Mental health and the support people receive when they are affected by less than stellar mental health is a subject close to my heart, but not one I ever write about in any detail. I sometimes make a passing comment about how I need to be careful when it comes to my mental well being, but no more than that.
The reason I don’t write about it isn’t because I’m ashamed and I don’t think suffering with mental health issues makes me less awesome, my reasons for not writing about it are twofold. My first experiences with opening up about how I felt didn’t encourage me to discuss things further, and secondly I’m aware my struggles aren’t as bad as others, so I sometimes feel my story isn’t as important to share.
The people I follow on Twitter have got me thinking about my own experiences and I have decided that it’s time to start talking about my experiences. The tweet that got the ball rolling in my mind was in relation to how should we help when our children are suffering from depression.
When I was 17 I first opened up to my Mum about feeling constantly sad, having no motivation and feeling generally lost in life. I’d always been a good student, and I loved school. So it came as a surprise to me when after a few months in college I was skipping classes and feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. I loved my Mum (R.I.P) dearly but her reaction to this situation is what I began to reflect upon this week.
Instead of seeing that my behaviour was unusual, and reasoning that there must a cause for my actions, she went straight into anger and disappointment. When I explained how I was feeling, her next set of emotions weren’t much better. Somehow my depression was about her. It became about how my brains reaction to life made her feel bad. Where had she gone wrong? Was it that decision she made? Or this decision she made? Did I hate my life? Did I hate her? Did I blame her? On and on it went and it made me wish I’d just kept quiet.
As a mother myself I fully understand the emotions that can besiege us when our child is in a bad place. My little boy is only 6 but as a Mother who divorced his Father, I know all too well the feelings of guilt and hurt that accompany your child voicing their upset. Especially if you think you are the cause. I am trying to be a safe space for my son. I want him to know that whatever he needs to say can be said to me without fear of the fallout. I know he won’t always share things that I’ll love to hear, but in my mind what matters is that he can say them.
My own depression began after two bereavements. Even though there was a 3 year gap between the two, I had never found my way to discussing how the first had affected me before the second hit. In the wake of her reaction, this was something I felt I couldn’t confide in my Mum. She had lost her Brother and her Mother, I felt like my grief at losing an Uncle and a Nan, must be less than hers, and it felt wrong to claim her sadness as my own. Twenty years after his death though I’m still carrying the burden of that belief, I truly wish I had known that it was okay for me to feel all the things I did.
To her credit my Mum did encourage me to go the Doctor and to be honest about what I was experiencing. My doctor recommended medication, and counselling. At the time I felt ashamed of needing either. It seemed like I was letting everyone down by needing that kind of help.
I started taking the medication, but I will be honest and say I didn’t take it for long. The pressure to ‘feel better’ was immense, and so I just stopped taking them and said I didn’t feel like needed them anymore and no one argued with that. Which I now find really upsetting. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be the last time this occurred. I also went to the counselling, and I opened up a little bit about my grief, mostly for my Uncle. Each time I left a session though I was a mess. It was like prodding around in a unhealed wound, trying to get all the crap out so it could finally begin to mend. This was lost on everyone around me though, to them it just wasn’t working. So I stopped going and I’ve never been back, despite going through some things that I suspect I really should have sought counselling for.
What I need when I was 17 was solid information on depression, anxiety, grief and emotional hygiene. Unfortunately that last one is something my family as a whole has no clue about. I needed my depression to be about me. I need to know that our problems are relative to own situations, and someone else’s depression or grief being ‘worse’ does not make mine ‘less’.
Instead what I took from my first experience of talking about mental health was that the best way to deal with it was to withdraw and hide how I felt. I developed an unhealthy level of stoicism, to the point it almost became a source of pride. I have had people congratulate me on being strong and be in awe of how well I can ‘move on’. In truth I just know how to put on a brave face, and repressing your feelings isn’t moving on.
My first reaction when I feel low and when I’m in midst of struggling with troublesome thoughts is to push people away. No hugs thank you, I’m crying. Don’t be kind because right now I’m letting you down by feeling. This has had massive repercussions for my life. A fact I am only now beginning to see in its entirety. Possibly because for the first time in my life I’m actually taking antidepressants properly.
This isn’t a post about blame and I hope it doesn’t read as such. My Mum had her own struggles with depression, and I suspect she had never had anyone give her the support and encouragement she needed to get through it herself. I doubt she ever came across the information she needed to make sense of her own depression either. The education in this country, and indeed the world over is not good enough when it comes to mental health. The access to the resources many people need is also lacking in many areas. I think this is what prevented me following through on the treatments I needed.
I am sharing my experiences one post at a time, it would be a bit of a novel if I hit you with it all at once. I normally try and offer some advice or reasons behind my thoughts when I write a blog post. I try to make them functional pieces of writing that can impart something useful to my readers. I’m not entirely sure I can take that route with these posts. I just wrote them to talk about my experience in the hope that if anyone resonates with them they know that they’re not alone.
If you need anymore proof that you are not alone, above is one of the Tweets that prompted me to get writing about this topic. It includes a #SoSS post by Miss Jezebella championing lots of sex bloggers who have also shared their own experiences with mental health.