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I’m On A Roll, I’m On A Roll, I Feel My Luck Could Change…

Lucky.

It’s been a while people, a long while. Far too long, but sadly I’ve been unwell. I must learn to take my own advice & talk about my feelings a little more, or at least to reach out to people when I need them.

Life is very very difficult at times, which is why it’s crucial that we develop ourselves a strong support network, however that may be. Surround yourself with positivity & people who really care about you. Be careful not to shy away from them despite the niggling feeling that you get with depression which causes you to do just that. I’ve realised that I need to talk about how I feel, or to talk to people & find some company again. You see, I’m a lonely guy. I’m not your average 19 year old bloke, I do some of the things that a stereotypical 19 year old guy does, but apart from the fact there’s not really such a thing as an average person, I am just… well… I’m just different. I’m trying to learn to embrace that, or at least accept it. I’m incredibly anxious, I have been for a while now, but I don’t know how it came about. Loneliness is a critical part of my feelings, I am a social person, with so much love & affection for people generally, it’s just, most of my friends are people I know from online.

Why is that a problem? It’s not a problem to know people from online, but it’s partly why I’m lonely ironically. I would love to have more friends who live near to me, who I can see everyday & just be like the majority of people are, have a friendship group where I can just talk about random things & when I need come to people for help, but also to just have a hug now & again. Life’s about striking a balance, & that equilibrium is difficult to find or achieve, or even both. For me, it’s going to have to be a case of opening my eyes to my feelings again, not just falling deeper into a pit of despair where I cannot see the wood from the trees. When I can understand, comprehend & simply see what is troubling me it frustrates me unless I can at least think of ways to get through it, because I’m not the type of person to want to mull things over & just feel down. It’s almost impossible to describe this in words, but I’m going to give it a go.

There’s a way you know you’re on the cusp of getting better, or that you are in a better place than you used to be. What is it? Well, for me, it’s when I realise that I need to do x, y & z to improve my mood, when I can somehow see the positive, happy things again, even if they are fleeting thoughts, passing ships in a vast ocean of emotions. Tonight, I realised that I need company, I need to seek out support, I need to ask for help when I need it, & I need to keep myself occupied with random little things, silly conversation, as well as serious conversation. I remembered that I need to try to relax again, regardless of how difficult it is, I need to try. It was only tonight that this happened, & I think, it was thanks to just talking to someone who was willing to support me if I needed it, but doesn’t know much about my situation. Somewhat ironically, someone whom I am envious of for the time they get to spend with people, their friendship group,  their relationships. Someone who I’ve only ever found to be a really good guy, who is not that dissimilar to me in some ways I think. I was able to clear my mind of the fog, suddenly the gloomy skies became clearer again, allowing the sun to come out tentatively to enable me to see what I could do to help myself. Maybe the skies will turn gloomy again, but if that is to be, they do so with my knowledge that it will not be forever again. Again. Again, because it seems like forever, but it’s not & it never will be. So long as you hold on to hope.

Journies. I frequently travel around the country to either see people, or to watch football. They make me appreciate the world a little more, I get out of a rut, out of my house where I do myself no good, & into the beauty that is nature & sometimes also man made beauty. Man made beauty in the form of buildings which have much culture, a meaning & the meaning that is within them expresses the serenity that I so long for.

Yesterday I was in Bristol, the day before I was seeing my friend a little further north of London, & in the future I will travel further. Despite a large number of things not going to plan, & it being a horrible day, there were a few bright lights helping me through the day. A group of 5 friends were busking in the city centre near Temple Meads, & I was rooted to the spot listening to two of them sing either together or solo. Nothing so spontaneous, or rather, faux spontaneous (Covent Garden) has ever caused me to just sit & watch/listen, until now. They were brilliant, not because they were perfect, but because they were giving it a go, singing with emotion & with the intention to make people happy whilst earning a rather small amount of money via donations. I walked up & put some money into their guitar case, something I’ve never done before. As they began to pack up, I walked over & told them that they had made my day a hell of a lot better. The day would later be fraught with frustration & anxiety, but they made it all the more bearable.

For me, it goes to show that simple things can make a difference to us. People make a difference, music makes a difference. Neither of those are really simple, but when put into context they can be. It’s not about making a name for yourself, or fame or whatever the media strongly implies it is. For me, life is about finding small things, little things like luck, friendship & love that make you happy. Find these things, search for them & give something back to people, & you’ll find things at least that tiny bit better.

So I say to you again, hold on. When you’re going through hell, when you think there is no hope, nothing, that’s when you most need to hold on for the brighter days, better days, happier days… or even just the days where you don’t feel like you don’t want to be here anymore. Whenever you’re down, whenever you feel like you can’t take anymore, whenever you’re stressed, whenever you just need someone to listen to you, remember that it’s ok, & that there are people out there who are more than happy to listen to you & to talk to you.

There’s a song I stumbled upon whilst going through old messages & it’s one that I absolutely love but haven’t heard in a while.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRD51qEJ8t4 (James – Sit Down)

Someone wrote of this song: “Tim Booth once said that “this is a song about absolute misery, feeling entirely alone, it’s about being awake at 4am and having no one to talk to” It’s meant to be comforting for people in this situation, saying that they’re not alone, and they’ll get through it.”

It is, for me, at least, a song which has a great meaning behind it, but a song that reminds me we don’t have to do it alone. There’s someone out there who will be willing to talk to you at 4am, even if they’re absolutely shattered, I know, because I’m one of them for my friends if they need me.

To end, I have to talk about my closest friend. This is the friend I’ve been asking questions about on twitter, about how to help her through a very very tough time. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing this, I would probably have given up on trying to support people through letting them know how important it is to talk about your feelings when you are ready. I might well have given up on any hope of getting rid of this returning darkness that refuses to let me escape it’s sometimes incessant mutterings, this pain, self loathing & self doubt. Someone who feels better for helping me, something which I only remembered when I went through some old messages tonight. My friend, she’s just that, a friend. ‘Just’ that, someone who is so central to my continue recovery. I love you, I hope you don’t get tired of hearing that, because I really do care about you so much, & appreciate everything you’ve done for me, just as you appreciate what I do for you.

Spanish proverb: ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ Hold on, it gets better. I promise.

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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.

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.