World Mental Health day 2021 – lessons from the other side.

10th October 2021 brought us World Mental Health day, and it wouldn’t be so for me without sharing a few thoughts.

I’m a little late in sharing this as I spent yesterday catching up with life and spending time outdoors, I have been stuck in the dark for the majority of the week with a bad head. It was nice to see so many of my friends and family and other people I follow on social media sharing their support and their experiences, reaching out to others or just sharing a lovely quote or two – clearly time has bought more awareness and less stigma over this day as many moons ago, it was unheard of for so many people to speak out over their own personal sufferings.

So for this WMHD, I have decided to share some of the lessons and important musings I have had over the past ten years which have all led to providing emotional wellness and stability when it comes to my mental health.

  1. Speak Louder. Talking helps. There was a time in my life when I was very young where I felt ashamed to admit to anybody that I was struggling at risk of being singled out, labelled or rejected. As it turned out, the more I opened up about it the less I felt either of those things. The more people who talk, the more people realise they are not alone, the more it encourages others to speak out too.
  2. Recovery is not a straight road from A to B. How many times have I felt myself picking up and almost in reach of being 100% well, only to wake up the next day to have crashed down to rock bottom again? I have no idea. Way too many times to keep track of. I can only compare this to the illusion of the false summits of a mountain; just as you think you are about to reach the top you get over the peak to find it is not actually the summit and theres another humongous hill to climb (and more often than not, the second summit is yet again, another false summit). It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s normal, and it’s normal in everyone’s journey, not just yours. As one of my lovely therapists once said, ‘Count your stars not your failures’. We often focus on that one relapse, but forget we have had many successful days before that one slip. Healing will never be straight forward, because life doesn’t work that way. If it was we would all be self entitled idiots who never learn from anything.
  3. Be mindful of your environment. This is often an external factor that we can change, but most likely to forget that we have any control over it. Jobs, friendship circles, relationships. If they are dragging you down rather than raising you up, honestly, the worst thing I repeatedly did throughout my 20’s was tolerate it. There have been so many situational influences that have made my illness so much worse and I only had myself to blame in the end for not walking away because I thought it was more complex than it actually was to act on it. It’s really not THAT complicated that you are putting up with a job that has eventually lead to you having panic attacks on a grubby bathroom floor in between work projects. Or tolerating friendships in a bitching/bullying environment so that it shatters your self esteem. No one needs that. Unfortunately, young Megan must have thought that was exactly what I needed at one point, but they were lessons that led me to having a loving, supportive home life and close circle of people whom I trust today.
  4. Mental health isn’t an excuse. Own your mistakes. A bit of hard hitting advice but it’s true that too many people use their mental state to excuse their actions when it comes to hurting others. You suffer, yes, but we often forget that everyone around us do as a consequence. Depression, anxiety and other chronic conditions are hard to live with, yes, but it does not excuse shitty behaviour. Yes, your mental health state might be the reason that you said the wrong thing, let somebody down, hurt someone with your actions but it does not mean it’s a valid excuse. The same reason that being angry does not validate the right to scream in somebody’s face and make them step on eggshells around you; we still have a choice in how we deal with everyday situations. Every single person has hurt somebody in their life unintentional or not and even when we aren’t in our right mind at the time, we need to own up to those mistakes we make. Admit it. Apologise. Make amends if you have to. Learn from the situation. Try again. Which leads me to the next one…
  5. Forgive yourself. For crying, for putting up with more than you deserve. For resting. For taking medication. For making stupid mistakes. For showing yourself up. For being late multiple times. For saying no to people. For snoozing that alarm. For going home early on a night out. For letting somebody down. For being depressed. For feeling anxious, or guilty or bereaved. For being Bipolar. For having ADHD. For hallucinating, or obsessing or being so paranoid that it doesn’t shatter just your life but it hurts others too. You will never be able to move on or fully recover if you do not give the kindness you would give to others. Everybody needs forgiveness, and the easiest way forward is to start with yourself.
  6. People will only be ready to help themselves when they truly want to in their heart, not just in their head. There is a huge difference (which is also reflected in relapse rates) in just passively saying you are ready to give it a go versus truly feeling ready for it. An alcoholic is more likely to stay sober if they eliminate all the alcohol out of the cabinet, over when they say they are ready to give it up but are still secretly keeping it at the back of the cabinet ‘just in case’. You cannot rush healing in yourself, nor other people. It will come at a time when their heart says ‘okay, let’s do this’.
  7. Nobody is going to do it for you. It takes effort from you, and no one else. The first time I ever sat down to talk to a professional, I sat down looking for answers to my problems thinking the secret of my happiness was in that person. You can imagine the panic that arose in me when he sat there and did nothing but stare at me, smiling knowingly for what seemed like hours until I eventually cracked and was forced to talk to fill the awkward silence. It took a few more years until I finally learned that a therapist wasn’t there to provide the answers. They are there to give you a nudge to come up with them yourself. No one else can speak for you. No one else will make those appointments, take your medication for you, and you certainly won’t find the answers at the bottle of a bottle. I honestly feel this stalls getting well for many people, until they come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own greatest advocate.
  8. If they haven’t been through it themselves, they might not understand. And that’s okay. I’m sure we all have people in our lives that always want to listen and who truly seem to get it, but on the other hand it comes with knowing certain others who cannot seem to tolerate your struggles and look at you like you were born on Mars. Talk, but it might help to choose a selective few who you know can compassionately connect with you. Find yourself the strength to forgive the people who do ‘pass it off’ as nothing (it really isn’t their fault!) and hope the best for them that they do not ever experience similar.
  9. It will never truly go away. Another difficult one to deal with, but the more we accept this truth the more we will understand and accept it the next time it comes around. We know the value of discovering the tools and developing healthy coping methods for if we ever have another relapse, have a panic attack or ever fall in to a depression again. Mental health struggles really do change you as a person. So if we are to live with this, we might as well befriend it. This mentality has helped me deal with my panic attacks, instead now of trying to stop them, I sit with them and just let them be. They don’t last as long as they used to. I don’t kick myself down like I used to. I recover faster when they are over instead of staying in bed for days afraid of the next one. I embrace my brighter days more, and take them for granted less. This has helped me really, truly live my life, because being well and happy is not guaranteed, so we might as well embrace the joy we have whilst it is here.
  10. Nature is the best medicine. To conclude, I thought i’d slip in a very personal one. Being in touch with nature and the outdoors has really put things in to perspective for me. I get out as much as I can. Adventure. Feel the sun on my face. Go exploring. Feel the earth beneath my feet (literally, these days its not uncommon for me to step outside my house barefoot in the mornings just to feel the ground under my feet for a short while, and this is coming from someone who wore socks in the house permanently a few years back!). Chase the moon. Count the stars. Immerse myself in the universe and feel how tiny I actually am. It makes my worries and my struggles shrink so they feel more manageable. My favourite thing to do in my spare time is spend time in the mountains, get the cool air to my face and feel my heart beat from the effort of a long climb uphill. It is the quickest way for me to feel grounded both physically and mentally. You find something that can really make you appreciate your life and make all the fight seem worth it after all. It makes you want to stay. It really does.

Image: taken in 2020 on the summit of Y Garn, Snowdonia, Wales.

Sober October

How are we in October already?

As the impending winter brings a magnetic pull towards the back end of 2021, I am already finding myself in the midst of denial over the start of October. I permitted myself another day of September by drinking on the 1st October and calling it the 31st September, kicking myself for dragging myself and my partner in to doing ‘Sober October’ (whose brilliant idea was that?!). The colder months are hard enough as they are without denying yourself a glass of wine in the evenings.

So yes we shamefully cheated, then woke up on the second day of the month with a joyful “Happy October!”

It’s good to give yourself allowances sometimes.

This month, starting a day late, will be alcohol free. I am ready for this now, I promise.

As the late summer dwindled away, I could feel that this year was going to be a difficult one, particularly with the familiar feelings of a niggling anxiety stirring up in my chest with the summer sunsets. Sunsets have always been an indicator of my own mental state since I was a child. I either enjoy them, or I feel myself sinking along with the sun. I have had two great winters over the last years – surprising, considering the mess of last years lockdown – but this year I am pretty confident I’m not going to get away with it.

