Today ‘The Sun…

Today ‘The Sun’ carried a story about a young woman who found ways to kill herself from certain websites, & ended up with brain damage following an unsuccessful attempt. It focussed on “suicide websites” & self harm forums, and their influence over this woman. 

A similar story was carried in the daily mail yesterday, & again I find myself angry as it is very misleading and ambiguous. 

My comment on the daily mail article (which did not get published) was as follows:

“I find it very very sad that this girl felt that the only option was to take her own life. Having suffered from depression for 3 years, and knowing what it feels like to do the things described, I can empathise with her & those affected by mental health issues. 

However, the article is misleading, and does not explain the nature of the sites. Were they pro-anorexia & self harm websites & forums? If so then I completely agree that they should be banned, although, if they were merely support forums then I strongly disagree. Supportive sites which focus on providing a platform for the expression of emotions are an important step towards recovery for many people. It is up to the individual to determine whether they will be ‘triggered’ by the content or whether it will help. Forums which discuss self harm, but are focussed on the recovery from mental health issues & self harm should be welcomed, otherwise we will not reduce stigma, and we will only serve to increase the rates of suicides. Furthermore, these sites are often ways to make friends with likeminded people, as Ruby Wax put it “our tribe”. This then leads to peer-support in the majority of cases, and the prevention of suicide or self harm. So it would be good if the articles were not so ambiguous and potentially misleading. I feel they perpetuate the myths & stigma around self harm & suicide.

What those articles should show people, is that it is ESSENTIAL that they seek professional support for mental health issues but also that it is ok to talk about them. We need to end stigma around mental health”

Talking Out With Your Tribe

Yesterday evening I got to meet Ruby Wax, the comedian & founder of BlackDogTribe whilst I also met Laura Davidson from Mental Health Research UK Charity (http://www.mentalhealthresearchuk.org.uk/) & a very inspirational, polite & brilliant young woman by the name of Fiona, who by her own admission pretty much eats breathes and sleeps mental health!

Ruby performed her play “Losing it” or also known as “Out of her mind” which was to raise funds for MHRUK Charity. Essentially it documents, in comedic fashion, her own upbringing and realisation that she was a member of the 1 in 4 tribe, that, of course being the 1 in 4 of us who suffer from a mental health issue or mental illness. Furthermore, it went on to discuss this tribe and how in reality the 1 in 4 might as well be the 4 in 4, in that anyone can be affected by mental health issues or mental illness, and we should all talk about it. I think Ruby was trying to get across that we identify ourselves with particular groupings, for instance a football team, and we should apply this to mental health as well. If we stick with our “tribe”, in this case people who know how we feel, what we think, the emotions we go through, and the difficulty we have in opening up, then we can overcome these demons, and we can learn to deal with them, to accept and challenge them.

Having studied Psychology at AS Level, and having an interest in it, it was fascinating to listen to Ruby describe the workings of the mind in a scientific manner, speaking about the neurones and the affect that negative thoughts have on our minds. But the reason this was so fascinating, was because Ruby managed to integrate an academic subject into a comedy & an informal, easy to understand way! I seldom look at the scientific side to depression, but I am aware of it, and the play enabled me to make the link between our way of thinking and the impact it has chemically on our brain.

Ruby focussed a lot on the humorous side of living life with depression, and the old adage “you have to laugh otherwise you will cry” is probably relevant here, in that she detailed her story through laughter. Not only this, but she noted how people she knew with similar issues would find solace in laughter & laughing about being “insane” (please note, this was not in any way mocking people!) or about their thoughts/feelings.

The one main thing I took out of a wonderful play was that if we all group together and act as one large community, if we find people who are similar to ourselves, in that they are 1 of the 4, then we can find ways to cope, to live, to laugh, and to enjoy ourselves. Life is too short to be stuck in a depressive haze, and one of the best ways to get out of that, is to find likeminded people, and to bond with them. Personally, most of my friends, certainly my closest ones, are those who I know because I’ve talked to them about my depression and found that they too, share similar thought patterns and similar emotions to me.

Mental Illness is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something we can make into a positive by sharing our experience with likeminded people. Hope and belief, love and compassion, these things go a long way towards helping.

I hope to work with Fiona to spread the message throughout at least London universities that mental health is not something to be ashamed of, and to raise more awareness of it, and the research being carried out by MHRUK Charity. They were set up in 2008, and prior to this there had never been a mental health research charity. When you consider just how large cancer research charities have become, it is mindblowing to think that a mental health charity had never been set up prior to this! Talking about mental health is so important to us, to me, to everyone who suffers from mental illness.

If you get a chance, then please do visit the website of Mental Health Charity UK, they have really inspired me alongside Ruby. Laura stated that she believes the best way to eradicate stigma is to fund research into the causes of mental illness and therefore help find better treatments without so many side effects, which actually work. I firmly believe in this charity, having spoken to Laura via twitter, but also meeting her last night. By talking about mental health, if you can participate every Sunday in #TalkOut discussions at 8pm onwards, using that hashtag then you will be doing your little bit to help reduce stigma around mental health. Furthermore, if you could raise awareness of MHRUK Charity by tweeting about them, by visiting their website, or even by donating some money to them, you would be doing something amazing to help fund research into the causes of, and the treatment of mental health issues & mental illness. Furthermore, if anyone knows of a company which will distribute wristbands to individuals then please let me or MHRUK Charity know! I aim to produce wristbands to show that talking out about mental health is important and not to be ashamed of. The only issue is the distribution.

As a slight aside, there was an interesting discussion when I last did #TalkOut assisted by @Time4Recovery who combined all the tweets into one place. It centred around the idea that 5 year olds had been diagnosed with depression, and whether or not labels/diagnoses are a help or a hindrance. The general conclusion was that they were a hindrance, especially at the age of 5 where it is arguably even more difficult to determine the mental state of the individual in question, but for some people, being told they had depression or bipolar or another mental health issue/illness was a relief because they finally knew what these feelings and emotions were. I personally believe that we should be very careful in using diagnoses and labels, and it should be down to the individual to either accept or reject them, but I do believe unless the individual has sufficient evidence that their GP is incorrect, they should always follow their advice, so with regards to medication etc. They may not have to accept that they are depressed just because their doctor has said so, but I firmly believe they should take the advice given to them. After all, outside of that doctor’s room, it is just a word. I think that it is important to discuss how we feel, but we don’t have to use the terms depression, bipolar, mental illness if we do not believe we actually have them, or they actually exist so to speak.

