An open conversation

I feel like I need to start this blog with a little trigger warning as this post deals with topics about mental health, morbid and suicidal thoughts. 

During 2020 and continuing into 2021, there has been a huge emphasis of shining a spotlight onto mental health, and rightly so. 

The pandemic has shone a light onto the impact that many varying factors can have on someone’s mental well-being. I’ve written before about how our brains should be cared for just like we care for other parts of our bodies but that for some reason, if we need to medicate our brains because they’re struggling, there’s a stigma attached and an element of embarrassment and shame.

I have been writing in a separate diary over the past year as an activity to help me with my mental health and until now, haven’t felt strong enough to transfer some of my thoughts and feelings into a blog post. I wasn’t sure if me writing such an open, personal post was the right thing to do, especially as I am still learning to deal with things at the moment. Will it make people pity me, will people think I’m attention seeking, will it grow the stigma that M.E is a “psychological” illness? I guess there is a possibility for all of this but ultimately, I feel like it’s an important post to share, just like I have every other aspect of my life over the past five and a half years. M.E is a physical illness that has a huge impact on mental health; the complete 360 change it has on lives coupled with being under researched and underfunded leaves those with the illness feeling abandoned and alone. People living with M.E often feel afraid to speak openly about the impact it has on mental health and that’s why I, along with my families support, decided to write and post this blog.

A while back, I watched three documentaries on TV, one about Caroline Flack, one by Roman Kemp and then the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry. As I was watching them, along with the heartbreak I felt for the people featured and their families, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness at seeing so many similarities being mirrored back at me.

Lockdown has been tough on everyone, we all have our stories to tell, we all know someone who has suffered. For me, it lead me down a path which was quite frightening. I’ve always been open about the fact I’m on antidepressants. Living with M.E. has had a real impact on my mental health. The lack of understanding and help from the medical professionals has left me feeling like I’m fighting a losing battle and antidepressants helped to level me out. However, during lockdown, those antidepressants started to lose their magic.

The buzz around mental health is that we all need to talk. But how do we start those conversations? If you really are in dire need of help, initiating that conversation feels like the hardest thing on Earth. I can’t tell you how many months I suffered in silence, not knowing how to verbalise how I was feeling to the people I needed to reach out to. Convincing myself that it was futile trying to reach out and talk because ultimately it felt like there were no answers or solutions to my situation. When those thoughts and feelings appear to be that big, reaching out and talking is not easy. 

I ended up on a downward spiral, not realising that my thoughts of feeling lonely, sad and helpless had seamlessly turned into thoughts of, it would be so much better for so many people if I wasn’t here anymore.  And all of a sudden, there I was, in a scenario of finding comfort in the thought that I would be helping those I loved, if my life ended. They wouldn’t have me as a burden anymore, they wouldn’t have to adapt their lives for me, they wouldn’t have to look after me, fill in forms for me, listen to my woes and comfort me. No more frustrating doctors’ appointments, no more researching specialists, no more endless talks about how to help and support me emotionally, financially and physically. I could remove all of that by simply removing myself. 

I was aware that I wasn’t really sending my usual responses to texts from friends, I was definitely quieter in myself and felt like I just needed my own space but equally was pretty good at putting on a smile, trying to keep busy and distract myself. On the face of things, I’m sure I would have appeared fine but underneath there was a deep hatred of myself and my life and I no longer felt like my contribution to life was of any importance.

Luckily, in the week where things were starting to bubble over, I had a CBT session booked in and it all flowed out. I guess, although I have a trusting relationship with my therapist, she’s still someone detached from my life whose job it is to listen to me so I didn’t feel like I was burdening her by offloading. She explained to me that she thought I was experiencing ‘morbid thoughts’ rather than suicidal thoughts because I explained I hadn’t seriously thought or considered how to end my life, more of, if I did die, that was fine in my head. However, there was clearly something urgent that needed attention because the lines between morbid and suicidal thoughts can blur quickly.