There has been a very strange energy in the air over the last few weeks, an energy I usually blame blindly on the lunar cycles, but it has been hanging around since September and I am feeling it in everyone. Family, friends, colleagues, even my cat seems to be off and uneased. People are going through illnesses, troubles with work, finances and heartbreak. Even my mobile signal seems to be struggling like it’s not ready for this time of the year either and wants to hibernate. Our thriving chilli plant on our kitchen window has perished. As unsettling as it is to see every living being around you hanging their heads and looking miserable, its given me somewhat comfort to know that it’s not just me who is struggling away and clinging on to that extra last day of September just to hang on to a tiny bit of joy.

In a way, a way that I want to pretend I have not acknowledged, Sober October might have come at the exact right time after all. Drinking makes me anxious, yet i’ve fallen in to the lockdown trap of being a borderline alcoholic which I have somehow made excuses to carry through to this year.

If you are reading this, it is not too late to take the Sober October pledge, especially if you are also feeling that heavy energy. It might just transform your month and set you up for some healthier habits to see you through the winter. Just see it as though you’ve give yourself a few extra September days, like me…

Growing up with an abusive parent – A Conversation with Claire.

CLAIRE CONVERSATION TMY

This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Claire* who bravely opened up to tell me her story of how she grew up in a domestically and emotionally challenged environment, and the impact this had on her mental health as an adult. Claire is now a parent and a homeowner with her long term Partner, and when she’s not caring for her two children she works part time as a registered medical professional. This is Claire’s story of her experience with an abusive parent.

*WARNING – this post contains some reference of domestic and sexual violence, and some contents can be triggering. All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality. 

TMY – “So what made you want to speak out?

CLAIRE – Mostly to help your blog, and to touch on subjects that I don’t really speak about which could help other young adults or children. Um… about – it’s really hard to say it now – if you are having a tough time at home when you are young but you don’t see it as abuse or anything… But when you get old you know it is, do you know what I mean?

Yeah.

And how it can affect you a little bit really.

So tell me about the background of it all, obviously I know quite a bit about the life you had with your mum?

Even now I’ll try and discuss it, and I still won’t see it as abuse. But now when I think about it with my children, and if I was ever to do something like that, I wouldn’t do it – you know what I mean – so I know it’s wrong. But even discussing it I’ll think – ‘No, it’s not really, it’s not’ – but then again it was. So I’ll think about the way my mum used to speak to me… see even now I think people will just think it’s attention seeking or you are just being stupid, but that’s just my mum talking.

Yes.

Do you see what I mean?

*Nods*

Yes. I think when you are that age as well you just don’t know, you haven’t got the experience to compare it to. You haven’t got that self-worth built up over the years.

No, I remember when I was at school and I went to one of the mentors who helps students, and I really wanted to tell her what had been going on, and I approached her and she said to me, ‘Someone’s mum died today’, and then just blanked me so I never spoke out to anyone again after that. So I do think it’s quite important for children to be able to approach people and mentors who are supposed to be there to help you. And actually get acknowledged and not brushed off, because that actually reinforces you saying well, maybe it is nothing? If she’s not going to listen to me who is? Maybe it is nothing, maybe it is just in my head.

It’s quite a big deal for someone to – how old was you at the time?

So… I think I was in year 8 when that happened…

So 13, 14 maybe?

*Nods*

And that was the first time I actually went to approach somebody about it and it was the last time I ever did.

Yeah.

I suppose things might have been a little bit different if I’d actually said; look this is what’s happening at home, I’m not very happy.

It’s a big thing to do, was it just… built up? What made you want to talk to somebody?

I can’t remember to be honest I just remember thinking I need to tell someone, and then I never did again.

And to face that kind of rejection as well at such a young age, it must have made you feel like…

It’s something that has always stayed with me, what happened, it’s not something I will ever forget.

Yeah. Do you remember the next time you spoke out after that, when you told somebody?

I think it was….. I think it was when I had had my proper fall out with my mum, and I went to the doctors with panic attacks – I couldn’t breathe – and like, I kind of spoke about it but not really. I can’t remember really? I think I have obviously spoke about it to my friends as I got older, but at the time it was normalised, you sort of get desensitised to things you know like, you don’t see it as… maybe when I went to councillor really, but that was when I was about… I was pregnant with my son, so, about 13 years later. And that’s when I really opened up to a stranger about wanting to seek help again, so that’s probably about 12, 13 years later.

It’s a long time.

Yeah. Oh and I did at university actually, I had this lady called S that I used to speak to. And I wrote a massive long letter about all the things my mum had done and she like took me under her wing a little bit. Um… yeah, it affected me whilst I was at university; I used to self-harm, I tried committing suicide. I had to stay in observations with the nurse for a couple of nights, I wasn’t allowed to be on my own. I had to sleep there before they were worried I was going to kill myself. I think that’s when I wrote the letter to this women who tried to help students.

Trying to reach out?

Yeah, yeah. I’m a little bit all over the place, sorry.

It’s okay. Do you think that…you said you was pregnant with your son at the time when you really started opening up… Do you think that being pregnant with your first born kind of helped to see your own worth in a way?

No, I sought help because I didn’t want to feel that pain anymore, and bringing a child in to it.

Okay.

I was so… I think it highlighted things more because my mum would, we’d obviously had that fall out, and she wasn’t bothered with my – you know with me being pregnant or anything – and I think it just hit home just how hurt I was still and that’s when I sought counselling, I didn’t want to bring a child in to it. Well, since having children it’s got better, but I still feel feelings of guilt towards my mum, I still feel like sometimes in my head… was it acceptable behaviour? And I’m just… You know… But I wouldn’t do the things she has done to me to mychildren, you know then it’s wrong, you know?

Yeah, I suppose you’ve got something to compare it to now, you are on the different perspective, you are on your mum’s perspective in a way.

Yeah. Because I think really, it would be nice for people to read this, and acknowledge that there are similarities in their stories, where they have got a narcissistic mum, that they are getting abused and that it’s okay to stand up – and if they are in the situation like, with the woman at the school who didn’t acknowledge it and brushed it off, because she’d heard that something more important had happened to someone else – there are other people who you can speak to, you don’t have to just walk away and then try and find help 13 years later because you wouldn’t have to go through all that suffering.

Do you think your life would have been different if she did say, ‘Okay, let’s sit down and talk?’

I think I would have been under the eyes of social services. But my mum was under social services with my younger brother. I’m not really sure of the story behind that, I know she had a social worker to take him out, but I don’t know we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what that was all about. But because that had happened, maybe… Well, if I had gone in to more detail, gone in to any detail what had happened, I think she would have spoke to various agencies to try and take me away.

When did it all start with you mum? Can you remember?

I don’t know if this is a memory… or it’s something she had told me. But she left alcohol out in the living room when I was about 2 or 3. I got really drunk and passed out, then I got bit by a dog. And I don’t know where she was then, and I find that quite neglectful because you don’t, like –

It’s very young.

– ‘Where are you?’ You know. But, um… I do have a memory of her pushing me down the stairs when I was 4. And I have another memory… the one memory I remember really well is, I was – I can’t remember why she was angry at me – but I was in primary school and I must have been about 5 (I started school when I was 5), and she was really annoyed with me, I can’t remember why. And she pushed me. We had this sofa where it had all these little metal studs going all around it, she ended up blacking my eye? And she told me I had to tell people that I had fallen over my toys. Um, and I remember that, and pushing me down the stairs, but I can’t remember anything else after that. So I think… what I can remember… I think she was neglectful from me being a toddler, because why else would a two year old get drunk and get attacked by a dog?

Yeah.

But my first memories are more when I was about 5, um… yeah.

Did you feel like it was normal, growing up in that environment? Or did you know something was wrong?