The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune

Depression. More than just a word. A very real, debilitating condition. I was diagnosed with it when I had just turned 16, and in truth knew very little about it. But it was through talking to people about how I was feeling that I came to be in the doctor’s surgery being told that I had depression and referred to a counselling service and that I will enter that very same doctor’s surgery in a few weeks time to hopefully be told I no longer suffer from depression.

Talking about mental health is seen as something to be afraid of, people are afraid of the reactions they might get, but I was in the fortunate position to have good people around me, and a support network that I built up by talking out about my own mental health. It was when I began college that I suffered my most severe bouts of depression, and it was then that I began to explore what it was and how I could bring myself out of this deep dark black hole, a journey which seemed to be an endless spiral into the depths of despair. Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. My tutor was happy to listen to me and not only that but encouraged me to seek support by actively inquiring as to what support was available throughout the college. It transpired that the only time I could get counselling was during tutor periods, and having discussed it with my tutor, I was able to take up this opportunity.

The first time I went to the room where counselling was, I walked past a handful of people waiting nearby, sitting on the floor. As I walked past them, I felt the anxiety that had crippled me thus far at college, as if they somehow knew what I was going in for, and were looking disapprovingly at me. Of course they weren’t, how could they possibly have known? They couldn’t have. The trouble is that’s sometimes how people feel as a result of the stigma that manifests itself within of our society today.  However, those who mock us, who see mental health issues and mental illness as a weakness, are so very wrong. I am a stronger person for my depression, because I talked about it to people, I managed to find the causes and the triggers and in turn managed to utilise the support I received to educate myself whilst improving my mood.

My experience of stigma has been both direct and indirect, with friends whom I have got to know through support groups but also in the form of people using words such as “schizo” or phrases like “I’m so sad I’m going to cut my wrists” as a sarcastic response to something that has been said to them. This is stigma as much as people telling us to “get over it”. However, I was told that I was a “hater of life in general” by someone who was supposed to be my friend and knew about my depression. Despite this affecting me at the time and making me feel like I was attention seeking or that I should keep my problems to myself I persevered because I knew in my heart that the only way I was going to get better was by talking about it. Today, one of my favourite pieces of writing comes from Hamlet, the play by Shakespeare, with the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’. Hamlet is in a battle with his mind as to whether or not to live anymore. This, I feel documents the feelings many people go through with mental illness and certainly resonates with how I felt. I use it to remind myself that I was right to choose the option to be, to exist. We are all unique, special and contribute to society merely by existing.

Thankfully, we’ve largely moved on from the times where it was unacceptable to be homosexual or to be of any other ethnic origin than white British, but yet with mental health there still remains this ancient attitude that we are somewhat inferior. Why should attitudes towards our health be any different to our race or our sexuality?

We need folk to sit and listen to what we have to say, to try and understand what we are feeling, you cannot do that by treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.” This quote sums up my experience with, and views towards the treatment of depression. I reached out to those who were willing to listen and try to understand what I felt, and I will be eternally grateful to those friends who did this.

A General Post

Mental Health is something we all have, but 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental health problems at some point in our lives. I myself have suffered from depression from the age of 15, and now at 19 following counselling and medication I am almost at a place where I can say I am no longer depressed. Approximately for every 100 teenagers, as many as 8 may be suffering from a mental health issue, and a recent study published in The Lancet reveals that 1 in 12 teenagers self harm, whilst Universities have reported a massive 93% rise in students seeking help for mental health issues.

Teenagers are very vulnerable to depression or other mental health issues, and it is important that we encourage them not to keep these feelings to themselves, but to share them. Of course, people of any age can help them to do so, either by directly encouraging them, or by talking about their own mental health problems. If we can break down that stigma that surrounds talking out about mental health issues, then that is the first step towards improving the lives of millions of people and reducing the number of people who suffer from mental health problems.

Certainly something which helped me when I was first beginning to notice my suicidal thoughts and my low mood was to talk to others about it; they were people I didn’t even know very well. Eventually I was persuaded to speak to a doctor, who was rather unhelpful, so I didn’t go back for 6 months. After finding a further two doctors to be rather unhelpful, instead of giving up I tried once more, and I found a doctor who listened to me, and gave me the name and address of a counselling service, but also told me to come back if I continued to feel the way I did. One negative experience does not mean that all the others will be like that; my advice is not to give up but to try again.

A question I have raised a number of times is: could we put counsellors in all schools? Whilst this would be expensive, if it is a scheme supported by an increase in information about mental health and how important it can be to see a professional then this could prove to be an important step forward in supporting young people with mental health issues.

Essentially, what we need to get out there is that it is ok to talk about our feelings and our mental health issues. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be, the more likely people are to talk to their friends/family/doctor about it and arguably it might even prevent people from suffering more severely in the future. This would be because more information about looking after our mental health would be more widely available and talked about. We need to get to a point where we treat our mental health as we treat our physical health; we don’t discriminate with sexuality or race and rightly so, so why do we with our health? Let’s break down the stigma and get talking about it.

Consciousness

Consciousness. It means you’re alive. If you can write down or speak a stream of consciousness despite feeling suicidal or low, then you are alive. That is a great thing, regardless of whether you see it now or not, it is a great thing. You have worth, simply by existing you create worth to this world, and you are simply amazing because of that.

A few months back, I was feeling suicidal and I wrote about those feelings. I won’t share what I wrote because it could be highly triggering for someone. However, I did then write a much more positive outlook on how I felt. It still described my feelings but in a constructive, positive way.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and I’ve not done anything to mark it. Obviously I still try and raise awareness with my twitter, but I mean nothing special. But then, why does it need something special? It doesn’t, it just needs me to reaffirm my belief that I’m doing the right thing, and I will continue to help people by spreading positive messages, by offering support when I am able to, but most of all by encouraging people to talk out about their feelings, about their mental health.

So I say to you, turn a negative into a positive, look up to the sky and say you will get through this. If I can, then so can you.