Eventually I was referred for a phone assessment (because…Covid!) at a mental health hub which, of course, has a story to it…somehow there is always a story to lighten these situations with me isn’t there? The assessment had endless questions, some leading back to my childhood but the one that ended in me telling the assessor he was talking absolute bollocks was this: he made the link that my brother is almost 7 years younger than me. He explained that in his experience, parents who have a daughter first and have a big age gap between children are often disappointed as they wanted a son. They try and love the daughter as much as possible but in the end, try for another child and if they have a boy, which is what they always wanted, they give all their love and attention to the boy and the first child and daughter gets pushed aside and feels unloved and that’s where a lot of feelings of rejection come from…..YES! THIS IS WHAT A TRAINED PSYCHIATRIST SAID TO ME! I kid you not. The assessor didn’t react kindly when I told him he was speaking absolute bollocks and I’d like to move on to the fact I have a chronic illness and needed some actual help!

Anyway, eventually I’ve ended up on an extra anti-depressant added in top of the one I already take. They help for sure, and I know I am in a much more level place but admittedly I am still struggling. I still find it hard to talk about it, life seems very overwhelming and scary and daunting a lot of the time and I’m still in a position where I struggle with that because there really isn’t a whole lot that can be done to improve that. I also find myself often brimming on the verge of tears which isn’t helpful if you need to talk and explain how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking.

But circling back to the documentaries I mentioned earlier, I watched them and each of them hit home for different reasons. Listening to Carline Flack’s mum, sister and friends was heart-breaking: seeing the impact of her no longer being here showed me that by taking my life, I would eradicate my own pain but leave the ones I love the most with more pain and changing their lives forever and not for good. But hearing how Caroline never reached out and never asked for help…I got that too, having been that low, I can totally see how when life feels that overwhelming, you can only see a few options. The British press cornered Flack into blurring those lines from morbid thoughts to suicidal thoughts to actioning them. And that’s why I felt so sad for Meghan Markle too – how dare online trolls and “celebrities” like Piers Morgan decide that she was ‘making it up’ to get sympathy. This is exactly why there is a stigma and people don’t talk because if we do, we are seen as attention seeking or lying. 

And then watching the Roman Kemp documentary, that made me start to think about writing a blog because he spoke about the importance of sharing our stories and experiences because we need to end the stigma. We need to openly talk about the places mental health can take us and by sharing our experiences, we may just help someone else in that situation.

I know what I am writing here seems very bleak and worrying and it is, but I think it is also key for you to know that sometimes, people who are on anti-depressants can have days and weeks or months and years when we are okay! We don’t always want or need to talk about our situation (s) and sometimes distraction and pretending things are okay is the best way to be because sometimes faking it until you make it is the best way forward. I can be my own worst enemy and not openly ask for help or initiate conversations and struggle alone but equally sometimes I am perfectly fine.

Deciding to post this blog now seemed like the right time as I’m approaching my 35th birthday. There have been times in the last year when I genuinely didn’t think I’d be seeing this birthday and equally didn’t want to. Times when I found comfort in the fact that I may not have to go through another milestone whilst feeling so sad about all the things I haven’t experienced and may never get to. However, I am now starting to see my 35th birthday as a milestone I will be reaching and I will be experiencing with all the people I love and who love me. Yes, I am still carrying so much sorrow and pain attached to so many things that I can’t really go into but the difference is, I can acknowledge these feelings but still want to exist. I struggle so badly with not knowing how on Earth I get to move through all of this but then, who does? I am so very lucky in so many ways and this birthday is one to celebrate and one to acknowledge.