I used to watch films and I would see like, these families being really happy, and I used to think, ‘Why is my family not like that, you know why are we not like that?’ and I used to say that to her and she’d be like, ‘Oh it’s just in the films, it’s just films.’ I just saw it as normal I think though really, I used to see the films and think why is my family not like that. But… yeah I saw it as normal really. I think it was as I grew in to an adult where I thought, you know, it’s not right, it’s not right.

Yeah. Did you tell your friends?

I can’t remember. I don’t know if they witnessed it or… I know one of my friends said that ‘I know your mum is always a bit funny with you.’ I don’t think I told my friends at the time actually, what was going on. They must have known something because when I was about 15, I lived with my friend and her mum for a while, and her mum used to say to my nan, ‘Oh I used to have her all the time as a toddler,’ and my nan was like ‘Well I used to have her all the time as well,’ so when did my mum actually have me? My mum had me quite young, and I think she felt she had missed out on a lot of her teenage years where you are going out and getting drunk and all that, so I think she wanted to experience those that everyone else was feeling? And I think she took it out on me. Quite a lot. Blamed me.

Do you know if she had a history of any abuse, anything similar?

No, she was doted on by my grandad, absolutely doted on and the problem with my mum and how she is, is that my grandad doted on her, and gave her anything she wanted, but he was a strict parent. But my nan used to hide things from my grandad too so she wouldn’t get in to trouble, and I think she has always get away with stuff and walk all over her mum because my nan wouldn’t say anything. Like my mum used to come home drunk and my nan would make cover stories up for her, you know… so. But I don’t think she was abused. She once said in anger that my dad had raped her, but I think she just said that because she’s just…

*Silence*

Yeah.

*Silence*

There are some stories about my dad and how he’d pushed her down the stairs when she was pregnant, and that he’d held her face to dog shit, but I don’t know how real these stories are because she, with my mum, you never know what to believe. She tells so many lies, it’s like the boy who cried wolf, you don’t know if it’s true or if it’s not true. So you just doubt everything she says.

How was the relationship between you mum and your little brother? Was it different to the relationship that you had?

Yeah. Um, my mum hated… So my Mum used to buy all my brothers clothes and stuff, she wouldn’t buy me any, so my nan would get them for me, my mum hated that. And my mum was very all for my brother, my brother was a little turd when he was younger sometimes… But my mum was quite nasty with him growing up though, I just remember little things, you know? And I’d think ‘It’s a bit mean that’, but… not half as much as she was like with me. They were quite close.

When you had your first born, was anything like, brought out of you?

Yeah so, some of the mental health things that I experienced was, when I was with my son, and one of the other reasons why I tried to sought counselling was that I was getting nightmares of my mum. Um, every night really, waking up screaming and stuff… and even though my mum had been abusive like, I still wanted her, I still wanted her in my life and I wanted her to care for me, and I still want her to care for me but she’s never going to be that person so you’ve kind of accept and acknowledge the fact that she’s never going to be the person that I want her to be… and a lot of anger and resentment came out for her really as well when I had my son because I thought how could you do that? How could you treat your daughter that way, like I could never be like that with my children, you know? Um… Yeah. But… There’s a lot of things though that I think ‘I could write a book about my life’ and there’s a lot of things I find it hard to talk about.

Does your partner know about what you have been through?

He knows everything, I think he knows everything really? Most things yeah.

I bet it feels nice to have someone who you can share your life with in that way?

He doesn’t… he hates her with a passion.

*Nods*

But… He gets so angry when I’m upset about her, because he hates what I have been through… where it can come to the point where he’s not really supportive and he’s just angry at her? And sometimes, like, I mean I’m not really like it anymore because of my medication but when I used to get really down… he didn’t get it? He just didn’t get it, because he has never experienced any bad things in his life, everything is perfect and rosy and he doesn’t really understand that anyone can ever suffer in pain or anything, and feel down.

Do you get depressed? Do you have bouts of depression?

*Nods*

Not at the minute though, because of my tablets, they really help. If I was to come off my tablets tomorrow, I’d say in a few months’ time I would be back down there feeling anxious, feeling paranoid that everyone is out to get me, like nobody likes me, I’ll get a funny look off someone and I’ll think, ‘Oh they are talking about me!’ I feel devalued, I feel below everyone, I don’t feel like I’m… I feel like everyone up here? *Raised hand above head.*

But I’m down here… *lowers hand.*

I don’t feel like my worth is…. Everyone else’s standard…

*Chokes up*

*Silence.*

Um… I’ll look at myself in the mirror and think – ‘You’re ugly, you are so fucking ugly!’ Um… and I’ll… I’ll just have really bad… Yeah… and, but… I’m on the tablets and I’m a lot happier, I try to avoid thinking about my mum now, but I do question my own parenting, I get paranoid that I’m not a good parent? And I feel like I’m letting my children down, but I try so hard. I think I overcompensate, but I just, I just want to be everything that my mum’s not. Um, but yeah without the tablets, I would be very down I think.

How long have you been on them for?

Um…

*thinks back*

About 2 years… yeah.

And who’s decision was it to be on them, was it your doctor’s?

That was mine. That was mine.

And was you in counselling before that?

I think I started with CBT…

Yep.

But that was before, that, I think it was before I was pregnant. But I didn’t like that, I didn’t like the female therapist, I thought she was young and I would have wanted someone a bit older and I’m my eyes a bit more experienced and someone who could actually listen to me, I felt like I was talking to someone my own age who was being judgemental of me, so I didn’t go to any more of them. So that’s when I opted for counselling, that’s when I was pregnant.

Was that through the NHS? (National Health Service)

Yeah

Yeah – do you think it helped at all?

It did yeah, but unfortunately got cut short because I had my son early…

Okay.

And we never really followed it through after because obviously with a newborn it is quite difficult to go to counselling.

*Nods*

Yes.

But, with my first born I had suspected mild psychosis, which is what my mum had. Well, she didn’t have mild, she had strong psychosis where she would see blood coming out of the walls. Um, I can talk about that if you want, with psychosis and stuff?

*Nods*

So… when I was pregnant with my first born, I used to, like see the devil coming out of the ceiling like out of the corner, um… I used to see the number 6 everywhere, and think of the devil, I thought he was after me. I’d be screaming at night telling my partner I could see the devil coming out of the wall. I used to have nightmares. And then when I had my son I was hearing voices where, I could hear voices but I could never make out what they were saying it was like whispering it was like…

*Whispering impression*

…One time, I heard somebody go, ‘Go on…’  like an old man’s voice but there was nobody there, because I was on the postnatal ward and it was in the middle of the night, but I was so tired and drained it was just normal to me. And then when I got home I could see bears coming out of the walls, and on the way home I could see shadows climbing up trees, and loads of weird things going on. I went back to hospital because of what I could see in the walls… And then it kind of just disappeared, it kind of disappeared after all. But I remember, like, when I used to breastfeed my son, and I’d be looking at his toys and I could see them moving and I though they was alive, so when I used to feed him I used to hide his toys away so I couldn’t see them. I used to hide them behind the cot the teddies because I genuinely thought they were moving! But then that kind of disappeared then, I went to a support group for women with postnatal depression, and I found that really helpful and it all so gave me a bit of structure – that helped. But with my first son I had to be super mum, I had to do everything, I couldn’t sit still. In one day we’d go swimming, library, park… everywhere like, it would be jam packed my schedule, I’d never keep still. Whereas this time around I’m a little bit more relaxed but then I’m thinking am I a bad mum because I’m not being super woman, I’m not doing this and doing that, you know? Um… but I’ve not had any signs of psychosis this time around. But, the hospital was quite rude though with my second son, because I got told because I had mild psychosis with my first, then I had to see a psychiatrist in order to get discharged?

Okay.

So… about 7 days after having him, I said, ‘Can I see the psychiatrist now?’  So when it comes to me leaving the hospital, I can just leave, instead of waiting around to see the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came in… And he was asking me all these questions – which they have to do – do you think you have got super powers? Do you think everyone’s after you? And I was like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine there’s nothing wrong with me, I feel so much better than I did when I had my first…’

Yeah.

And then they was like, ‘Well I think you should get supervised whilst you look after your baby for the next few weeks, can you agree to that?’ and I was like, ‘No!’ I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m getting supervised, there’s nowt wrong with my parenting, I’m not giving you any answers that would make you feel that way?’