It will not defeat me, pain will not overwhelm me, I will always be stronger. It shall not strike fear into my heart, for I am stronger than it, I have the power and the control. Regardless of the problem, it will always have a resolution. The soul which protects against evil will divulge its secret to the mind, and the mind shall be powerful again, powerful enough to fight against the pain that so desperately, constantly attacks, in an attempt to overpower. Power is in the hands of the mind, the mind is able to be trained to repel the constant barrage of pain which appears ceaseless. It will not defeat me. Defeat is not an option, defeat never came, it was on the verge of being victorious, but it failed, the mind combats the strength that pain has, it succeeds in its battle, taking a prisoner, a very important prisoner with it. For the power is from experience, experience of that which attempts to destroy all that is good within the mind. Channelling from the root of evil to use for good. It will be the mind which succeeds, never let that light flicker away. As life slowly ebbs away, a glimmer of hope that seemed before to merely prolong the pain, is able to manifest itself within the mind and expand outwards, putting up an impenetrable barrier which will always remain, regardless of the times it appears to be broken, there will always be a barrier there. It may retreat in order to protect, but the barrier will be there, stubbornly refusing to break, preventing the pain from reaching. The positive, the good, is better than the evil, and always will be whilst there is some hope, and there is always hope.

I Wanna Talk Tonight, Until The Morning Light, About How You Saved My Life

So I guess I should document my life from depression to this here now. Whatever that may be. This may end up as a stream of consciousness and all over the place, simply because that’s how my mind works, at 400mph, thinking of ten things at once. There’s going to be some things that I hold back, but this is all true, the bare bones of me.

I am a 19 year old undergraduate studying Politics with International Relations. I suffer from depression (although only by definition that I am still on meds, I will soon be ‘recovered’), and was diagnosed at the age of 16 although I believe it eminated prior to this and was evident in my childhood/pre-teen years, roughly from the age of 12. Having suffered from bullying and loneliness throughout my time at secondary school I was finally “accepted” by my peers towards the end of my school years, and did well at GCSE but I feel that my unhappiness held me back from getting better grades than I did. Then I moved onto a sixth form college to do my A Levels, where I was able to make friends more easily, but my depression was still affecting me greatly. At this time I had joined an online site which had modules based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a forum with other people who had similar issues to myself, and I had also begun counselling through a service which was recommended to me by my doctor. My depression was still troubling me and the doctor agreed to put me on medication alongside my counselling. After about 8 weeks of counselling I had made significant progress, in particular changing my thought processes and felt much better within myself. I opened up to my new found friends who were very understanding and helped me through that period. It was around this time that I decided to tell my parents that I had depression. I didn’t feel comfortable telling them, but they needed to know, and they respected my hesitancy to open up to them about it, whilst still trying to support me. I then returned to counselling at my college as I was troubled again, and this helped, but not as much as the previous counselling, and after a while I stopped going. I spoke to my tutor and teachers about how I had been feeling and they were very understanding and also supported me greatly. Towards the end of the academic year I visited the counsellor again because I was in a bad place. I achieved good results at A Level despite my depression, and that was thanks to the friends I made who understood and supported me whilst I helped myself improve my mood.

With regards to the support that was available to me, that was interesting. I first went to my doctor after I found myself posting about my feelings on a football forum that I was a member of, as I felt like that was the most comfortable place for me, and several people offered to talk to me, which I took them up on. Eventually it was suggested I see my doctor, which I did. Firstly it was just basically given a leaflet for counselling and told to ring the number. I wasn’t in the right mindset to do this, and later went back to another doctor who wasn’t particularly helpful. Eventually I found a doctor who understood and have seen him ever since, he introduced me to the counselling service and put me on medication. I found there was not any sort of help available at my secondary school, but was lucky enough to have trust with a very kind teacher who knew my family, and was able to talk to him. At college there was a counselling service and my teachers were all supportive, but certainly there was no real attempt to concentrate on the issue of mental health. At university I have contacted a seminar tutor with regards to how I could get the uni to sign the time to change pledge, and she forwarded it on, but since then nothing has happened. They have disability support and the person in charge of it was very helpful. I still feel more could be done however.

Where to start? During primary school is when everything was set in motion, my mum worked in my class and as such I was always scared to be “naughty”. Not because I was afraid of the punishment from the teacher but because I didn’t want my mum to find out. This prevented me from realising my own sense of what was right and wrong, and whether I wanted to be “naughty” or good. As a result this would affect me later on in life. I started to get bullied in year 5 and year 6, by a small group of girls mainly. Then as I moved up into secondary school I was bullied viciously, and no-one stood up for me. I used to hang around with my brother and his friends because I was seeking comfort, reassurance, and as such I didn’t mingle with those from my own year. One day I tried to join in football and was told to go away (in slightly ruder terms) and play football with my brother. Really, the bullying never ceased from year 5 until even year 11. I slowly began to integrate myself within my year and make my own friends, but still the bullying was there. It was only words now, but it was still as difficult to take as if I was being beaten up each day. I came home and sobbed for a good few hours one day, I was so upset by it all. As I grew older, I became more resistant to it, but then everyone joined in, even my so called friends. They would call me “old man” and none of them knew why, but I did and it made me self conscious, I still bear the effects of that to this day. It was about my hair. Really. My hair. Supposedly I had a receding hairline, well that’s bollocks I tell you now! I just have a high forehead. However, I still make a massive effort to make my hair look good, and it’s not due to vanity, it’s because of that bullying. Eventually it began to settle down when they all realised I was half decent at cricket, but even then, I accidentally broke someone’s finger just by bowling a cricket ball during a nets session, and they started to make out as if it was deliberate. It was a bit of a lose lose situation.

I was probably 12 or 13 when “depression” manifested itself in a different form inside me. That was aggression and anger. A quiet, shy little boy who was suffocated at school would come home and explode in fits of rage at his brother. My brother, 2 and a half years my senior, bore the brunt of my aggression. You might say “well that’s just your normal sibling rivalry”. You would be wrong. I spent hours and hours on end fighting him, he barricaded his door with a bookcase and yet I would spend hours screaming and shouting and slamming against his door just to get at him. I even hit him with a miniature cricket bat I bought from the Oval when I captained the school team there. That wasn’t right, and it’s evident that something was wrong looking back.

