Tuesday, 10 October 2017

"See the sickness on your skin, like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting." Emm Roy SUPPORTING WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY

On Boxing Day, 2016 I tried to take my own life.

Now, before anyone lobs the most likely questions and accusations, I shall get there before you.

Yes, it is selfish. At the moment, that one moment, all you are thinking about is yourself. No one else.
Your wife, children, friends (I'll get to them in a moment), pets, colleagues (I'll get to them too!)... everyone you know or knows you and that may remotely care or give a crap, they are all at the very back of your mind.

Because in that moment, all you are concerned about is you. It is all about you. Not the repercussions of your intended actions or what it will be like for Kelly to find your prone body, bleeding out on the kitchen floor, or worse, your children finding you. Nope, all of that is inconsequential compared to how you feel and your pathetic laments on your lot in life, at that moment.
Take note of that sentence.
At THAT moment.

Another accusation is "Well, look at everything you have. Why do you feel like that? You have no right. You didn't lose a family member in Grenfell or recent terrorist attacks. You don't have cancer or a disability. You're not homeless and living on the streets. You haven't lost a child. What right do you have to feel sorry for yourself?"

And they would be right. Absolutely, 100% agree. I have no right. I haven't experienced nor have none of the above, so haven't the faintest idea what any of those are like. I can't even imagine and I'm a writer.

But those people are also wrong. Why? Because it is relative and entirely depends on how to deal with what life throws at you, emotionally and spiritually. And when I say spiritually, I'm not necessarily talking about God, as I myself am not a believer in the sense he has a beard, is watching from up high and is indeed, even a man!

Why do you get to that place, a place so dark and bleak that no light seems to be able to penetrate the darkness? Again, it is relative, but for me, it was because of an epiphany. I know, they are supposed to be positive moments and it was... kind of.

Flashback a little - I always hated the word 'depression'. Yup, I used to think of it when spoken by someone in inverted commas, as though it was only implied and not a real thing. How could it be? People use it as an excuse all the time.

"I can't come into work today, as I'm depressed."

"I've a rough few days. My cat died and I'm depressed."

I'd be stood there thinking "What the xxxx! They cannot be serious!" (in the words of a famous polo player. Or was it tennis?). I was legendary for thinking depression was a load of crap and having very specific views on it. Not views I would ever force upon anyone, but if I was ever asked my opinion, you would see heads all around a room shaking as they knew what was coming.

In short - I was a dick. I just didn't know it. And that was the problem that I refused to accept.

I was slightly narcissistic, thought other people were stupid, didn't particularly feel comfortable around others (that one hasn't changed, in fact, has probably gotten worse), had to do everything myself, even at work as it was quicker and easier and had an extremely self-deprecating view of the world and myself. Hated being poorly, couldn't stand not being able to function if I was incapacitated and had to force myself to cope with anything and everything otherwise I would be viewed as weak (in my eyes) and ridiculed.

I was bad tempered, moody, irritable and grumpy when at home and with family and used work as a distraction to keep me from concentrating on what might be the problem. I loved my job, enjoyed every moment being at work and would spend more time there if the option ever came about such as staying back or helping out others. Anything to keep my brain occupied.

This was my philosophy for about two decades and I stuck to it religiously.

And then something happened a few years after I met Kelly. After that something happened, she told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn't get help then I would lose her and the boys. She said she thought I suffered from anxiety and possibly depression and that I needed to speak to someone.

"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "Depressed people sit on the floor crying all day and can't do anything or cope with anything. And as for being anxious - stupid. I'm not twitchy. I don't speak quickly or fidget." (I do fidget, but never realised).

But reluctantly, I made an appointment, thinking the whole thing was a waste of time and went to see someone.

Best. Decision/Forced action. Ever!!

I went reluctantly at first, citing my attendance as one of duress and not willingly. "There's nothing wrong with me, everyone else is wrong and I'm absolutely fine."

I sat there being cocky and thinking I was clever with my responses (of course, my psychologist saw right through all of that, which is their job and the point).

This went on for a few weeks. And then something really, really strange happened.