Yeah…

I requested this psychiatric assessment because it’s what I need to get discharged, and I didn’t want to be fannying about! Because I’m in hospital for so long, I want to get discharged, I don’t want to be waiting around, I wanted this to be over and done with, and I found it quite…. Infuriating. Because I’d had it the first time around that they had assumed… Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like that at all.

What did they say to that then, when you put your foot down and said No?

He just said – ‘Okay then!’ – he didn’t say anything. But he was a student psychiatrist and I think he was just covering his own back.

Yeah maybe, maybe… Did you have any signs of psychosis or paranoia, or anything like that when you was younger?

Paranoia, yeah. Psychosis, no.

*Laughs*

I was always frightened of ghosts and stuff. But no not really…

*Silence*

A lot of my memory is blanked out. I don’t have a lot of happy memories. I do of my nan and grandad. I don’t really remember a lot. I remember one time when we was sat on the floor next to our house and we was chatting a lot, and that was really nice? But my mum could turn really quick, and I always remember being really disappointed where one minute she’s be really happy, and the next minute she’ll take it out on me. You’d feel lifted and nice and comforted, and the next minute… You were back down to the bottom again…

*Silence*

Um… yeah… I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood to be honest, I have a lot of stuff from what had happened but the happy memories, I don’t have many of them.

Do you feel like you missed out on a childhood?

Yeah. Because I don’t have a dad. Haven’t got a dad that has bothered with me as they say, and my mum’s not particularly the best mum you could ever have…so yeah I do feel like… I wish that I had a family where, like my partners mum and dad; where they come and help with DIY and you can go round for your dinner and you can raid the fridge without being judged or… and I had a mum where I went shopping with her and drank champagne. Maybe those things don’t happen, and maybe that’s not reality and that’s just created in my head because that’s what I want? And I see it in films and stuff maybe that’s not what family life is really like and that’s what I have created and it’s not really real. But that’s what I’d like – a mum and dad – with no mental health issues and that cared about me and loved me and took me shopping, did the normal things that mother and daughters do, and a dad that cares about you and judges all your boyfriends and… Instead… Instead of having emptiness. It is, it’s just like a childhood of emptiness, I don’t remember anything… Apart from the bad things…

*Silence*

You seem quite close to your partner’s mum and dad, do you see them as a family?

I know they are family because they are my children grandparents, but I don’t feel like… I get on with them but I don’t feel like I am part of them, I don’t feel like I a worthy of being part of their family. I just feel like, it’s me, my partner, my children and my nan. I feel quite lonely. I feel like my children family, it’s all about my partner’s side, because I haven’t really got anybody. That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m quite lonely, like I feel like I’m not really part of my son’s life.

Okay.

Because I feel like, I’m here. That’s their family… And my nans over there? I don’t feel like really… yeah. Yeah, I don’t know.

*Silence*

Do you feel like… I know your mum came back in to your life quite recently and you tired making a go of it, and that didn’t work out. Do you feel like you was stronger to handle the situation this time?

I was a lot stronger this time than how I was when I was pregnant with my first born… I was a lot more accepting of it because I’d already been through it. But, I still get feelings of guilt that maybe it’s me who’s in the wrong? And being that person where you have always been put down… My mum is like, it’s like role reversal where I’m her mum and I have to look after herneeds and her feelings, and it’s still like that now, I think that’s why I get the guilt. Because, she is narcissistic, she has got the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, she’s like that. Even now I’m thinking, ‘Oh I feel guilty on her, how is she feeling? How is she coping? I am being the bad person because I’m putting her through this?’ But, then I’ve also got to think I’m doing it for myself as well, and I’ve got to be in a good place to look after my children. And when I was friendly with her, she did nothing to make her horrible when we were friends, obviously the telephone calls she went a bit insane, but the times we saw each other she was okay. But there was always that doubt in myself thinking she’s not doing to stay like this, this is all an act. And she proved me exactly right when we fell out. Because of the social services things, and, ‘I’m going to take your kids on a Saturday,’ and, ‘It’s going to be on my terms,’ and I thought well you have not changed and I know I did the right thing my cutting her out again.

Yes.

But it does mean I don’t feel guilty and that show I feel, but she doesn’t worry about how I feel because it’s all about her.

I know that you had quite a bad time with it again, but do you feel like you did the right thing by trying to give her a second chance?

Yeah I’m glad I did because if I didn’t I would always wonder what if? but I’ve done it, I have extended the branch, and it didn’t work out so. That’s the last time I ever do it because I don’t have any feeling of what if anymore. I know what it leads to… it leads to me feeling anxious, me feeling nervous, me worrying, me being paranoid – even if she doesn’t give me any reason to be paranoid. And then, it’s just not worth it, like I wasn’t sleeping, I was overthinking. Do you know? Whereas now I feel a lot better.

Yes.

I still feel guilty. I feel like I have pushed herself out on purpose, but she proved me wrong anyway with calling social services on me and my children and stuff. I thought – you’ve not changed.

No.

You’re still selfish.

Do you feel like you have come out stronger from it?

I’m back in the place where I was when it was me, my son and my partner, where it was just us and I didn’t have to think about her. But I feel like I think about her a bit more now because she has met my son and I’ve put her in that situation where I have introduced her to my son and then I’ve taken it away? But I took it away – not in spite –  but for my own sanity, because I’m worrying so much, and also when she used to be with him I used to think, ‘You don’t deservethis, you don’t deserve this happiness to be with my son, you are not worthy of being with my son, because you are so cruel.’ She’s been so cruel to me yet I’m letting her see my son? And I used to resent her and think why am I doing this? I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for her, I’m not doing it for me, I’m not doing it for my son, I’m doing it for her, and it’s the whole role reversal thing again of looking after her needs.

Yeah, I think there’s bit of a whole role reversal with your worth as well, I mean you grew up in that situation thinking that you wasn’t worthy, and now it’s she’s the one that’s not worthy?

Yeah. Kind of, um… but on the same token, I’m still looking after her needs by feeling guilty, you know?

Yeah, yeah.

I won’t… but then, I am more worthy than that so…

I think that’s what makes you human though? Like, we’re empathetic creatures aren’t we –

– Some of us.

Some of us…

*Silence*

I just… I’ll close my eyes and think of her when I was a child, and I’ll just see these evil eyes, looking through my nan’s window, shouting and swearing, and saying, ‘let me in’ or saying ‘You’re killing your nan and your grandad, they don’t want you here..’ And she didn’t want me because obviously her husband would beat me up. He’d bust my lip open. He tired breaking my nose, but my nose it like… malleable…

*laughs and squeezes tip of nose*

*silence*

Um… I forgot what I was saying now. What was I saying? Yeah, so she didn’t want me and my grandad took me in and she hated that, because it made her feel jealous, so in turn shed make me feel like they didn’t want me, that I was killing them, she actually said -‘You’re killing them being here!’ and… she just made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anybody, of anybody loving me, of anybody taking care of me… You know if they ever brought me some clothes – even though I was living with them and she didn’t buy me any – she’d go sick, she’d hate it! And I used to think… why? You know, why am I not allowed a holiday, why am I not allowed clothes, why am I not allowed to be loved? And it did make me… because I know I look back on my school days, there was a time where someone would wind me up and I’d just go over to them and punch them in the stomach *laughs awkwardly*. Like, that I’d be so angry and I’d just go over and punch them… Like… I think if I ever worked in a school – which is something I do want to do – if anybody ever came to me and said, ‘I’m having problems at home’, even if it was something so daft I would sit down and I would listen to them, and I would acknowledge them and make them feel acknowledged, I wouldn’t turn them away because, schools hard enough as it is without having problems at home as well.

*Nods*

Yes, I agree.

And when you seek that help of someone who’s in an authority position, where they are in a position where they can help you, then they should stop listen, actually listen to what they are going to say, because you never know what that child is going to say or what they are going through. You can look at somebody, they can be well dressed, well groomed, going on holidays all the time, they can be the most happiest person in public – but if they come to you are say they are having problems you need to listen to them. You don’t just turn them away.

