I Have a Mental Health Condition

The last week has been a pretty crappy one, with regards to violence and the news. Amongst other things, we’ve had the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, USA, and the killing of MP Jo Cox in West Yorkshire, England.

In the former case, the shooter was a Muslim and, as usual, the term “Islamic Terrorist” have been thrown around. In the latter case, it was a white guy with far-right sympathies and the media seems torn as to whether to call him a terrorist or not.

There are some that say that if he were dark skinned and had uttered something along the lines of religious rather than nationalistic rhetoric then he’d also have been called a terrorist.

Personally, I think this argument misses the real point.

In both cases, the suspect’s mental health issues are one of the first things that get revealed in the media. As if this explains it all. As if mental illness makes someone a killer.

That’s about as likely as someone’s religious beliefs making them a killer. Or their political beliefs. Or what sports team they support.

Sure, sometimes these can be a contributing factor but I don’t think they’re ever The Main/Only Reason.

But the media loves a scapegoat. The Muslims. The Immigrants. The Mentally Ill. Basically, it’s always blamed on The Other. And all this really does is inspire hatred and fear of The Other. Which is often what will cause the next tragedy.

I can at least say one thing as someone with mental health issues, though. Which brings me to the title of this post. I have a mental health condition.

Having a mental health condition does not automatically make someone a danger to others. Hell, I’d say that my depression and anxiety means that I’m more likely to kill or harm myself than anyone else. And even that isn’t very likely.

And if this is true for one type of “Other”, it can be true of other “Others”, too.

Try to understand those who are different from yourself. It’s not always easy and I know I don’t always get it right. But don’t succumb to hate. Because all that ever does is extend the cycle of tragedy,

All Change, All Change!

A lot has changed over the past few months. Anyone who’s been following my posts on mental health issues knows that I am currently dealing with depression and anxiety. My first major period of this was around 1999-2004. I’ve since been back on medication, and seeing the doctor about it, for about two years now. Although, truthfully, it had been brewing back up slowly for a few years prior to that.

2015’s Changes

This bring me up to the recent changes, as the ride only got rougher this year. Back in January, I ended up signed off work for a couple of weeks as I just wasn’t coping. Winter is always rough for me and this time around the Christmas break wasn’t enough to recharge my batteries. At the time it was discussed that a change in medication would temporarily make things worse, which isn’t what I needed right then, but I was also referred for a therapy course – which I found useful.

Move forward two months, and I was due a followup appointment with the doctor anyway. Things were still rough so I asked about the possibility of changing my medication. It isn’t that it wasn’t doing anything, more that it wasn’t always able to do enough. When I went through a rougher patch, I was already on the highest dose so the doctors had no leeway.

March to May was, therefore, a very rough time. I was stepped down from the high dose to the regular dose of the first med which, inevitably, brought along side effects. Mild withdrawal combined with an increased level of overall anxiety, mixed in with a basic reduction in the effects of the medication.
Coping with work had been tough for a while anyway and it had to get worse before it got better. The end goal was the ability to cope better but the short-term effect was a weakening of all my defenses.

More Change on the Horizon

This is where my timeline gets hazy, as so much was going on (good and bad, work-based and personal) that I can’t recall the exact order of some aspects. And when you mix in things like medication changes, work stress, (multiple) family birthdays and the week-long Easter break at work, my emotions were sort of all over the place. Good, bad, calm, anxious, all at once.

Chaos.

Around April, I was switched to the new medication on its standard dose. I was also put on an as-required beta-blocker to deal with the anxiety spikes that I was dealing with.
It was also around that time that work announced that it was gearing up for a pretty large-scale restructure. In particular, the department I worked for was going to be effectively merged with one of the others. This does have a certain amount of logic behind it, and my particular job role wasn’t at risk from this, but it was another big change on top of everything else.

Trying to juggle mental health issues and work life had been a struggle for a while anyway and I think my brain sort of threw in the towel at that point. Even though the change itself would take “complete” in August, I could forsee our department being somewhat up in the air for a good year before it settled nicely into how things would be.

As with any large-scale restructure, they opened up requests for voluntary redundancy. I’d been there for just short of ten years, and had been looking at a bit of a change of focus for a while anyway, so I figured I’d apply.

It is also around early May that I was put on the next dose up on the new medication and things were starting to settle back down.

The. Big. Change.

My application was accepted. Good settlement. Fast turnaround – end of May. And, to be honest, no complaints from me. I wasn’t expecting to be finished already but I think I needed it to be that way. There was a sense of relief as it means that i didn’t have to go through a large-scale change of something familiar. If I’m going to have some changes, I’d rather go through changes.
Cue a couple of weeks of tying off tasks and writing up notes.

Yes, I am now officially out of work. I’ve got enough of a financial buffer to be able to jobseek without too much pressure for a while. I also intend to use the free time to finish building myself back up.

I need to continue to get my head straight. Getting some regular exercise and working on my physical health will be useful, too. I’ve not been in a good way for a while now, so I am taking this opportunity to work on getting myself “right”. I’ve been off work quite a lot over the past half a year or so, a mix of depression, exhaustion and regular illness. Any one of those would be easy-ish to deal with on their own but they tend to build on each other and pile up on top of me.
I need to get my head straight, improve my overall health (physical and mental health are linked, after all) and work out what direction I want to move my career in.