Then, college arrived. I was leaving school and those friends I spent so long trying to find were all heading off elsewhere. Like I said earlier, I managed to make new friends, but it took a little while. These friends are probably the best ones I’ve ever made but it sucks that they’ve all gone to uni elsewhere. Two in particular saved me from myself during my time at college. H & S were just brilliant, so understanding when I opened up to them about my issues and just really great friends. ‘I’ was also a great help, she was just one of those people who you could talk to about anything. Also, in my business class, there was a girl called Sam. She was quiet, but seemed pretty good at business. I didn’t like where I was sitting because of a guy called Jordan who was loud and kept trying to get me to give him my work! Eventually I asked my teacher if I could move and she said it was fine. Then the next lesson I was put into a pair with Sam, I was a bit scared because my confidence was pretty low, but we got on well. I then decided to move and sit next to her as she was awesome at business, that took a lot from me because I was a bit worried for some reason. Yet, she’s a really good friend now. So it goes to show that sometimes good things happen when you fight back against your fears.

Moving on to what is probably the most interesting thing for me. People. People are my life and soul. My t-shirt says it’s music but really it’s people. I love interacting with people, talking to them, helping them, whatever. I mentioned that I joined a forum, well I befriended a girl a couple of years younger than me ‘K’ and we got to know each other really well over the course of about a year. We both had major issues at the time, but we helped each other through them. You know people talk about love, and they misunderstand it, but this, this was love. Not romantic love, but sort of like sibling love. I would spend hours on the phone trying to calm her down, trying to help her, we would text all the time. Why am I telling you this? Unfortunately one day, her family forced her to hand over all her passwords, they looked at her messages and her sister came onto msn, had a massive go at me for talking to K about my feelings (I wasn’t very subtle) gave me the most severe panic attack I’ve ever had to this day. I was physically sick because of it.  I regret the way I talked to her throughout that year because it probably made her worse, and in the end it contributed to losing her. From that day onwards, the only contact I’ve had from her was an e-mail to say goodbye. No-one will ever begin to comprehend how that felt. I still dream about her to this day, I still wonder what she is doing, how she is, if I’ll ever get to see her. It was like someone had taken my insides, twisted them around and ripped them out, performing surgery on me without anaesthetic. That’s how painful it was. I miss her, I loved her, and she loved me. Since then, no-one has ever loved me, not anywhere near to the way she loved me, and I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved her. The closest I’ve come is probably Ch, who I love and who cares about me as well. A girl who has lots of troubles in her life, but gets on with it, is still here and comes to me when she needs support. I hope she knows that I’ll never give up on her, I’ll always be there to help her and that I’ll try my best whatever it is she needs support with.

People really have come and gone from my life. Too many people just as I got close to them, they would go, for whatever reason they left. That includes my uncle. This is a guy who was more like a dad/best mate to me. I would confide in him about anything and everything, we would laugh and joke, he was a bit of a comedian, but then my nan died, and well family stuff happened and he fucked off, punishing me and my brother, but mainly me, for something that we had no control over.

To lose people, that is my greatest fear in life. If I get close to someone, I have a fear that I will lose them. It takes over and it begins to affect the relationship and thus I have to be careful to notice this and act on it.

There’s one person who I attribute the title of this blog to. ‘V’ . This girl, or young woman now, she saved my life. I don’t mean that literally, but I might as well mean it literally because she was there for me when I needed someone the most. We got to know each other because we support the same football team, and we became friends. V was the friend I was crying out for, and if I hadn’t had her with me then I don’t know where I would be. I love her, she’s amazing and I’m so pleased I know her.

If this was an essay, I would be losing marks left right and centre for digressing. It’s not an essay though so it’s alright. However, here is where I explain what this all means and how I battled through all of the above to be where I am now. Where I am now is a content place, a place rid of depression and largely anxiety, but a place with underlying problems still very much there. The difference between today and last year is that I know how to deal with them. If you asked me “how do you deal with it?” then I wouldn’t be able to answer, because it’s sort of become innate now. Counselling changed my life. I love self actualising. Learning about the human mind, in particular my own is beautiful for me, and it helped me to recover. I identified the problems that I had and I realised when I was being irrational, when I was allowing my logic to be overridden by emotion. Talking to people, a counsellor and people in general, it allowed me to explore myself and discover ways to cope with my emotions. Gradually I moved out of the dark and into the light.

I implore you not to give up on yourself. You have so much to give to the world, you cannot see it right now, but you do. “Oh darling, I know you can’t see a light, but darling, don’t you see, you have one inside!” You’re scared, you’re tired and you don’t want to fight anymore. You constantly tell yourself you’re going to end it but you’re still here. That’s because you have hope, you think that surely nothing can be any worse than this, you’re still here, you want to live and you will live so long as you believe. I’m not preaching to you, I’m not going to tell you everything will be rosy tomorrow just because you believe it will, but that belief inside is key to giving you the strength to find ways through this.

Look at me, I’ve come from suicidal tendencies, an overdose and self harm to being content with myself despite my life being far from perfect. I’m 18 months free of self harm. Me, I’m nothing special, yet I am. I am special because I am unique, just as you are. You are unique and that is beautiful, if you give up on yourself then the world will lose something, the world will weep at your loss because it’s brilliance, it’s beauty becomes less because you passed away.

Please don’t be afraid to talk, if you have a bad experience with one person it doesn’t mean you will have it again, talking saved my life, it can save yours to.

To conclude, I just want to say a massive massive thank you from the bottom of my hear to these people:  Vicki, Kel, Harry, Sophie, Chloe, Cath, Alex, Amy, Doug, Rebecca, Saira, Sam, Sarita, Tom, Rag, Lee, Steph, Aimee. All of these people have in a huge way helped me through my depression, they supported me through the bad times, they shared my good times, but most of all they never gave up on me. I love every one of them, they are my strength. I missed out one ‘person’ from that list though. Twitter. Each and every one of you who talks to me, who retweets, who favourites, who interacts with me in anyway shape or form helps me through the day. I love you all, and I hope that my words give you hope, that my words help you in some small way. If they do, for just one of you, then I consider that a success. I set up Talk Out to help people, I seem to have a knack of doing it and doing it well. It’s a gift I’m grateful for.

Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright! The trick of it is: don’t be afraid anymore!

‘The Trouble With Men’

The trouble with men is society. The trouble with men is stigma. The trouble with men is the past. The trouble with men is…

The trouble with men was the title of a ‘Tonight’ ITV special looking at depression in men and the fear of opening up about how we feel. It centred around former England rugby player Duncan Bell who admitted to suffering from and hiding his depression until one day the team doctor took him to one side and asked him how he was feeling. Having responded with the all too common phrase “I’m fine” the doctor replied “no no really how are you feeling” and Bell admitted to basically breaking down into tears.

So this post aims to explore what it is about men that stop us from talking about depression or admitting we suffer from it. Right there I touch upon something which is perhaps slightly inaccurate. I put it to you that it is not some sort of pre disposition, chromosomal, hormonal or other biological thing that stops us talking, but it is (partly) a societal reason.

It can be argued that gender stereotypes still exist in the modern age, as is evidenced by the ongoing feminist movement, but it’s not just women who are the butt of sexist stereotypes. Men are affected by them too. There is a myth that men are the protectors, the strong guys and the stable people with strong upper lips. We’re meant to get into fights and throw punches. We’re meant to show all the attributes of a warrior. Unfortunately it is this that is part of the reason men are either afraid to talk about their depression or reluctant to do so. I was told to “man up” at age 15 when I first opened up about how I felt, and that was from a guy who was supposed to be my friend. Things like that, silly ancient perceptions of what a man is stop us from opening up and getting that all important help. There’s the idea of a golden hour when doctors try to save people’s lives, well there’s something similar with mental health. If we notice the symptoms early enough then we can help save people from themselves, and help people to save themselves much more easily before depression manifests itself and blinds them to the reality of life. That is why it is crucial to stop this petty culture of sexism that pervades society today. This brings me onto my next point.

Society. I feel that people with mental health issues are perhaps more aware of people who may judge them, and we use our heightened sense of fear to suggest that there is a culture of turning a blind eye when it comes to mental health. I believe we exaggerate the amount of people whom are all to willing to judge us, to look down on us and to ignore us because we are different. I am in no way suggesting this is the case for all, neither am I suggesting it does not exist, because plainly it does! We must be wary not to let our fear blind us though. However, within society exists a culture of ignorance, and this is where stigma stems from. A lack of understanding of issues, of being afraid of change and people who are different to us. Society allows the continued growth of the idea that men should not talk about their feelings because feeling this way is simply not manly. This is so wrong, so very very wrong, and if you come across this feeling guys then swat it down like you would a fly. Crush it like you would a can. We need to find a way to remove this belief, this myth from society, and the best way to do it is to talk.

The trouble with men is that when you combine depression in men with societal attitudes, you get men hiding away and continuing to allow the myth that depression is a weakness and unmanly to pervade our culture. Now that’s not the fault of the people with depression, but if we can break out of this bubble, to talk out and explain how we feel, then slowly but surely the bubble that society holds itself within will pop and people will throw off their false conciousness’ to find the truth that depression can strike anyone, it strikes in different ways, and that men who suffer from it are no less than men who don’t.

The trouble with men is that because of this myth that depression in men is a sign of weakness and not macho many simply suffer alone in silence increasing the pain they hide inside as the world continues to turn, but their world inside crumbles and crashes, beginning to burn. Men are more reluctant to see their GP, to talk to their friends about it, and all because of this idea that it is not manly.

The only way to solve this idea that emotions, depression etc are signs of weakness and not macho is to educate people, to remove ignorance, remove prejudice and stupidity, and to encourage strong independent thinking. Shun societies supposed rules, talk about how you feel if you need to, it’s ok to do so. Education will of course only be 1 egg in the basket, but it will be a bloody big egg at that.

The trouble with men is that we are scared. The trouble with men is that society has indoctrinated us to see vast differences between us and women, when in reality the only differences that matter are biological. Large amounts of what has been discussed here can be applied to women as well, it’s just men are even more afraid to speak out. Men and women, we’re not that different. Lose your chains and fight for your freedom.

Depression Awareness Week

This week (beginning 23/4/12) is Depression Awareness Week. A week for us to look at depression and to educate people about it’s causes, it’s effects, and just what it consists of.
It seems to have passed by as somewhat of an afterthought. Or should that be a 4thought. The latter reference is to a channel 4 TV programme which has triggered a complaint from Rethink to OFCOM due to the ridiculous trash spouted by an ignorant being about the causes of depression. My advice would be: do not watch or research the programme.
Anyway, let’s get back on topic. As mentioned before, it doesn’t appear to have been in the news, in the public eye or in the media. There are plenty of campaigns/blogs/websites trying to increase awareness of depression, but it is all focussed online. Of course most things are heading towards the idea of 24/7 online media, but now and again it does just help to have an advert on a train, or at a station, or even (an article or advert) in a newspaper. For instance, the recent campaign by Time To Change that ran in the metro made me feel much more normal. Which it should do, because there’s nothing abnormal about people with depression, it’s just a mental health issue (there’s a reason this phrase is often used by us). Ok, it’s not ‘just’ a mental health issue, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, or to be treated differently for. Treat us with as much love and care as you would anyone else you care about. The metro campaign was probably seen by millions of people, and that’s great because it helps spread awareness. What is more important for me, is that it was something that people pick up on their way to work or way home from work/school etc. The more it is out there where we can see it with pictures, with bold writing, where we can touch it with our minds, the better. The crucial thing is to balance the idea of having it online and having it out in places that people travel to. Online, we can’t make as much difference unless we find the right contacts, but out there we can grab the attention of different types of people, of people who aren’t necessarily aware of these websites. I haven’t done any research, but as far as I am aware the BBC or ITV have not mentioned depression awareness week at all. Indeed, a quick google search for “depression awareness week BBC” on news articles lends itself to a pathetic return of 3 results. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions.