M.E is a tricky illness on so many levels and I guess lockdown has impacted me in the sense that I will often offload to my friends or my brother when it naturally comes up in conversation. I couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable doing this during lockdown via Skype or Zoom, over the phone or text, those types of conversations, I felt, needed to be in person. Being single with M.E means I also don’t have that partner to share with, to confide in and lean on and that’s tough too. Now, don’t get me wrong, as I’m sure I mention in almost every blog post, my parents are the greatest but having this conversation to their faces, as my parents, the thought alone of sharing how dark my thoughts were, was too upsetting because I knew how it would impact them and make them feel. Especially in lockdown when they themselves couldn’t escape the house, talk to their friends or have the release of swimming and golf to use to deal with the “home/daughter” situation! And at this point, I’ll say it again, talking about mental health is not easy. Starting that conversation is not easy. Dealing with the outcomes of those conversations is not easy. And I still don’t know the best way forward or how to appropriately deal with matters of the brain.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this blog is for a few reasons. One, if you don’t feel like you can reach out and talk to anyone, sometimes writing down how you feel helps or reading other people’s experiences let you know you aren’t alone. Two, there is help and support out there. Medication can and does help if you’re on the right dose. I’m not ashamed to be on them but equally I struggle with the idea that it’s medication that keeps me buoyant and that if I wasn’t on it, my depression would be all consuming and that makes me sad. Three, there might not be solutions to your problems but finding a way to somehow share and talk, it does help and it does lighten the load.

And now, although things still seem quite heavy and never ending, I try to focus on the reasons why I am here and what I contribute to people’s lives in a positive way rather than convincing myself of the alternative. The mind is such a powerful beast, it’s so scary how it can persuade you that your friends think you’re boring and not worthy of their time, how you’d be better off dead than alive because you’d free people of the stress and strain of their relationship with you. But then I am also realising what a beautiful thing your mind can be with the right nourishment, being kind is so important, not just to other people but to yourself. And I guess that’s what I find hardest, learning to like the person I am and the life I lead with M.E, learning to be kind to myself and not mentally bullying myself if I can’t do what I set out to on any given day. With M.E there are many things that my mind wants and can do but that my body simply can’t and that mis-match is a daily battle.

I don’t have all the answers, I still very much feel like I’m slap bang in the middle of my mental health “issues” and it’s a daily slog to keep myself balanced. Coming out of lockdown feels a hell of a lot tougher than it felt going into it, my life was already on a type of lockdown but coming out and seeing people starting to return to a certain degree of normal, that’s tough. It’s like being left behind or not included in a massive party that everyone else is enjoying. And of course, there are some wonderful elements to lockdown easing, being able to have garden visitors again is just wonderful. But, as always, for us spoonies, it’s the reintroduction of pacing. Pacing that we haven’t had to do for the past year. I always knew human interaction wore me out more than most activities; active listening, the hubbub of lots of people talking – it’s the sensory overload that does it for me. 

So now, it’s about having to think carefully about what I do within a week, if I have visitors, I need days either side to rest and I may need longer than that. Having to spend time thinking about how to balance seeing people which lifts my spirits with taking on orders, I simply can’t do it all. And then there’s going out. The anxiety I feel about that is high. Partly because I have only left the house 9 times in a year so the outside would feels quite daunting but also because going out uses up a whole different set of spoons. Getting up, dressed, out, travelling, considering if I can actually be outside because of my facial pain and the sun/wind etc. Activity time whilst I’m out, travelling back and then getting home. The idea of having a change of scenery and being elsewhere is utterly wonderful, the reality is vastly different.

They’re considerations that all greatly impact my mental health. Knowing that seeing people and going out will be a positive and lovely thing to do but equally knowing that the planning and anxiety surrounding and potential fallout from it, well, it’s exhausting. It’s a continuous circle of thoughts that I haven’t missed one bit. But, it’s another hurdle to jump and one that will be taken in slow, steady stages and that’s ok. At my own pace, in my own time, I’ll get there.

If you feel you are struggling and need to talk to someone detached, here are some organisations and numbers you can use. Please use them and please know you’re worthy of that help.

Mind: 0300 123 3393 or text 86463

The Samaritans:  116 123

CALM: 0800 58 58 58

Young Minds Parents helpline: 0808 802 55 44

Hannah x

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