My mindset and views on certain things began to change, Imperceptibly at first, but there was definitely a shift in my perspectives. What I hadn't chosen to accept was that, as much as I might consciously deny all I was being told, subconsciously I was processing it all. My views and feelings were changing and I didn't even realise it.

After my sessions were concluded, I had learned some valuable techniques (mindfulness, CBT aspects of meditation) and thought I was better.

All cured. Some barriers in my personality had been broken down and I was all better. That was easy. Kelly would be so happy.

But then another funny thing happened that actually was far from funny for others.

I started to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts.

Why? Well, for me it was this.

It had been explained to me that I had probably suffered from depression and anxiety for at least twenty years-ish. It was all related to Daddy issues and the psychological torture he put me through from being about seven until I was in my twenties. Bullying at school played a part (every day, sometimes physical, often mental). I had no friends really (the few I had I later found out cared little for me and one whom I thought didn't actually had done a lot to help me without me realising) and had always had self confidence issues going back to being tiny, skinny and having severe acne for which I required medication and suffered from until I was nearly thirty (Kelly says I am like the girl in Pitch Perfect 2 who talks about being deported back to Mexico and being shot. That's what Kelly calls me... Mexico).

Is most of that relevant? Nope. Just wanted to let you know I was a right goof!

But the point is, over those years I had built up barriers and armour to protect myself and after a while, I didn't even know I was wearing it. Very few could get through. I lost partners and friends because of it and viewed it as a comfortable blanket that protected me from the world.

But now, after a little therapy, it had started to crack. Had started to let in all these emotions.

And I didn't have a clue what to do with them or how to cope. Hence, self-harming seemed the way to go! It made me feel calm and brought my racing mind down to a manageable level.

I would convince myself I was now just doing it for attention (though I always did it high up on my arm and on my chest so it could not easily be seen) but failed to realise that if that were true, that in itself is an obvious problem. Who would scar themselves permanently just for attention?

An intervention took place (an actual intervention!) by people who I thought only had my best interests at heart (turns out they didn't and I paid for it later, but that is another story) and I went back to therapy and was also commenced on medication.

I was devastated. I had become part of the establishment that I had once berated. Now, who was the arsehole? I was embarrassed, humiliated, and eating a load of pie flavoured humble.

I thought I was weak. My Mum and sister had endured terrible ordeals that no one should ever have to go through, yet just got on with it. I had worked with an amazing nurse who had grown up in Belfast at the highlight of The Troubles and seen her school bus blown up, yet had got on with it and was someone I admired so very much. My parents in law had lost a child when he was just a baby and just got on with life. What could be more devastating than losing a child? Nothing I imagine, but then you can't even imagine that.

Yet here was I, only Daddy issues to my name and I couldn't cope with all the emotions now rampant in my mind that I blocked for so very long.

Following something happening in December, I decided that taking my own life was the best option. Drunk and melancholy, three o clock in the morning, I entered the kitchen after a night out and tried to cut open my wrist with a knife. It didn't work or then this piece takes on a whole, new supernatural element!

Why didn't it work? Because we have crap Ikea cutlery ( I love Ikea, just the cutlery is rubbish) and it cannot cut shit.

Kelly found me, having had a suspicion I would try something silly and we cried and I berated myself for being a selfish, absolutely selfish, pratt.

And so, here we are. I have summarised most of that as I wouldn't wish to bore you (but we already are, I hear you shout!) and I get that, but I did have a point to all this.

Like an ex-smoker, I am now a virulent supporter of mental health and increasing awareness of it. We look after our physical health, so why not out minds? After all, that is what it is referring to - mental HEALTH. 

Every seven years, a national survey is carried out in England. In 2016, the findings reported that 5.9 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety, 3.3 in every 100 from depression and 7.8 in every 100 from both.

20.6 people in every 100 have experienced suicidal thoughts and 7.3 people in every 100 have self-harmed.

Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) finding from all of this is that while on average more women are diagnosed with common mental health problems than men, the rate of male suicide is significantly higher.