So what can we do? How can we raise awareness? Well we can raise awareness simply by having a conversation with someone about it. A white lie if you fear the response, or fear someone finding out you suffer from depression. Something like “did you see on BBC this morning that it’s depression awareness week?” along with an additional comment about how depression is misunderstood (which it is by somewhat large numbers of people, hence why we have stigma) or just a pause for their response. Personally, if I was still at school I would want to do an assembly about it, a presentation like they do on ANZAC day or in Citizenship where they talk about numerous social topics. Obviously that’s one for the more self confident people out there. There are ways to turn conversations onto mental health subtly, a tad difficult to describe, but it is possible. It can be a short conversation, or a long one, either way you are still taking the time to speak about it.
Depression is not an easy topic to broach, but with the right attitude and a lack of fear, we can get talking about it. This is where social media comes in useful. Twitter and facebook. Facebook is more difficult for those who fear “reprisals” so to speak, the fear of the unknown, the unkown being what the response will be. If you suffer alone, things will take much longer to improve, so maybe the first step is to be able to share it. If you put a status such as “this week is depression awareness week, it’s important people don’t feel afraid to talk about it” then how many people are honestly going to assume you have depression? People don’t assume you have cancer if you put a status about raising awareness of that. Ok poor example but the point stands. No-one is forcing you to do anything, no-one will think any less of you if you don’t do it, but if you do then that is a great way to help people think about it. Sometimes we look at things and think “that’s interesting” and we go away and research. The same can be true of depression, if you get 1 person to change their view on depression for the better then it will have been worth it.
We at Talk_Out marked depression awareness week by having a twitter discussion asking for people’s experiences, and here is a summary of all the tweets we received with the #TalkOut hashtag: #TalkOut marks Depression Awareness Week: http://storify.com/Time4Recovery/talkout-marks-depression-awareness-week?awesm=sfy.co_qTJ&utm_campaign=&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_source=t.co&utm_content=storify-pingback

Take the time to read through these tweets. Are they all positive? No. Are they mostly positive? Yes. Are they all talking about how rosy life is? Of course not. What are they doing then? Well they are simply helping to break down the stigma around mental health. They are helping others to see new ideas for coping, and hopefully to see that others have improved and become happier, therefore so can they! You don’t have to be happy all the time, or positive, but if you can talk about how you feel openly, then you are well on your way to bringing happiness back into your life.

To finish this entry, I leave you with a quote from Dr Tim Anstiss who wrote in the Guardian today that: “There is so much bullshit out there about mental health and mental illness…” The trouble is, unfortunately it’s hard to disagree with him. However, he goes on to claim that “people are ready for an accessible and helpful resource where they can share experiences, concerns and feelings, learn about new things and explore issues without feeling judged or told what to do.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/social-care-network/2012/apr/26/social-media-depression-support) We agree, and the purpose of #TalkOut is to do exactly this, begin a community, bring a community together to help each other alongside getting professional help, to return happiness to those whom it belongs to.

Motivation From Others

Over on out twitter page (@Talk_Out) we’ve been around for 2 months, something like that, neither of us took note of the day we started. In that time we’ve seen many stories, parts of stories, and the evolution of a story. A story similar to ours, except with so many more people. That story is in the form of another twitter account @ToFixYourHeart All dedicated to offering support to people with their feelings, some with mental health issues, some who just need a bit of love and support. So we want to share with you their experiences, because they took the courage to #TalkOut (our twitter hashtag which we hope you can all use on twitter when you want to say something about how you feel, regardless of whether you are tweeting us or not). If they can go from where they were to where they are and #TalkOut then so can you! There stories are below:

“Hello. My name is Rees and I am 16 years old. I guess I should probably start at the beginning. I was born on the 28th of December 1995 to two loving parents. I was born with Jaundice, which meant I had a problem with my liver. I spent the first hours of my life in a incubator. Nothing unusual, happens to loads of new born children. So little me carried on with life, all sunshine and rainbows. Until my best friend died from leukaemia. You’re all probably thinking, you were like 3 you can’t remember it. No, I can’t. But my Mum can, she told me since my friend died, I had become a little more independent, more detached. Little did any of us know, this would affect the rest of my life. I hit school. And I was bullied from year 1. It wasn’t your typical calling you names kind of bullying, it was people purposely going out of their way to make my life a misery. I was accused of things I didn’t do. Ok, yes I was like 6, but when people knock your confidence and you lose trust in people from a young age, it’s going to have a knock on effect. I was pushed out of groups, make a mockery of. People lied to, said they were my friend until no one was around to do anything. Over Christmas break in year 5 I became very ill, I had developed a virus in my blood that the doctors couldn’t diagnose. I was put under house arrest. I wasn’t aloud to see anyone. I couldn’t even see my brother for 2 weeks because he had a cold. I was then told I had no immune system. Whatever was going in my blood, it had destroyed my immune system. I was told that the slightest illness that got anywhere near me could kill me if I caught it. I eventually got better. But as I went back to school everything had changed. NO one would come near me. It got to year 6 and I lost all my friends because I stood up for the new girl. They were being racist, I was not going to let them. So, I paid the consequence. I became an outsider. I begged my Mum to let me move school, but she refused. High school came and I was beyond excited, I could meet new people and get away from all of them. No, of course I couldn’t. I had been put in the same tutor as them. Year 7 muddled along, I hated it. I was constantly teased about my weight. My hair. My Freckles. I hated myself. I started compulsively over eating. I then started self harming, It started with just hitting my head off walls and scratching myself, then got worse. But the first time I properly cut myself was when I was 12 years old. I had new friends. I also had a best friend, that I was madly in love with. Madly. But he wanted my other best friend. I didn’t mind, I wanted him as a friend more than anything. But a day came when he started acting weird with me. Started telling me it was all my fault. I didn’t understand, I hadn’t done anything. I was late told he has asked my best friend out. She said no, because it would hurt my feelings. I felt that I’d ruined his life. I know I found a true friend from that, she cared enough about me not to let a guy come between us. But I would have been ok with them together. They were my best friends I wanted them to be happy. But he wasn’t. He shouted in my face telling me he hated me, he never wanted to see me again. My heart broke into a million pieces. What was I meant to do, my best friend had just turned against me. I got home that day, I couldn’t cope with all the drama. I walked into the kitchen, not wanting to eat. I saw the big steak knife in the block and just grabbed it. I held it against my chest just praying I could push down. I dug it in to my chest. My brother came through the front door so I quickly put the knife back. I couldn’t let him see me like this. I ran into the front room and turned the TV on just so everything seemed fine. The first thing that came on was ‘This is real. This is me.’