Do you think with the situation that you went through, it would make you be more aware of it with your children? You know, say if they are going through tough times at school?

Yeah I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want to see any child, regardless of it they are mine or not, I wouldn’t want to see any child going through any problems because it would really, you know… strike a chord with me, I wouldn’t like it. But it would make me feel more desperate for my children to be happy though, because it would make me feel guilty if they were so down? It would make me feel horrible. But my children will never experience anything from me or from their dad, you know… I don’t know really? I want my children to be more open with me and willing to discuss anything with me, without feeling judged. Where they can have ten minutes where they can shout and swear, and punch things and after ten minutes… *holds hand up* ‘right… Calm down now,’ do you know where they have got that time to be able speak about their emotions, you have ten minutes where you can shout and swear, you’re not going to get in trouble, just get it all out… You know, where they can just come to me and feel open and relaxed, to say – ‘Look mum I’m having problems’, and that’s something I wished I’d always had. My nan’s always been there for me, she’s been amazing, but there is going to come a time when my nan isn’t there anymore, and like I said before my partner and my sons are there and I’m literally on my own then I don’t have any branches off to anyone else really, you know what I mean? And I think there is going to be a time, when that time comes I’m going to feel incredibly lonely.

*chokes up*

But then I’ve got to think that I’ve got two beautiful children now, and I don’t have to dwell on the past and that I’m not really on my own because I have these two beautiful babies and I can look after their emotions and help them to grow up to be strong people where they do feel wary that everyone is here, but they’re up there, and they are not on the same level they are up here…

*raises hand*

You know? I want that for my children, I want everything that they didn’t have, where if they… You know… If they… where I can get them the shoes that they want so they fit in at school, where they can talk to me if they need to talk to me, where they can feel open to talk to me where they can get a cuddle from me or they feel comfortable to give me a hug because that’s what they want. Where they are not nervous to give they mum a hug because it’s not a natural thing, I want it to be natural where we give each other a hug and you know, where they speak to me and know that… Their worthiness is up here, so they can do well in life and they have the confidence to go forward, instead of thinking, ‘Oh everyone thinks I’m down here, you know…’

Yes. Well…they are two very lucky boys!

*Laughs*

They are very lucky. So what would you want to say to somebody who read your story and was going through the same thing, what would you say to them?

Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that it is wrong. Speak out, don’t feel guilty for speaking out on that parent because that parent is not thinking about your emotions or your health or your happiness, they are not thinking about your happiness. Speak out and do something, and if the first person doesn’t listen to you don’t give up. Don’t just put up with it, and acknowledge that it is wrong, ask yourself would you do that to your child? And if it’s no, then it’s not right.”

The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is a registered UK charity that provides 24/7 support and information for children who are victims of abuse, and support for families. For more information about the NSPCC, research, and their services please follow the link to their website below:

Web: nspcc.org.uk

The NSPCC also provide support helplines for adults concerned about a child;
Tel: 0808 800 5000

For help for children and young peoplethe Childline website, provided by the NSPCC, is a great resource for information, advice and 24 hour support.

Web: childline.org.uk

Tel: 0800 1111

The blog is looking for people to take part in telling their story. To take part in The Conversations, please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com.

Megan x

The Recovery Letters – Addressed to People Experiencing Depression.

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Last year, I had the honour of being approached by the founder of The Recovery Letters blog, James Withey, who asked me to submit a letter for his upcoming book, the Recovery Letters – Addressed to People Experiencing Depression, which compiled letters from people who had once suffered – to the currently suffering.

My contribution made it through to final print, and when I got the package through from Jessica Kingsley publishers with a copy of the book, I wept with absolute joy. Upon reading the extracts, the book offers a real inspirational insight in to what it feels like to suffer, and each letter is raw with relatable stories, advice and hope.

Here is my contribution to the book.

From Megan. 

“Dear You,

Struggling with Depression is one of closest things a human being can endure to being stuck in time.

I’m sharing these thoughts from experience. It has been a journey I once kept contained within myself; one that I never thought I would even begin to understand, let alone gain the understanding of those close to me. The day I closed my eyes to the light and woke in the darkness was a day I was convinced that I’d lost myself completely.

How do you even begin to make sense of it when your life suddenly pauses and you find yourself stuck within an infinite stretch of nothingness; watching everyone around you carry on with their lives, running towards the future whilst you are left behind? That numbness you just can’t seem to comprehend, slowly replacing the oxygen you once breathed in, poisoning your bloodstream the more you struggle for air. The sadness you can’t shift, lurking around every corner you turn and echoing it’s cries through each painful movement your body tries to make. That vicious hum of anxious energy that strikes time and time again when you have your back turned, potent enough to stop your heart mid-pulse and cruel enough leave you hanging there until you are convinced it will be the last beat it will ever sing.

That desperate search to track down the glimmer that was once yourself, becomes a one-way road that always leads you back to where you first started. After a few effortful attempts running down the same path over and over again, you eventually find yourself getting more and more exhausted with every step you take; until your mind and your body begins to run on an empty soul; a dried up motor that rusts and cracks under the heat. Depression for me was a never ending moment in time, one which I thought I’d never escape from.

One of my first Therapists – one of many to follow – gave me some valuable recovery advice back then which has stayed with me to this day. He said to me;

 

“There is a clear difference between believing that you can’t, and knowing that you can’t.”

 

When I heard those words, my perspective finally shifted enough to stop myself from running down that same one path. The reason why I had stalled in this endless loop of despair and a tunnel vision of doom was because I had made myself believe that recovery wasn’t an option for me. But in reality? The opportunity to get better was there. My eyes just couldn’t shift the fog that was my own damned perspective.

And then all of a sudden, the possibility of recovery became real. It was as simple as getting out of my head and remembering where I was – more importantly who I was – at that very moment.  

So to you dear friend, please remember this. The next time you feel like you are stuck in time, the truth is; you are not. It only feels like you are stuck there. Remind yourself, that outside that perspective of yours, the clock really is ticking away. And it’s leading you to discover the most breath-taking, most beautiful opportunities you thought you could only dream of before now.

Hold on for hope, Recovery begins with you.

Love, Megan.”

Please do support James for all the hard work he has done by purchasing a copy for yourself, or even as a gift for someone you know is going through a tough time. Each one of these letters holds so much value and hope for those who are suffering. Details of how to purchase can be found in the link below, along with the Recovery Letters

blog: http://therecoveryletters.com

We need your stories!

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For the past couple of years people have been submitting to the blog their experiences of mental health from a wide range of disorders and issues in the Sharing Stories series…So far, the stories have managed to speak out to those in need and even give others the confidence and support get the help they need –  opening up about their own experiences.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Register your interest to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to take it from there.

Sharing saves lives

M x

A battle of postnatal depression, by Emma Burns.

“I have suffered with my mental health since I was young, and diagnosed at the age of 12. My mum had been a heavy drinker since I was 3 and I’d been in and out of foster care on several occurrences by the time I’d actually been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In the years before this, at primary school, I had just been called “soft” and picked on because I cried all the time or overreacted to the smallest of things and then just I’d sit there in silence just thinking.

Fast forward to when I was diagnosed. I was in year 7 at high school and not living at home with my mum because yet again she had fallen off the wagon and become physically abusive towards me. I was given counselling again from a child counsellor I had seen a few years earlier. She was great, I could let of steam, scream and shout all while being allowed to be the child I hadn’t ever been. By the time I was 14 I had been back home and back in care several times, again my mum was physically abusive towards me on several occasions. I felt like a yo-yo, back and forth, up and down. In school I was a loner, I didn’t have many friends; there was a few that were aware of things and supported me, an in addition of having a mentor. I was the one that people made jokes about; I was different, I didn’t live at home with my mum, other people didn’t really understand my situation and they’d make fun out of the fact that my mum was an alcoholic. I felt isolated, like no one liked me or wanted me around. I began to feel nervous about being around people, although generally I appeared to be this bubbly person who was always happy (I was good at putting on a mask) – no one saw how things had actually affected me over the years, they didn’t understand either as most of them couldn’t relate, only those really close to me knew what was going on. I continued through school bobbing in and out of depressive and anxious bouts, controlling it fairly well from 15 when I had a stable foster placement where I was treated well.

