Not here. Not over there. Not anywhere.
Ian Gilbert’s conference for teachers about mental health was an inspirational and empowering event, encompassed by first hand accounts from a teacher & students themselves. People who had suffered at the hands of mental health issues.
One of those speakers would take particular interest in the term “mental” due to the negative connotations it brings. Indeed, Nina Jackson has seen first hand what difficulties students face when suffering from a mental health issue. Her experience in Bridgend as a teacher is harrowing yet powerful. A detailed description of events which occurred in the small mining village in Wales left the room in stunned silence. It nearly moved people to tears, but it truly hit home what an impact hiding away can have on a person. It came at a terrible terrible price for those who suffered in silence from the stigma, but some were saved because of her quick thinking, her gentle attitude, awareness and kindness.
It’s OK to Talk.
Having come from a very dark place myself, I can empathise with many people out there who struggle with their emotions, who suffer from mental health issues. I don’t want to just empathise. I want to make a difference. So, despite my anxiety I spoke for 30 minutes about how it’s OK to talk. A room filled with 100 teachers and school counsellors.
How do you follow something which makes you cover your face with the notebook provided, which makes you feel so much in your stomach, which almost induces tears? How do you follow a speech like that?
It wasn’t about following anything or anyone. I wasn’t there to hide behind anything or anyone. I was there to be myself, just as everyone told me. That shone through as I discussed how it’s OK to talk.
An unconventional opening led me to introduce the person who has been my rock through the dark, difficult times, and is still there for me now that things are better, who means the world to me. They were there with me in spirit, supporting me through texts throughout the day. Calming my nerves. My best friend, the young woman I love, who helped me to gain the confidence to actually speak at this Conference.
I continued. “I was four years old…” what has that got to do with anything? What could I possibly have experienced aged 4? The answer:
“I was four years old when Tony Blair swept to power under the mantra ‘Education, Education, Education.'” Regardless of what you think of the man, the mantra, the slogan, it’s a powerful one.
I was happy to quote the former British Prime Minister, explaining that one of the most important things, the most important tools we have, is education. Education. If we educate ourselves, we give ourselves a greater chance of succeeding, of combating our troubles, of defeating them and finding a way through the dark. This conference was about what teachers could do for their students. How can they better support their students? Education. It’s Ok to Talk. To Educate students to see that it’s OK to talk about how they feel, about what they feel. If you educate a teacher, they can then pass that knowledge on. Teachers are in their job because they are able to communicate knowledge in a manner which is understood by students.
Trust. Teachers have a hugely important personal bond with students. A position in which you hold great responsibility and power. Teachers are the people who students see every day and you get to know them well. They form bonds with you & you learn that they trust you with all sorts of things. This is critical when a student suffers from emotional issues or mental health issues. Be approachable, sensitive and aware. Making promises and saying that a student can miss lessons until they need to go back, or extending deadlines and then reneging on such promises is only likely to create further problems for the student, making it more difficult for them to recover. Teachers can help students by easing them into talking about things. Phrases like “is everything OK?” “are you feeling OK?” Prompt questions which force them to give some sort of response which can give you an indication of how they feel.
Listen. To listen to a student is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. To use your eyes, mouth and ears properly. Teachers are not counsellors, but they are the first port of call for a student who is struggling. So the care and the attitude they receive as a first impression is essential in determining how much they share and how likely they are to continue talking about how they feel. The best thing a teacher can do is listen & give positive signs such as acknowledgements to show they are listening. It’s not necessarily your place to offer advice, it’s your place to listen. People need you to listen & hear what they are saying. Don’t tell them what they think or feel is wrong, but let them know that what they feel & think is OK. Let them know that it’s OK to talk to you or anyone else. Empowerment. Empower the student so that they realise they have the ability to get better, to see this through and for things to be OK. The power is in the hands of the person who is struggling, only they can help themselves, but you can help them to help themselves.
Remind people, reassure them. THEY ARE NOT ALONE. Be gentle, sensitive. Take care to listen. Don’t force anyone to talk if they don’t want to. Ask a lot of questions but don’t be to intense. Remind them that how they feel is OK. Discussions don’t have to be candid, they don’t have to be completely based around speaking. There are many ways to communicate how you feel, such as writing or images.