At that moment I knew my life had turned upside down. I knew that this was what my life was going to be like. I went upstairs and cut my wrists. But that song was stuck in my head. I searched it on YouTube and found a girl called Demi Lovato. From that moment on I became obsessed. I followed her every move. She gave me so much courage and trust in her. I didn’t know she was suffering with the sae issues I was. I guess you could say it was fate that I came across her. That was the first time I intentionally hurt myself. Life went on, I was depressed, my eating was messed up. I was purging, starving, over eating. More things happened, I got accused of being a bully, which was not true. I got slammed into a radiator after two boys stole my bag, everyone laughed at me when I was on the floor. They had pulled my hair out and broke my phone. Nothing was ever done about it. They got told off, that was it. Summer came and I didn’t see anyone. I hated myself. My cutting had intensified and my weight was fluctuating. In November of year 9, I had found a guy that I really liked. We got together and I was happy for once. It got to Christmas break and he promised he would come see me for birthday. SO morning of my birthday, I waited for a call or a knock on the door. Nothing. Not even a text. He had forgotten my birthday. I was heartbroken, my birthday had been ruined. Days went on, he wasn’t answering my texts or phone calls. He called me on New Years but he hung quickly as he couldn’t hear me. We went back to school in the January and he was on a trip for 3 days. He still wouldn’t answer my messages. I was getting worse, I didn’t know what to do. I was so confused as to what was going on. Until the Wednesday night I got a text, from him. I thought it was just because he hadn’t had any connection and it was late. But it wasn’t. The text read ‘ I’m sorry but I’m with someone else now, It’s over’. My world just fell apart. I couldn’t believe it. Broken up with over text for a girl he had met 3 days before. I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to him. I just felt like killing myself, so I tried. I overdosed. It didn’t work, I just threw up and got very ill and passed out. I didn’t talk to him for months. I didn’t talk to anyone. I was just hurting. I later found out that he thought she was ‘better’ than me. Prettier, smarter, skinnier, funnier. That’s his words exactly. Not mine. I just got more depressed. May came and I was still hurting. I got a told in early may, that my Nan was very ill and they don’t think she’s going to be around for much longer. This had been happening for years, so I didn’t believe it. Now, my relationship with my Nan had been strong for a long time until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She forgot me. I hated that. It scared me seeing her. So, if I wasn’t there to be forgotten, how could she forget me? So Christmas 0f 2009 I cut her out of my life. I didn’t see her, ever. I was dragged to see her that May. She looked, dead. I knew she was going to die. But I didn’t care. I was left in the room alone with her for 5 minutes while my dad went to talk to a nurse in the care home. She was very still. Until she grabbed my hand. I was just so scared. I was trying not to let her in. She said this ‘ I don’t know who you are, but I love you.’ That killed me. She had forgot me but she still loved me. I couldn’t deal with it. She did 2 weeks later on May 14th 2010. I regret to this day that I cut her out of my life. I wish I had never done that. She is my guardian angel and I will do anything in this world to make it up to her. I was extremely depressed, I cried myself for weeks on end regretting what I had done. I cut myself so violently that It has left permanent indents on my wrists. But nothing was to prepare for what happened on June 30th. I was just having another normal day at school. Nothing special. Nothing different. Until one of my friends mom’s came in, who worked at the school, and said she wanted to talk to me and her daughter after school. I thought it was just something to do with music or telling us we had to walk home tonight instead of get a lift. But it wasn’t. After school came and we found her. She told me my Dad had been rushed into hospital, he’d collapsed. I was so confused. I didn’t know what to do. I got home that night for my mom to tell me he had a stroke. My world came crashing down. I was more depressed than ever, He was never right after that. Year 10 came and my GCSE’s mounted on top of my issues. I just got worse and worse. It was that October that Demi had disappeared and entered to treatment. I had a breakdown, that was just the straw that broke the camels back.. I couldn’t do it anymore. My best friend discovered my scars, she urged me to get help. I went to a teacher and we talked. I didn’t get any better. I was just destroyed. Months went by and I just couldn’t get over everything that had happened. Demi’s issues were in the open. She’s what kept me going. She kept that little bit of belief that I could get over this. I owe my life to her. I eventually made the decision to seek medical help. I saw the school nurse who referred me to a service called CAMHS. But she had to have my parents permission. I begged her not to, but I eventually gave in. I regretted it. But my parents were so understanding. My mom thought I was so strong having held everything in for so long. I got help that summer. I regretted it for a while, but I am thankful I did. I am nearly over with my treatment now and I’m so much happier. I can actually feel real emotions now. My dad has since had another stroke. But he is now ok and a lot better. But there is still not a day that goes by that I want to hurt myself, or starve, purge etc. I don’t think there will ever be a day where I don’t. But I’m stronger now. I have |Demi to thank for giving me so much courage and all the people that supported me for so long. They believed in me and now I do too. Recovery is possible. I have self harmed since treatment, I have purged, I have starved. But it’s ok, I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I’m happy now. I love who I am. I don’t want to change who I am. This is real, this is me, and I am EXACTLY where I’m supposed to be now.”

“It all began 3 years ago half way through year 7 when this one particular boy bullied me constantly, calling me fat, ugly, worthless ect. I got very depressed within 3 months and i started to just stay in my room and never go out with friends because my confidence was very low and i felt insecure. I never told anyone anything because i was afraid of getting laughed at and judged so i kept it all bottled up which can i say is the worst possible thing to do. But then i grew tired of going to school and getting bullied so i told my headteacher and it soon stopped. But i was still depressed and insecure. By the beginning of year 9 i had cut myself twice because the bullying started again but with others this time. Now everytime i cry i have suicidal thoughts and im tempted to cut again but im fighting it, and when you’ve stopped crying and calmed down your like woah i didnt do it, and yes it makes you proud of yourself.

But im not doing this alone i went to the school nurse about my cutting and depression so she contacted my ADHD consultant and told her and she set me up an appointment with a therapist. Yes i was scared at first because i thought she was going to tell me off for cutting myself but when i met her she was the nicest lady she didnt judge me or tell me off. I’ve been seeing my terapist for 3 months now and im starting to feel better already because i now go out with friends and i dont wear baggy clothes anymore because i dont need tocover up anything i am who i am and thanks to friends and family im getting better

At you lowest points in life you always think is this the best my life is going to be and yes you think it is at the time but its not if you take action against your issues then they can be solved and people will help you. Its all about facing your fear of rejection and being judged and get help because it does get better.”