When I was 16 I fell pregnant, I wasn’t with the dad… ‘Oh s**t, what am I going to do?’ I thought about all my options and after a few days of knowing I was pregnant I was madly in love with this little blob inside me, I moved back home to my mum and everything was great throughout my pregnancy, my mum had stopped drinking and was being supportive and we were getting on great. My little girl was born in autumn 2007. I was 17 years old, I had this tiny being in front of me needing me, completely relying on me ‘I can and will do this she needs me’… I wanted to be the best mum I could and prove everyone wrong about ‘teenage mums’; I breastfed her so I knew she was getting the best I could give her, all her things were new, she was always immaculate, I wanted to be the best that I could… After 3 weeks of horrific pain and a baby stuck to me permanently I gave up breastfeeding, I’ve never felt so bad in my life and that is where it all began again.

I felt bad, I felt guilty, like I had let her down… I hadn’t – I had done my best – but it didn’t feel like that at the time. I went to see my doctor straight away this time as I didn’t want anything to effect the way I looked after my little girl, I was prescribed fluoxetine, an anti-depressant. Diagnosed with postnatal depression and pretty much just sent on my way, I was taking the medication for a few weeks and I felt worse, they actually made me feel like I wanted to do myself harm, and after another two weeks I came off them because the side effects were horrendous and made me feel worse physically and mentally. After a few months of battling by myself, using the strategies I had learnt through the years; once again I was ‘okay’. I continued to be okay for a good while afterwards too, and when my little girl was about 10 months I met someone; we had known each other a while, he was older than me and my mum disagreed… He made me feel special, I felt lovable for the first time in my life and I felt like everything I had been through was worth it for this. I finally felt accepted and it was amazing.

Shortly after getting together, to everyone’s surprise and a few people’s horror we moved in together and quite soon after that I fell pregnant again. We were on cloud 9… Unfortunately after 3 weeks of knowing I was pregnant I had a miscarriage (I was bitten by a stray cat which caused septicaemia and led to a miscarriage). We were heartbroken and again it made me feel bad as it was my job to protect this little life and I had failed to do that, I know it wasn’t really my fault but at the time I felt like it was. After the miscarriage we moved in with my partners parents to save up for a bigger house and a few months later I found out I was pregnant again. This time we told very few people, just to save heartache having to tell people if anything had happened. It was a worrying 9 months but in spring 2010 I gave birth to my second daughter (my partners first). We were delighted and everything was perfect, again I breastfed but this time with the notion of stopping when I needed too with out feeling guilty about it because I had done the best I could do. Roughly 10 days after our daughter was born I received a phone call that would haunt me for years to come.

My Nan, my rock, the most inspirational woman I had ever had in in life had lung cancer and had been given a maximum of 6 weeks to live. Due to the severity of the cancer and her age there was nothing they could do for her. Five short weeks later, she passed away in hospital surrounded by all of us. The next few weeks and months would be the hardest I had ever faced in my life, in the first few days after her death I just cried. I have never actually felt as broken as I did right then and I had been in some pretty low places over the years. I had to try and pull myself together for sake of my partner and my girls – I couldn’t carry on like this, just basically functioning and doing what I HAD to do. About 6 months after my Nan passed away we moved house again, a fresh start, or so I thought. I fought with my Nan’s passing for a fair few years, but I never dealt with it I accepted it, I ran on autopilot, forgetting important things, leaving the housework and just generally not being myself; I ended up going to the GP because I needed help to deal with my grief. It had been 3 years, I didn’t want medication this time though but my doctor strongly advised it, I was prescribed citalopram and was referred for counselling which actually helped. I faced a lot of demons in those sessions, dealt with why I couldn’t let go and why her death had destroyed me like it had done. A lot of it boiled down to anger stemming from childhood, my Nan was always there for me.

After the counselling I felt great, I weaned myself off my medication with my doctors guidance, I even went back to college to get some qualifications. Once I left college I applied for every care job in my area and within a few months I got an interview, a week later I got the job. I loved it, I’d always wanted to work in the healthcare sector and the aim was to start at the bottom and work my way up. I’d been there almost a year when I again fell pregnant, we were over the moon as we’d been trying trying for quite a while. During the early weeks of pregnancy, work was fine, but due to the complex needs of the people I was caring for and the fact we were extremely short staffed that soon changed. I began getting agitated and upset in the mornings before I went to work and I would dread every shift, yet I loved what I did, by the time I was 15 weeks pregnant I had thought about handing my notice in for the sake of my mental health several times; I was taking my work home with me, which is never good in my line of work.

I worked until I was 19 weeks pregnant when I finally bit the bullet and handed my notice in. I thought it was for the best but in hindsight it wasn’t, although it was stressful it gave me a distraction from my own mind. For 12 hours I was this big ball of fun, the joker, I got on with my colleagues and had fun whilst working. Ironic really considering what was really going on in my head! The rest of my pregnancy went well and I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I have ever laid eyes on. From the minute he was born, I worried. I wasn’t depressed, just anxious. Like the girls, I breastfed him and to my absolute amazement, I managed just over 6 months, I ate well, I slept so well (our son slept through from day one) and I was generally happy. When I stopped feeding him myself, I expected to feel guilty like I had done before this time I didn’t, I was fine, it was amazing! I finally felt like life was going my way…

Shortly after this my mum was on one of her usual drinking binges and was unhappy because I wouldn’t let her see the children; we’d had an on-off relationship for the previous 8 years due to her inappropriate behaviour and drinking which led to me me stopping her from having contact with them. She did the unthinkable and tried to have my children taken off me, luckily everyone saw through her lies and the children are still where they should be, at home with mummy and daddy… This again raised that horrible darkness that I hated so much! It made me question myself, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ How can someone that is supposed to love me do this?’ 

Now almost 7 months later I’ve been lower than I’ve ever been in my life, until recently when I realised I can’t keep myself down there, I don’t want treating with medication so I have to make myself feel good! I have done it before…  I need to be proud of myself and what I have been through! I need to realise that I have everything in the world to be happy about and that is my little family.

I will get there eventually, I have support from good friends and family. In a way I’m glad of the life I’ve had, and made me who I am and I will find that person again. For now I will keep going; Life is precious.”

– By Emma Burns.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

The use of medical marijuana in Marfan Syndrome, by Tony.

“I am a 27 year old man, I have depression and suffer greatly from chronic pain. Over the past couple of months my health has deteriorated massively, I can no longer walk far or for long, my arms and legs ache daily and suffer from shooting and stabbing pains in my back (from scoliosis) and the unrelenting urge to have to use the bathroom to satisfy my Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I am a Teacher; my work is very physically demanding and that is without the mental demand needed to provide quality teaching sessions.

It is now Wednesday and I have not been able to make it into work this week. My Doctors took me off all my pain, my anti-inflammatory and my depression medication and this week so far has been sheer hell – the feeling of being trapped by the limits of your own body is terrifying.

What would you think of me if I told you I smoked medical marijuana? Would you think I was unsuitable to teach your children? Would you demand I lost my position as a teacher because of the misconception of an ancient medicine?

My first encounter with cannabis was a positive one. I was around 17 years old at a house party and some friends of a friend were smoking weed. I had always thought of drugs (especially from what i’ve seen in the media) as something to stay away from. The night I tried cannabis for the first time was a long time before my pain progressed, but little did I know that that night I was medicating myself; I felt happy, the worries melted away and I felt confident. That night I kissed a girl I had my eye on for a while (it was also her house party)… needless to say my first experience was a positive one.

It’s hard to say how much smoking cannabis is improving my quality of life right now. Off the pain meds – the pharmaceutical drugs – I find myself more at peace with this chronic stabbing pain I feel as I write this. My muscles are less tense, my mind is clearer, I can walk small distances without being in a great deal of pain. It seems to be the only thing thats helping my life at the moment after countless trips to the GP.

I have Marfan Syndrome, a degenerative tissue disorder.