If someone doesn’t want to talk about how they feel, then no-one can get them to talk. There’s no point in trying to force them, as this will most likely cause them to recoil and withdraw further, potentially setting back their recovery.
It’s about letting them know that if there is a point that they need or want to talk, then it’s OK to do that.
How can you better inform about mental health? – Lesson plans, incorporate ideas into a lesson plan, assemblies. Link mental health with physical health. When you talk about physical health, talk about how exercise can improve the mental state of a person.
How would you react when behaviour outside of the classroom had been impacted by a person’s mental health? Focus on discussing the causes of the behaviour, speak to a counsellor/pastoral care. How would you deal with bullying that has arisen as a result of someone having a mental health issue?
Teachers are not the ones who can solve the problem, it would be important to show them how they can explain to students that it is in their power to change things around, ensure they have access to all the information available. EMPOWER THE STUDENT.
Head girl/boy/prefects – maybe somehow get them to be a part of a push on information about mental health. Have a day where the assembly is about mental health. Role models who have suffered?
The BASICS – Make yourselves approachable. Let them know it’s OK to feel the way they do. Let them know it’s OK to talk. Help them to know they are in control & there’s no pressure. Support them. INFORM THEM. EDUCATE THEM about mental health. EDUCATE YOURSELVES about mental health.
It’s OK to talk. If you think a student is struggling then let them know that it’s OK to talk about how they feel. Show them, don’t just tell them. Show them by listening attentively & being approachable.
I’ve come a long way in 4 years because teachers listened to me, took on-board what I said & helped me to address how I felt. They were kind & considerate, they encouraged me to seek support & they were never negative. They didn’t just roll over & accept me doing no work, but they suitably adjusted things so that I could still succeed.
No Place to Hide.
The conference opened with former children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green discussing his personal experience of children’s services and Government policies with regards to children. A specific focus on the United Nations’ Convention of The Rights of The Child ensued, noting particularly that students have the right to be involved in decision making. Aynsley-Green produced a report from the British Medical Association which claimed that “politicians are failing students on a grand scale.” This is evident throughout the cuts being introduced by the Government, but more specifically, those being made to mental health services. If we deal with the problem at its root causes, rather than simply treating the symptoms, then the likelihood of recovery is significantly higher & a quicker recovery can be ensured. Funding cuts on mental health are simply going to make things far more difficult, and ironically put more pressure on the NHS in the medium to long term. The former children’s commissioner continued by discussing the negative portrayal of children in the media, urging people not to tolerate local injustices such as being banned from shops or having “mosquitos” which make shrill noises designed to stop children congregating in certain areas.
Following this, it was Oliver James who was next to speak. The child psychologist launched a fierce attack on Thatcherism and Tony Blair. James claimed that Thatcher increased the materialistic nature of society, which was later reinforced by Blair. Essentially, the speech was about how children had been failed by politicians and what he called “selfish capitalism.” To an extent, the speech was useful, as it focussed on certain aspects of society and how there is a culture of expectancy in academia. It also discussed how this became the norm from a previous norm of doing whatever people were best suited to. How does this link to mental health? The link to mental health is that these things have arguably caused a far greater increase in mental health issues and dissatisfaction with life. The focus was on where, why and how society has contributed to an increase in mental health issues.
Next up was Andrew Curran. A breath of fresh air, the neurologist gripped his audience with an engaging presentation about the human brain.
The key point of the speech was the focus on the psycho-emotional well-being of people. A natural follow on to Oliver James, Dr Curran noted that children have two unconscious role models in life; one being their parent and the other usually their grandmother. A scientific explanation of memory and the role of the medium spiny striatal nerve cell being the specialist facilitator of learning was engrossing, whilst the idea that emotional engagement results in a feeling of reward is surely one which resonates within all of us. The Independent Thinking Associate’s speech was fascinating but most of all very informative.
Dr Curran reminded people “don’t underestimate the importance you have through compassion and kindness.”
