Mental health issues are still seriously overlooked yet of we paid more attention to a…
A personal story of depression
We’re all familiar with harrowing portrayals of Victorian lunatic asylums, I’m just lucky they’re a thing of the past. My Great grandmother wasn’t quite so lucky.
In 1920’s my maternal Great grandmother, was detained in an asylum with what today we would call Post Natal depression. Back then it was preferable for people with such ailments to be removed from society. My Grandmother was 10.
We believe she developed a Psychosis and it is thought she was suffering from manic depression.
She died in 1947 in an asylum, never having been released.
My Grandmother was similarly an unfortunate sufferer of manic depression which we now know as Bipolar disorder.
Mum gave up her A levels to look after her after coming home to find her with her head in the oven for the second time.
I have nearly lost my brother twice over the last decade to his suicide attempts- He is bipolar- recently re-diagnosed with Schizo-affective disorder which is like the crappy end of a crappy stick- with crap on it. That’s another story. That’s the heart-breaking development you never want to experience. To lose a person you’ve known your entire life whilst they are in front of you, to have to re-learn to like them as a new person- god knows what it’s like to be that person.
My mum (depression) my aunt (anxiety related epilepsy- it is a thing, depression), my two cousins (anxiety and Depression), my brother (Schizo-affective disorder) and me- we have a colourful array of mental illness which keeps the family on its toes if not egg shells regularly!
The genetic factors which contribute to my depression are undeniable.
My DNA, my mental wellbeing fingerprint if you will.
We now recognise that there are genetic as well as environmental factors that increase the risk of depression.
I have always agreed with this because Depression is a complex illness which affects each sufferer differently although the science is clearly explicable, the results and reactions vary wildly.
A year ago, I had my final official back to work meeting with my Deputy Head, we still check in, it’s ongoing but over the course of my phased return we had met regularly and planned the approach I would take and the support that School could offer. During this meeting, he did ask me if I’d ever been able to identify any triggers for my Depression.
When I said life, I felt at the time that he might think I was being facetious. All I could say at the time was it’s everything. It was too large. It was easiest to say this.
Events in my private life and at work all conspired to test my mettle. For about 10 years it transpires. Trauma after trauma just kept coming.
The sustained, high level of traumatic and stressful events which overlap, dovetail or just keep occurring month after month. You cannot stop it happening, it just does whether you want it to or not.
Family members with Cancer, family members attempting suicide(twice), friends nearly dying, friends with Cancer, family members dying. As well as this I was being investigated for IBS had begun early Menopause, and all this parallel to stressful events at work on top of a normal teaching load.
Looking back, it was relentless but at the time I just kept going. Because that’s what you do isn’t it, you cope practically and carry on? It creeps up on you, so you absorb each new event into your already stretched maladjusted coping strategies. Mine was to work harder, play harder and ignore it.
A while ago I did a presentation at work to colleagues about my depression in the attempt to open more of a dialogue. I want at our school to establish a team of Mental Health First aiders. We’re starting the process this term.
I wrote a timeline for events which all contributed to the day I broke. It took me a month to write two power point slides because it was so hard to look at. I’d tried to do this years ago, my counsellor had suggested it, but I couldn’t do it then. Now I’m glad I have, it’s been cathartic, painful and necessary.
The day I was signed off, I went to bed. I slept for 18 hrs non-stop. That continued for the following week at least. I had descended so far back into myself I couldn’t function. Brains are that strong and influential.
I got out of bed because I needed the loo but that was a massive effort. Even food wasn’t a priority and those who know me well, that’s just not normal.
I’m going to make this clear- I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to suffer from Depression or Anxiety. The six months I was signed off are a blur- I know I’d done lots of gardening, I’d sat in the sun and I’d read upwards of 20 books. I’d gone for walks, I eventually started to cry again totally indiscriminately, and I didn’t swallow it back this time. I went for more walks, the beach with the empty horizon was my peaceful place.
I started to draw again and decided to develop a website and potentially a business. This sounds counterproductive, but it had been my dream for decades and I finally had clarity of thought.
We live once. I do not want to get to my deathbed and wish I’d tried. The boost this gave me was immeasurable. I drew and drew, developed my craft. Its meditative for me, I zone out.
This all helped me heal.
I also had to let go of a lot, resolve a lot and accept a fair amount. I had to have difficult conversations with people at work and home and I had to admit I actually really hated being a Head of Department although I didn’t hate teaching.
So, I stepped down. Immediately I knew it was the right decision although it caused me days of anguish. We have to get better at listening to ourselves.
I’ve started running and enjoy it; I’ve met up with friends and actually laughed and for the first time ever, three weeks ago, I took a Mental Health day off work to make sure I slowed down enough.
I listen to my body so much more now- If my heart races, I ask why? If my gut starts playing up, I pause and assess the external stressors. I now sleep between 8 and 10 hours a night which is what I need to function. The 4 hours maximum I was on before I was signed off, will never be allowed to creep back in.
I’ve all but given up coffee, although tea is my stalwart friend. I make sure that I have regular periods of doing things I enjoy- sewing, drawing, gardening and of course the reading. If I hare around at the weekend doing everything at 90 miles an hour my husband makes me stop, I still don’t have an off switch when it comes to gardening!
So what next?
I’m registered to take part in the MIND Hike 2019 and am excited and nervous in equal measure. I intend to grow my small business and one day I’d love to be only teaching workshops I run. I know that whatever happens to other members of the family, I cannot change their destiny, I can help their journey if I’m allowed to, but ultimately, it’s their choice. I’d like to carry on running, maybe get to 10K, maybe not! I’d like my 4th and 5th decades to be the best yet.
Above all I want to continue to breathe in and out, grass underfoot, whilst standing in the garden, listen to the world and smile because I am blessed to have such supportive friends, family and colleagues.
http://www.sketchandflow.co.uk This is the website I built but I’m going to be changing it soon because It’s hard to maintain whilst working full time.