It affects my eyes, spine, heart, skeletal system and all the connective tissue that supports it. My body is constantly in pain – it’s horrible. This illegal medicine is helping me and not getting me high, it helps me to function a relatively normal life with pain, but it’s not available at your GP . It is not available to all the people/children in the UK suffering from one of the many syndromes and diseases that cannabis has proven to benefit; it makes me angry and so sad for the people and children and families that aren’t ‘allowed’ by law to ease their own suffering with a plant – like I said, I used to be against drugs – but let’s talk about drugs, alcohol and tobacco killing *thousands of UK residents every year, comparative of the total number of deaths world wide from smoking cannabis, which is unheard of.

This drug is helping me but I have to keep it secret, the one thing thats helping me and I can’t talk about it for fear of losing my job, my life. It looks like my health is deciding my choices for me these days, how can I deny something that’s helping me? I think you can see at the moment that I don’t have a choice; I’m forced to obtain this medicine from people who grow it. It is not regulated/ tested/ there are no set perimeters that qualifies the usual street skunk as medicinal. I’ve watched documentaries in Colorado where weed has been legalised for medicinal use and I’ve seen dispensaries full of medicine, people treating their many ailments with cannabis, as we did thousands of years ago. These people are getting better, and it gives me hope for the future, when the government puts people before big companies, then we will finally see change. When anybody can grow a plant in their home without fear of prosecution, people may finally be able to take back control over their own lives.

I know that would put my mind and body at ease.

I am a Teacher, a Brother, a Son, a Best friend, I am in pain, I am depressed, I need help. But when nobody can help you, sometimes you need to help yourself and I will never feel selfish again for doing something that positively increases my quality of life.

I’m 27, I have Marfan syndrome, chronic pain, joint dislocation, plantar fascitis and a heart condition; I smoke cannabis everyday. It helps me relax and stop worrying about what the future holds for me.

It takes the edge off the pain, for me that means everything.

It makes me feel a little bit more like how I used to be before this condition starting ripping my life apart.”

– By Tony.

*In 2014, there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths registered in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

* Reports from this year also showed that there were 3,346 registered deaths in England and Wales related to misuse of commonly abused drugs. – ONS, Office for National Statistics (2014).  

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone else’s life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com, and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Depression will always be with me, by Keigh Ahr.

“Not all stories about mental illness are dramatic. Some, like mine, are rather mundane; no hospital visits, no incarcerations, no shattered lives. Yet even a simple cut on the skin, or a garden variety cold, can lead to more serious conditions if not treated properly. That’s how I choose to view my own struggle with depression – what should have remained a minor problem became, through years of neglect, a significant burden that threatened to harm myself and my family. And I suspect my story, due to its very lack of dramatic detail, is actually quite common.

During my teenage years, I began experiencing moments of acute sadness and anxiety. I knew these episodes were different from the ordinary feelings of unhappiness and stress I also felt, because my behavior at these times would be far different. I would stop talking unless it was unavoidable; lay in bed on weekends for hours, lights turned off, in nearly catatonic paralysis; have no appetite and difficulty sleeping, and the lack of food and rest only worsened my condition. Some of these episodes had a triggering event (bullying, a bad grade, not landing a role that should have been mine in a school play), but others would arise for no apparent reason, like an earthquake in my mind. These episodes would last a couple days, maybe three or four, and often came with a conviction that the feeling would never end. I was a fool for believing I could be happy – now I know the truth, that I’ll be miserable like this the rest of my life. And then suddenly, the mood would stop, rarely due to a triggering happy event. I would feel “normal” again, and marvel both at my past behavior and sudden recovery. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, and my lack of comprehension made me very afraid. I hid from that fear, hoping against all reason that the dark moods would never return.

Years passed, turning into decades. A lifetime of graduations, jobs, hobbies, lovers, friends and family. Times both good and bad, pleasure and pain, victories and defeats. But even in years when I was generally happy and relaxed, those episodes of acute sadness and anxiety never completely left. I’d feel an episode come on, and would be powerless to stop it. The same conviction would return: This time it’s for real – I’m never getting over this. My behavior during these bouts became more irrational. Have tickets to a ball game I was eagerly anticipating? An invitation to a good friend’s party? When I was depressed, I not only couldn’t make myself go, I relished the sensation of disappointing myself. And then, just as before, the feeling would vanish, and I couldn’t believe the decisions I had made. By my late twenties, it didn’t seem right to continue experiencing these bouts of mental anguish. I sought counselling, which always proved effective (by the third session I’d feel energized and empowered) yet temporary (a new attack would come within months after the last session). Still, I had become a functional, productive member of society, and resigned myself to accepting these periodic bouts as just part of what made me who I was, as permanent and unchangeable as the color of my eyes and skin.

I then met a wonderful, patient women. We married, and brought forth two delightful children. These were good times, but while the attacks may have been less frequent, they certainly did not diminish in intensity (I’m grateful to have never become physically violent during any of these episodes). And when I regained my composure, I could no longer ignore the impact of my episodic emotional violence.

The truth can hurt as it sets you free. When the person whose happiness is so important to you says that she’s tired of walking on eggshells around you, or that your children are afraid of you, and her words speak to a reality you’ve already seen in the eyes of your family… those are words you cannot ignore. You are forced to react. You can respond by finally embracing those feelings you’ve feared for so long, and let the consequences be damned, even if you turn into a monster.

Or,

You get fed up with thirty years of denial. You realize you’ve been sick for a very long time, and won’t be getting better until you get help. It was the only choice that made sense at the time.

I’ve been in counselling on a regular basis, and taking antidepressants for a decade now. I had been concerned about the medication making me feeling ‘unnatural’, artificially happy perhaps, but that hasn’t been the case; I still feel as much disappointment, frustration, and sorrow as before. And if I’m not careful, I can still succumb to those agonizing bouts of despair that plagued me so frequently in the past. What’s different now is that I can sense when those feelings are creeping into my psyche, and have the ability to keep them from taking hold. I’m not cured, and doubt I’ll ever stop treating this disease. But my wife loves our weekend getaways, my children enjoy going to superhero movies with me, and my hope is far more powerful than my fear. Life, yes, is good.

I began this story comparing my depression to a minor injury or disease, as a means of summarizing what has been, for the most part, a fairly uneventful experience. But that comparison trivializes the impact depression has had on my life, so at the conclusion I want to pivot towards a different medical metaphor. I don’t know many diabetics (and apologize to any of my readers should this coming analogy not be true to your experience), but depression seems to me a similar chronic condition. There is no cure, and ignoring the problem can be literally fatal, but with proper medication and attention you can live a normal life, however you choose to define that term. Depression will always be with me – I don’t like that, but like a diabetic, I can’t wish my condition away. But I no longer fear it.

Thank you for reading. May you enjoy health and happiness you deserve.”

 – By Keigh Ahr

You can find Keigh Arh’s blog here at The Diligent Dilettante.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

A life with Depression, By Andrew.

“My name is Andrew. I’m 44, married with two lovely kids. I have suffered with depression since my early teens. This is my journey.

The depression came about because of an accident, not to me but to my Father. We jokingly say that he fell off the back off a lorry; actually he was leaning against a support on the back of a wagon when it collapsed, he and a fellow worker fell, and my Dad was left with a fractured skull and an altered personality and has never worked again. I can’t remember exactly how I was told, I think it was by my friend’s Mother and I vaguely remember having to stay with them for a few days.

I do remember walking into the living room when my Dad got out of hospital; I was warned to be gentle as he was quite fragile. He had two black eyes and looked very frail. At the age I was at the time your Dad is Superman! He wasn’t supposed to be like this! I seem to remember vowing that I would have to be the man of the house. I say dad never worked again, he did work for a little while because he had another accident at work when he cut his head open!

As I said, I believed I needed to be the man of the house, a role I was not ready for, although no one else had any expectations of me. There is something else that prayed on my mind at this time. When my Dad was 16 his father died, I was paranoid that history was going to repeat itself especially how ill he was. I remember being very relieved when I turned 17, we had cheated history.

