable ability to either cope better than most in the case of adversity or crumble entirely.
Recent events, however, have taken their toll on my mental state. About three years ago, my mother suffered a bad stroke just as my parents were preparing to move house early the next year. I was driving between Woking/Guildford and Southampton at least once a week until late December, when she was discharged from hospital. I then visited them pretty much weekly between January and April, helping them plan the move.
By the end of 2012, having pretty much been on the go non-stop for a year, I started to burn out. Hard. In early 2013 it was clear that something wasn’t right and I was eventually persuaded to see the doctor about it again. Since then, I’ve been back on antidepressants for about 18 months. I’ve taken counselling through my work, seen occupational health twice, and am currently looking into other therapy options.
Through everything, though, I decided a long time ago to be open about my struggles. It might be on a small scale, discussing it at work or putting out the occasional podcast or blog post, but it is important to me that anyone can feel open about discussing mental health issues.
It should not be a taboo subject with stigma surrounding it that nobody is willing to talk about. It should not be hidden away so that, so a new sufferer, everyone around them seem to be completely fine – when in fact they could be willing to discuss issues and provide mutual support. And nobody should be made to feel bad, wrong or somehow “less” simply because of what is beyond their control.
Over the next few days, I am going to touch on what some aspects of mental health and mental illness mean to me.