Compassion and kindness are two essential attributes to have when dealing with mental health. The relation to mental health here is the way in which the brain works, and how we can alter it’s development, hopefully enhancing it, from a young age. Teachers have a great role to play, and to educate students about mental health is one way to improve it and break down the stigma.
The subsequent speaker was Poppy Jaman from Mental Health First Aid England. MHFA is about increasing the mental health literacy of the population. There is a distinct difference between mental and physical health, but MHFA looks to help reduce that difference by engaging with the public in how to treat mental health issues. The idea of “ALGEE” is particularly relevant
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies
All of these things were mentioned in my own speech aimed at teachers. They are extremely important, specifically for teachers when approached by students with mental health issues. The MHFA speech was fascinating and gives an excellent insight into how best to treat people with mental health issues without prior professional training.
The first speaker after a lunch break was Dr Sara Evans-Lacko. Intent on breaking down stigma, Dr Evans-Lacko produced statistics which highlighted the severity of stigma that surrounds us. In everyday conversations, stigma is perpetuated by the language used by people. But what can we do to break this down?
Time to Change launched in 2009, with a particular video “The Stand up Kid” most notable for its powerful content describing the way in which it is so easy to ignore mental health issues and not deal with them properly in schools.
Dr Phillippa Diedrichs then produced more statistics whilst discussing body image concerns and how to promote a positive body image. Focussing largely on avoiding the discussion of body image at all, or at least keeping it to a minimum,
Dr Diedrichs gave an outstanding presentation of how society has created a world in which 50% of adolescent girls don’t feel comfortable leaving the house without make up on.
An interesting point on how eating disorders and body image concerns can affect academic performance was made, with the explanation that without eating it is more difficult to concentrate in class and process the information communicated. The Succeed Foundation member discussed the social and economic burdens of a negative body image perpetuated by the media with particular reference to the internalisation of cultural beauty ideas. This was then exemplified with examples of what society tells us the perfect male and female body looks like.
Nina Jackson followed up with her harrowing tale of loss whilst teaching in the Welsh Valleys. Claiming the students whom she lost were given “no chance” due to the severity of the poor economic situation, Nina spoke with emotion and a real desire to make a difference. Discussing anxiety at the point in which a student’s life comes to a crossroads, it was clear that she herself had suffered in the past. Which road do we take? That was the key question. Labelled with behavioural difficulties, perhaps the system deemed the Welsh students to be troublemakers, when in reality what they needed was someone to listen, someone to care. They were kicking out against a seemingly hopeless and endless pit of despair that presented itself in the area. Abandoned. No-one was there to listen.
Putting it very eloquently, Nina explained that we need to “Feed the heart with emotional well-being” and to learn to love ourselves, learn to know ourselves and learn to love our own company.
The final speaker was Charlotte, from VIK Young Minds who is involved in the AcSeed programme. Her story is one which, sadly, too many people can relate to. Having suffered from a distorted body image which drove her to self harm, she was admitted to hospital. However, she found her way through the darkness and into the light, sufficiently to spend 30 minutes talking about how to improve emotional well-being in schools.
To end this review of the Mental Health Conference “No Place to Hide” I will share an idea from Dr Andrew Curran.
What the system does is somewhat irrelevant. We do not need the system. If everyone of us tries to improve the psycho-emotional well-being of people by giving good quality one to one care then we can help people, we can help people recover & help people with their well-being.
There really is No Place to Hide any more. No place to hide from the realities of the situation, no place to hide from the fact that unless we break down stigma, unless we act, unless we stand up and be counted, nothing will change.
It’s Ok to Talk.
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.
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!
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.
I actually wrote this on my personal blog, which I oughta try and resurrect, but it is a good piece that I wrote and it needs to be shared.
So, I feel rough and raw but I am 19 and in theory, in the prime of my life.
This isn’t really going to be about me, per-se but about “it” and not suffering alone because it’s ok to talk, and how do I know that for sure tonight (this was in february) when so many times I question it? I know that because there’s a girl (young woman) on twitter* who has set up an account to let adolescents/teenagers realise that it is ok to talk about depression and just feelings in general.