In the last five years the suicide rate in males aged 45-59 has increased significantly to 22.2 deaths per 100,000 population.

Why? No one really knows. Perhaps it is because men are less likely to reported 'feelings' as they are affected by "femenisation" of employment, where there is a shift towards a service-orientated economy. It is thought that this may lead some men feeling like they have less of a purpose in the professional world. It is also hypothesised that men may feel as if they’ve lost a sense of masculine identity and male 'pride'.

Maybe it is because men today face being in two very different generations, the pre-war 'silent' and the post-war 'me' generation. This means they may feel stuck somewhere between the strong, silent male stereotype of their father's generation and the more progressive and open generation of their son's.

Maybe the weight of previous long-term decisions reveal themselves. Making changes can come with a hefty cost, financially and socially. Feeling trapped under choices made earlier in life can seriously compromise mental well-being.
Maybe we are just stubborn.
But we need to do more, not only for men (women do rule the world and I firmly acknowledge we could do very little without them!) but for everyone suffering. I was criticised for sharing my mental health with so-called friends because it embarrassed them and made them feel uncomfortable.
Would they have been embarrassed if I told them I was asthmatic or suffered from diabetes? Doubtful. So why should sharing your mental health be any different from your physical?
Do I think I am a testament to the challenges life throws at you and how to overcome them? Absolutely not! I still think I am foolish and weak when I can cope with so little. Big things, life-altering events I can handle and probably because I suffer from a lack of empathy, but give me little problems like difficulties at work or losing my pen and I'm struggling. 
But that doesn't stop me from now wanting to speak out in support of mental health and trying to change the viewpoints and acceptance of it. I want to help others and show other people how strong they are for even considering they might be struggling. I think others are so very brave for accepting they may need support for their state of mind. My thinking I'm pathetic is part of my problem. 
Maybe it'll go... maybe it won't. 
But being able to help others, that's what matters.
There are so many amazing outlets, support groups and charities, too many to mention, but below are a few I have been fortunate to learn from and be helped by.
Samaritans - 116 123
MQ - https://www.mqmentalhealth.org (Huge supporter of this one)
Mind - www.mind.org.uk (and this one)
SANE - www.sane.org.uk
Young Minds - www.youngminds.org.uk
Mental Health Foundation - www.mentalhealth.org.uk
I put my beautiful Kelly through so much to the point she has ignored her own health. My Mum suffered. My children suffered. They saved my life, but more importantly, my soul. 
I learned who my friends truly were. Ended up with very few, but they were ones who really mattered and helped me then and help me to this day.
I banished, with their help, the other guy. That's what I call him, the 'other guy'. He rattles his cage from time to time, begging to be let out and handle the situation for me... which most likely would result in a fight, argument and generally my being a dick.
I now realise I missed out on so much beauty in the world due to my blinkered and ignorant view of things. It's like the net curtain has been pulled away from my eyes and I'm seeing everything for the first time. I never get irritated or annoyed anymore, I take pleasure in so many things I never enjoyed before, my mind feels still (most of the time!) and I have learned so much. So much.
This isn't for anyone to feel sorry for me. As I said, there is nothing in my life to garner sympathy for. I am blessed and needed to get my head out of arse to appreciate it before I lost it all. Lost it all to denial and selfishness and most importantly, a lack of listening. 
We can do better. 
We are doing better as the below article shows. But we can do more. Not literally, but in regards to sustainability. That is the hardest thing around any change. Sustaining the momentum.
I have nothing to feel sorry for myself about and I hate myself for thinking my problems were a big deal, but then again they are... to me. And that's the point.
Listen to someone. Watch them and keep an eye out for any changes. They might not be obvious. they might not be present at all. But remember that sadness and sullenness are not always precursors for something bad. Happiness can mask a multitude of sins and incomprehensible pain.
Applaud those who talk openly about their issues (not me, I mean others) and let's make mental issues as easy to talk about as a broken arm.
Don't be like David McCaffrey. 
Be better. 
Be more.
To end on a paraphrased John Carpenter log line - 
Look closely at your neighbour