When I left school I went to Art College to do my Btec in fashion. I had been ‘well built’ for most of senior school, I decided I was fat so pretty much stopped eating. I’m not going to say I have anorexia but it was pretty close. I went from a 38” waist to about a 24” at my worst, I collapsed in a bathroom in Paris on a college trip, and I wasn’t well. It got to the point where it hurt more to eat that it did to not eat. I have a picture of me during that time, wearing a baggy jumper to hide my body; I look like I could snap if I bent over.

After college I started working in the fashion industry, probably one of the most stressful environments to work in. I lasted about 15 years with various episodes of the dog but I still didn’t know what it was, I had talked about suicide with my then girlfriend (now wife) but I thought that was normal! Eventually the first glimpse into what was actually happening to me came about. We were told the company I was working for wanted us all to move to Leicester as that was closer to head office, this was never an option for me as my wife worked here and we had just had a baby and moved to a new house we loved. Of course the alternative was redundancy. I became ill, I would sleep up to 22 hours a day, I became dehydrated as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink. I kept going back to the doctors who kept sending me for tests, diabetes, thyroid, all sorts. I asked if it could be stress related. He then asked if I was stressed. I explained that I was being made redundant; we had just had a baby and moved into a house that was about twice the mortgage of our previous home (in our previous house we had been broken into 4 times over 2 years including twice in one week). After three months on the sick the doctor decided I was ill because I was overweight!

After I left the fashion industry I started a business making clothes and soft furnishings, my wife went back to work full time. I also started a part time degree in textiles, this had become a pattern for me; taking too much on so I would fail, this would then prove to me how useless I felt; how much of a failure I was and why I was not worth knowing or loving.

Eventually of course it all came to a head.

My wife had to go to Austria with work and it would be over a weekend, it would have been almost impossible for her to come home so her company paid for me to meet her in Saltsburg. We had a long chat as things had not been great between us for a while, we decided I needed to go and see a different doctor and tell him what was going on. I flew back home and my wife went back to work. I didn’t eat while Nicola was away, I was punishing myself; food felt like the one thing I had control over. I sat one night, kids in bed and took every pill I could find and quite a lot of whiskey, and sat back, feeling calm for the first time in years. This was it, my time to clock out.

Of course it suddenly struck me that it would be my kids that would find me, I was a horrible person but I couldn’t do that to them! I took myself to the toilet and made myself throw up until I had nothing left then stayed up all night in case I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s funny but shortly after this we had a party for my daughter’s birthday and lots of people commented on how well I looked! I had shaved my head as my hair was falling out; I had a hunted look in my eyes.

We went to the doctors and told him how I felt; he asked Nicola if I ever hit her or the kids. I was horrified at the time but I can see he was asking all the right questions. My life was in freefall and I had absolutely no control. I was prescribed anti-depressants and sent home and told to wait for the crisis team. They arrived at our house not long after us, two ladies, one went and spoke to Nicola and the other sat and let me talk. They visited a couple of times until I was relatively stable. I’m not sure if it was a complete nervous breakdown but it’s as close as I ever want to be!

The doctor recommended MIND to me, they were great and dug into what was causing the depression as well as giving me coping strategies. The first time I went there I felt like the world was in colour and not the black and white I had seen it for years. I went on to see MIND several times after that as the depression would find its way back.

I finally felt strong enough to ask the doctor if I could have some counselling which he arranged. I remember sitting in the waiting room with Nicola; everyone had various nervous twitches, no one would give eye contact; and when you caught a glimpse of their eyes it was terrifying, I wondered what they saw when they looked at me for sure I had the same.

I felt terrible about the amount of medication I was on, largest dosage of anti-depressants plus another type to help me sleep – all of this just to help me feel ‘normal. I had told my Therapist that this felt like the last chance for me as I couldn’t go on feeling the way I was, I realise how melodramatic that was now but I meant it at the time. I think I realised that this might work and I was ready for it too when the therapist asked what I wanted, previously when asked I would say that I just wanted to be like everyone else, this time I said I just wanted to be comfortable being me! I can see now what a huge shift that statement was.

I had a full course of CBT which I feel gave me the tools finally to get to grips with my issues.

I’d like to say that that is the end of my journey, I had hit rock bottom and over the course of about 7 years I had crawled my way out of it, from near death and self harm to loving life. Growing up I could never see myself growing old, I was sure I would be dead by 37! I started to become ill again a few years ago and after a lot of tests I was told I had Ankylosing Spondalitis (a form of arthritis that affects any joints) but the medication was often worse than the illness. Earlier this year my diagnosis was changed to Fibromyalgia which can apparently be brought on by depression. I have been unable to work since my latest flare up in January, at the time of writing this it’s the end of July.

For people who don’t know what Fibromyalgia is, it’s basically constant pain, all over. I can’t walk far; I have no upper body strength any more, can’t lift, can’t even put my arms above my head without pain. So of course the depression is back. I’m waiting to be referred for more counselling as I type but I at least know what is happening this time so I feel better placed to cope.”

-By Andrew.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on the Blog.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

When you feel wrong, write – By Charlotte.

charlotte

“The first time I knew for definite that something had gone wrong in my brain was in the middle of a GCSE exam.

“You’re going crazy,” a random thought popped into my head. “You’re about to have a breakdown.” Now up until this point I’d been answering questions about photosynthesis, happy as Larry. But this thought just wouldn’t shut up. “You’re losing it,” the thought said. “You’re about to go completely batshit crazy.”

“Eh?” I tried to think back. “What are you going on about?”

Long story short, I ended up having my first colossal panic attack – or a whatinthenameofarsingarseholeishappeningohmygodimdyingoratleasthavingaheartattackwhatthefuckpleasesparemebabyJesus– in front of everyone and after that I had to sit every single exam for the rest of my education in my own little room like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

There had of course been signs leading up to this. My mum had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I’d managed to convince myself that if I got A*s in everything then she wouldn’t die (side note: God let me off with 6A*, 2A, 2B, the absolute babe). I’d started writing endless lists which I’d rip to shreds if the colours didn’t match; organising my DVDs into genre, age certificate and alphabetical order; brushing my teeth six times per day; and genuinely believing that if the green man on the traffic light flashed quickly after I’d pressed the button, it meant I was going to have a good day. LOL.

I’d also completely stopped talking. To the point where I could quite easily go a day without saying a word. To the point where I haunted the school corridors like a silent, creepy ghoul. I just couldn’t talk about how I was feeling or what was going on at home so I shut down and ultimately focused my efforts on being an anxious, obsessive little weirdo.

I was eventually referred to a child counsellor, who confirmed I was depressed and prescribed me medication – which my parents decided I was too young for. The ‘talking about my feelings’ thing wasn’t really for me, so I pretended I’d gotten better and spent the next six years swinging between feeling fine and feeling distinctly not fine, occasionally dabbling in anti-anxiety medication and half-arsed counselling appointments.

During this time, I started writing seriously. I’d always written stories, and it became the one thing that made me feel good about myself. I knew I had a knack for it, and seeing something through to completion – even if it was a weird-ass story about a tomato plant – gave me both a distraction and a sense of purpose.

Somehow I managed to turn this into a career and I now work as a professional writer. And for me, this has been the best therapy. There are lots of things I am horrendous at – small talk, parking and being on time for stuff to name a few – but I am a good writer, and being able to write every day is essential to me feeling okay about myself.

Don’t get me wrong, writing isn’t a magical elixir for anxiety. There are times when I feel absolutely shit and I’d rather throw my laptop out of a window than write another word. There are times when I stress-buy £30 worth of chocolate and crisps from Morrison’s and then have to gradually smuggle them into work as office treats so I don’t put on five stone. There are times when I lie in bed and sob and sob and then idly think ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty amazing at crying, maybe I have the potential to be an Oscar-winning actress’ and then get a grip and wash the snot off my face.

Mental health doesn’t have a beginning or an end. At the moment, I am fine. And I have been fine for a long time. Tomorrow I might not be fine. But I don’t wallow in what might be. I know I can write my own future.”

– By Charlotte, Birmingham.

 – Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives – M.