So we want to say thank you to them for their strength and determination. Hopefully we will continue to work together to talk out, reduce mental health stigma, and encourage people to speak about their feelings.

Remember. It’s ok to talk.

It’s A Parent-Child Thing

We all know what it is like to have arguments with our parents, most of us probably got on better with one of our parents than the other. Certainly it’s part of growing up and maturing, the fight for independence and the struggle for the parent to let go of their baby whom they have cared for, for so long. The question which sits in my mind though, is: ‘When does an argument become emotional abuse?’

This is a very personal subject, and I don’t particularly intend to put anyone across as a villain or criticise anyone, merely to explore the thought process that occurs in my mind at times like these.

So when does a series of arguments become emotional abuse? Let’s not look at it in terms of the dictionary definition, but let’s look at the effect it has on a person.

19 years of age. Living at home. Suffered from anger issues, a short temper and emotional issues since the age of about 12. They call it ‘depression’. I’m not a label, it does not define me and it never will. However, it did help me to tell my parents. My mum, she’s a very intelligent person that is obvious, but certain things have happened which have caused her outlook to become blinkered, and this is where the conflict occurs. The war of attrition as the waves crash down upon the rocks, gradually wearing them away to require either a compromise of soft defences, or a more hardened approach of re-inforcing that cluster of rocks preventing any penetration. I digress slightly. The conflict results in blame, arguments, “fights” and hatred being spouted.

Streams of consciousness enter the atmosphere & it becomes like a book. Dialogue is merely these streams of consciousness battling against each other. Nothing actually goes through, we both listen but do not hear. Shouting and screaming. It’s better than the alternative, but it’s far from perfect. “I can’t live like this anymore” comes the cry after half an hour of my thoughts being battered against her mind, trying to worm their way in to make that breakthrough and create an understanding. What happened?

An offer of money for a box to change to digital TV or no TV. We’ll give you £25 and you can pay the difference. I’ve just spent £102 to get my laptop fixed and money is not exactly in abundance right now. “Can I?”. Immediately the words are regretted because it results in an argument which centres around the idea that I have spoken in a “tone of voice” which she does not like. The irony here is that tone of voice is subjective. The ‘discussion’ continues & the annoyance is there due to being accused of something which is not true. The blame comes my way, it’s all because I spoke in that tone of voice. The frustration eminating from my heart and mind is blatantly obvious by now as I throw the cup down in frustration as she mocks my reaction, walks away knowing full well that it will anger me further. Why? Knowing full well it will anger me further, why does she do this? Is it some sort of petulant act of childishness, or is it just a form of regaining that control she lost when I grew up? Only one person knows the answer. The frustration boils over as whenever an explanation is forthcoming I am interrupted by a reaction designed surely just to wind me up further.

There is much more to it, & to be blamed for something constantly is perhaps a form of emotional abuse, but as noted, there is far more too it than this.

What causes this? Mental health issues? Perhaps. Really though, it is just emotions & personalities. Define it as depression if you so wish, but I do not see it in this way. How you see yourself is entirely your choice, depression is a serious condition and certainly something I experienced. Past tense. For now it is just a label to say that because I react in this way to life, I have depression. There is a chemical imbalance in my brain, the positive impact of this new medication suggests this is true, but depression does not define me.

Let us take that the two people here suffer with mental health issues, predominantly depression. What is it like to live with a parent with a mental health issue?

I love my mum, there’s so much I regret from my childhood about how she treated me, but instead of that being violence and abuse, povertyesque conditions, it was love. I love her because she loved me. I feel her actions contributed to who I am today, and whilst there’s so much I want to change about the past & some things about the present also, I love the way my mind works. The speed of thought, the analysis and the questioning of everything. Even something like football and the way it changes over decades, I was knackered and it was 1am on the DLR on the way back from Portsmouth, I asked my friend how football had changed, what he thought of the way I think, this that and the other. I explained the speed that my mind worked and how I love it. For this, I have my mum to thank. She protected me from harm for fear that I, her baby, would be hurt. She could not bear to see me hurt and that was born out of her unconditional love for me as her son. So despite the many negative aspects to her somewhat overprotection of me, there were some positives.

What does this have to do with living with a parent with a mental health issue? Well it needs saying that my mother loves me & I love her, regardless of what may be said in this blog, on my twitter or elsewhere. Love is there, and it will always remain, but we are at each other constantly.

The sheer bloody mindedness of us both creates conflict, and our inability to channel our stress and emotions in a positive way is a recipe for disaster. We both struggle. When you have a bad day and get in a bad mood, what happens? Often you become snappy, aggressive and somewhat withdrawn. Try living like that every day, and combine with it two people who refuse to give in. The 19 year old admits some wrongdoing begrudgingly to keep the peace, but the mother is blinded by her own problems, seeing things only from one perspective.

This blog entry does not appear on the surface to explain what it is like to live with a parent who has a mental health issue, it just shows conflict between parent and child, but deep down there is much more than that. The devil is in the detail.

What is hardest is to see the impact I have on her. The conflict that already penetrates my mind every second of my life is further exacerbated by the frustration at the suffocation of me as a child, but the realisation that the actions were out of love. The love is therefore repaid albeit not very clearly. How? Well when I see my mum struggling with her emotions, breaking down and crying, getting angry for (seemingly) no reason, my heart sinks a bit. I don’t want her hurting, regardless of the fighting we have. I love her, but she feels suicidal, she is depressed, low and somewhat alone. Solemnity, sorrow, scared. She’s scared, I’m scared and we both know it. Yet there is a silent acceptance of each others’ desire not to discuss it, that being my fault as such, my way of relucantly punishing her for her previous actions, for I cannot break the chains which are held tight due to the fear and embarrassment of the past.

Living with someone who has a mental health issue is difficult, but it shows your strength, their strength, the power of love and hope & the rays of light that shine through every now and then. Don’t be afraid, just show your love, because love is most powerful, moreso than hatred, loathing, of hopelessness.

Matt