Sharing & Caring

Part of Mental Health Awareness Week is to get people to think and talk about mental health issues, so that it is no longer a taboo subject. I feel strongly that it is not something that people should suffer in silence or be embarrassed about. The taboo will not go away if sufferers stay at home and do not tell people how they are feeling, so that their friends, family and colleagues can understand their behaviour and possibly help them to feel better. You may feel that it is obvious when you are feeling low, I certainly do, but then you realise that most people are so wrapped up in their own lives and problems, that they have probably not noticed how you are feeling or behaving.

We all see our friends, family and colleagues in a particular way and so they will not be looking for you to act differently. So I always feel that I under perform at work when I am low: I feel indecisive and I lack confidence, but while the change is obvious to me, I am told that I am still performing. It is just that to maintain that level of workload, takes supreme effort and is exhausting, but I still keep the same high standards, so the cost is to me personally, rather than for my employer.

As a sufferer of depression, I feel that I can often recognise the signs in others : the sad, empty eyes , the slow pace of talking, the negativity in the way they are thinking , the inability to make decisions and the lack of enthusiasm for life. I recognise these symptoms, because I have been there myself, many times before. As I understand just how lonely that feels, I try to make an effort to reach out to fellow sufferers and to take time for them. I was aware that within our Coffee Morning at school, they were certainly parents with mental health issues. While I am not qualified to attempt to diagnose or fix anyone, I set up a group there where our parents can come and discuss their mental health with other parents, in a caring, non-judgemental environment. After the first meeting, last Summer, some parents told me that it was refreshing to come to school to talk about themselves, rather than their SEN children and that they felt able to say things that might be awkward amongst other groups, but that they were confident that we would all share and understand their perspective, without judging them as parents. That feedback validated my decision to launch this group as I could see that it fulfilled an unmet need.

I have also been trained to become a Mental Health First Aid Champion at work and so we are raising the profile of mental health in our workplace. It has now become an agenda issue at our weekly team meetings and today I am hoping to extend the meeting by an additional 30 minutes, in order to give us more of a focus than usual. I am aware that not everyone will feel comfortable with this initiative, but hopefully as we start to do it more, it will become easier and more natural and as colleagues in a small business, we will begin to look out for each other more in the future.

Just Be There

I saw a brilliant cartoon yesterday to sum up how I would like friends and family to support me during one of my lows : it showed two cartoon characters and one asks the other if it is OK? The sad looking one says ‘not really’, so the friend asks ‘do you want to talk about it?’ and again gets the same reply , ‘Not really’. So the friend does not push it, does not leave it there, but sits back to back to its friend, just to know someone is there. When you are depressed or anxious, you cannot always talk about how bad you are feeling – I know that I get fed up of hearing the sound of my own voice on occasions, as the negative voice never shuts up in your mind, being asleep is the only respite from that voice. But there can be real comfort in knowing that someone has your back, literally in the case of this cartoon.

Friends have asked me in the past, how can I help you when you are low? That is exactly what I have asked for, just be there, quietly and show me that you care. That might be by dropping me a note or text, that does not require a response, but that simply shows that they are there and that they care. Poor mental health is a very isolating experience and so, while you do not wish to be crowded or put under any additional pressure, it is helpful to not feel alone, even if it is impossible to find the energy, or words, to respond with a text or letter back.

I have written frequently about how isolating it feels to have a child with special needs, then if you add in the isolation of having poor mental health, then many suffering parents struggle to get dressed and get out of their own door, so that becomes a vicious circle. Even when I am depressed, I have been able to force myself to get up, get Joshua off to school and get myself  to work. That has not always been easy, when going back to bed has felt like a much more appealing option, but it has, in the long run, been my salvation. It is exhausting carrying on as normal when you are suffering from poor mental health, as it takes real effort to smile and ‘be normal’ and concentration to be able to  be productive. I am able to function at work when I am low, but I need more time and reassurance from colleagues that I am doing things well enough, as I am so self-critical, full of doubts and indecisive. I have been told that my work does not suffer when I am low, but of course, I do not believe that.

So if you have a friend who is struggling with anxiety or depression, and might be pushing you away by turning down your invitations to meet for a coffee, I would urge you not to give up on them. Perhaps you could try a different approach, send them regular texts just telling them your news or any funny stories to distract them or perhaps, rather than trying to get them to come out with you, maybe turn up on their doorstep with their favourite cake, to either eat with them or potentially leave for them to eat when they are ready. While they may not be able to respond to your extended arm of friendship at the time, they will appreciate it and, in my experience, it will help them along their journey of recovery. If you back away and withdraw from them, then you are simply confirming what they already believe about themselves, which is that they are not worth knowing or being friends with, so be persistent, but be patient too, and in time, your friend will come back to you.