I intend to stick with IT, although I am planning to move into something less front-line and more project-based. I think that would suit both my temperament and my skills better. But, for now, I’m going to dip my toes into the job market and just keep a general eye on what’s out there.

Depression’s Teeth: Inertia Revisited

It begins when I wake up. The lack of desire to move or react. Even if I intend to silence the first alarm of the morning, I will likely let it go for a few minutes as anything else would require moving.
Chances are, I will get up to silence it when I get up to go to the loo. Otherwise, if there is only my alarm or my bladder annoying me, I will wait until it gets much more annoying.

At the moment, I am likely to roll over until my backup alarm goes off. The inertia is still there, though. Moving requires effort I just do not have. I may well reach over and grab my iPhone or iPad to catch up on overnight happenings on Twitter. I might even sit up and put the TV on for half an hour. However, I may also just lie there unmoving and unacting. Either way, though, I don’t really move. I can’t really move.

Half-seven rolls around, the ideal time for me to get up and take a shower. After all, I need to leave the flat between 8am and 8.20 to have a good change of avoiding any potential traffic problems.
By 7.45 I might, possibly, have roused myself out of bed. Even this isn’t guaranteed, though. I know it is something I am supposed to do but it requires moving, rendering it all but impossible.

On a good morning, I will finally rouse between 7.45 and 8am. On a worse morning, I will probably get out closer for quarter-past. On a really bad morning, I’m having to force myself out of bed at half-eight. It isn’t easy, though, and it is often taking every once of effort I have. I am also questioning my own sanity at that point. Getting up, especially with the aim to go outside just feels wrong.

So, at any time between 8.15 and 8.45 I am behind the wheel, driving into work. I still don’t understand why, though. It is so, so hard. And it requires leaving my home for the greater part of the day. During winter, in fact, it requires being out during the entirety of daylight hours.

I then get to work. Somehow, and I have no idea how, I approximate some semblance of energy and motivation during working hours. Not full capacity, of course, but being capable of anything other than sitting in my bed or armchair all day is seems like a major achievement.

Then, at the end of the working day, I go home. I sit down and… that’s about it. With effort, I’ll do somethg for an evening meal. Anything else depends on how I feel. Some days I can easily relax and have fun for the evening. More likely, though, just choosing a video to watch requires more focus than I have. I might get around to choosing a video game to play, often managing less than half of an hour of the hour or more I originally planned for.

Then I go to bed. At least, I switch off the TV equipment and stay unmoving in the armchair for another ten minutes or so.
I will be annoyed at myself for not getting anything done in the evening that I have planned to do. Then I go to bed.

The next morning, it starts over again. Angry at my wasted evening, I am ready to go home before I even get up for work. But, ultimately, once I get home I will still be too tired to do anything.

Depression sucks, quite literally. It sucks every last bit of energy out of me. I can sort of cope on the weekends, taking things at my own pace, but there is still more resting and less doing than I intend.

This is me.

Of Depression and Inertia

Depression is one of those things that sounds like it should be easy to describe. Everybody knows what it’s like to have a low mood. The problem is that it runs a lot deeper than that.

The low moods themselves are the easiest part to explain, the fact that they can stick around for a long time or that they don’t always have a good reason to show up in the first place gets harder. A mood that may or may not have a trigger (and may or may not clear up once a trigger is removed) is harder to explain. Then there are other, odder, aspects like sometimes having a low-level persistent feeling of sadness that is there even when the rest of you is happy about something.
For me, the worst thing is the feeling of inertia. It’s not even necessarily tiredness, or a lack of energy. It’s just no desire or ability to move, or to do anything, or even really to be anything. At its mildest, I find it manifests as a desire to stay where I am and settle in there without having to engage any further with the world. At its worst, I can be lying in bed, or sat in a chair, unable to really move from where I am or even do that much from that position. I’ll get up to go to the bathroom, maybe get up to grab a drink or a snack, but not much else really.
Unlike last time, where the lowest parts of my depression were during long periods of unemployment, this time around I am currently holding down a full-time job. Depression and inertia really don’t play very well with a job, let me tell you.
If you’ve spent any time around people with mental health issues, you may well have come across people semi-humourously referring to them being totally proud of getting out of bed. Or venturing out of the house. Or any one of many other day-to-day activities that most people take for granted.
It’s serious, though. For some of us, on some days, it really takes a great deal of effort to just get up, out and about. Getting places earlier or faster may be nice but getting places at all is almost miraculous some days. There are definitely days where I genuinely have no idea how I managed to overcome it to get out of the house.
To sum it all up, though, depression is hard. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to live with.
The worst part, though, is that it is hard to understand. Many people I talk to just don’t get it. The only way to really understand it, though, is to live through it. And that is a higher cost of understanding than I would wish on anyone.
And this, basically, is why I am open about my mental health issues and believe in reducing the stigma. People may not always understand it but I do think that being able to be more open about it is good for everyone in the long run.

Mental Health: An Overview

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.