Why is it ok? It’s more than ok, it’s good to talk about how you feel. We have this thing as humans that stops us from opening up to people for fear of their reactions, but if they react negatively then it’s not our loss, it just means they don’t understand properly and therefore cannot be sympathetic in any way. We must take from this, and learn things. What must we learn? Well, we don’t have to learn anything, but it’d be great if we could see that it’s not the fact that we’re talking about it that is the problem, but the fact that some people just aren’t prepared to listen or to understand.
I talk as though it is an inevitability, which it really is not. I speak about it on here, and show it to my friends. Recently, I came back from Wales following an incredible experience. I watched my team, Crystal Palace in a cup semi-final, and despite losing (on penalties) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A friend from a site I joined to help me with my feelings and self harm, kindly let me stay the night at hers, and I enjoyed her company greatly, however I was struck hard by a wave of overwhelming sadness and general emotion on my way home. My body and mind could not cope, and all that was left was to search out for someone to understand. In a desperate attempt for someone to come and hug me and just make me feel better, I tweeted “Really worried about my mood, like seriously, if you love me let me know”. A couple of people came back to me, including one from someone who I really care about saying “love you @MattWoosie, stay strong”** and then a couple more inquisitive but supportive ones. I responded truthfully, and as the conversation developed more people became involved and wished me the best etc.
What does that anecdote tell you? Well, hopefully it tells you that not all your experiences are going to be negative, in fact, most will probably be at least neutral if not positive. You have nothing to lose by sharing your feelings because there is ALWAYS someone out there for you, even if you don’t see it or realise.
Talking about my feelings made me better to put it simply. I sought out counselling because I opened up to someone who all I had in common with was the support of a football club. Gradually I began to realise how much I could gain from being open and talking, and I went to see a professional. I never gave up and although I’m not bursting with happiness, i’m stable and recovering.
I leave you with these lyrics that a friend liked and shared with me. The song’s a bit rubbish but the meaning behind the lyrics is one which we should all look at.
It will take courage, my love, to walk through this life; to cut paths through the bastards who’ll strain to devise nefarious methods to strip you of your hope. It takes courage to not let go. And then as your family fractures and your friends disappear, or, out of self-preservation, chain you to their fears…as their fictions and addictions drain the last of your will, it takes courage to love them still. It will take courage, my love, to refuse to heed the cramped imaginations of those who would lead. And though you can barely see past their consuming fires, it’s your courage that is required. To wrap your fists around what you’ve found to ward off their lies, to manoeuvre past hearses and to curse at the night. To pick up a tape off the floor of the van. To sing with it as loud as you can. Oh dearest, I know, you can’t see a light. But dearest, don’t you know, you have one inside. And now obstacles tower without and within; disease angles closer, your words lost within. But as its muscular wings rip the skin from your bones, oh, my love, you are not alone. Because it takes courage, my love, to assess what you are; to see what surrounds you and to be humbled and small…and to still find the strength to fight for these slivers of truth. So I take courage, my love, from you. I take courage, my love, from you.
It does take courage, it takes great courage to talk about ourselves and our feelings. Everytime someone talks about their feelings to me, it makes me feel a little better inside because I can use what I have learned through talking to help them. Now you don’t have to do that, but I want you to realise that if you talk to me (us) or someone else about your feelings then it is a good thing. It’s ok if you feel unable to at times, or don’t want to, but if you do then it’s great and will be beneficial for you and for me.
It takes courage, my love… so i take courage, my love, from you. I take courage, my love, from you.
The thing is, talking about mental health can lead you into a friendship. A friendship that doesn’t have to consist of “I feel shit” or similar phrases, but a friendship with mutual support, that branches out into a friendship whereby you feel confident to chat about less intense, everyday things, that is when it turns into a really great friendship, because you have that level of understanding, you know each others’ barriers and you know when to probe and press, and when to sit back and give some space. You learn a lot through talking about things.
*You can follow her @itsokcampaign she was the inspiration behind my decision to create this account with my wonderful friend, Steph and we are both thriving on it, so thank you May, thank you very much 🙂
**Yes, that is my personal twitter, you can send me a follow request if you so wish and you’ll probably get accepted.