"All this talk of getting old, it's getting me down my love"
Over the last week the increased dose of the meds has started to work. I've started to feel a difference every day. I'm not walking around smiling like a cheshire cat or some idiot off of love island, but the general fog in and around my head has started to shift.
Someone told me this was what it felt like. Just a boost to mean that you don't automatically think down and you think more evenly.
It actually feels that I am a bit more myself. It's hard to explain but imagine you've been an undercover agent infiltrating some crime syndicate for so many years, you've had to play a part and you've played it for so long, so intensely that you've forgotten who you really are. Playing that part, being that person has impacted on every area of your life, it makes you hard to understand and cope with for the important people in your life, it affects your relationships. It can't be easy knowing someone who is automatically down, anxious, scared and insecure. It's like you've been a different person and you've not actually been able to control it.
The drugs are giving that bit of control back, so I can now start to be who I want to be, be braver, make the decisions that are the right ones and not run back over them in my head a million times, stop seeking reassurance so much, stop relying on certain important people in my life and affecting them too with my negativity. I've never wanted to do that.
It gives hope for the future, hope that I can make people happy because I will first be happy with myself and in myself. The journey is a long way from over, but I feel like the drugs have given the vehicle i'm travelling in the right fuel.
The CBT is starting to help too. I think the combination is important. Sometimes just talking and changing how you think might be the solution for you, but if you actually have a chemical imbalance like I think I have then you might need something to help you balance better.
Remembering who you are, who you want to be and who you can be is important. Getting the help you need to make that a reality and not some future 'One Day' dream is essential, you can put it off for too long like I did and things won't improve by themselves and may get worse, or you can go for it, knowing that it can only help.
Find a best friend, or family member, or anyone (ask me if you know me) to help you through if you need the support, and let's face it you probably do as it's a bloody big mountain to even start to climb.
"Yeah I know I'll see your face again"
I actually had a good day this week and when someone asked me how it went I said, without hesitation, 'it was good'. It took me a bit by surprise to be honest, but it didn't take much reflection and thought to identify why.
It was a meeting, with my team, face to face.
Now this may seem like a little thing, but as a remote worker who communicates electronically most of the time with the others in the same boat as me (all paddling and bailing out furiously to stay afloat) it was an extremely welcome boost.
We didn't only meet but we also shared and had open conversations about how we were (how we actually were) and found the time to listen. It was nice. I learned a lot about my colleagues, some of them might actually be friends now but don't tell them that.
We also did something called 'me in a minute' where we shared a couple of slides with some pictures and detail about who we actually are behind the work namebadge.
I also had some really good chats in the office with people about mental health, through these chats these people turned from colleagues to friends, we discovered common ground and the conversations were both open and also inspiring. I'm really grateful for them for opening up.
It's amazing how many people struggle, and how many people wear a mask. It's exhausting wearing it, it stops you being who you really are, it hides the truth, it doesn't actually help you feel better about yourself and you can forget who you actually are underneath it if you wear it for too long.
So if you're wearing one, try and take it off, just for a little while with trusted people to start with, but be open about who you are, I bet you'll get a better reaction than you're worried about.
Being open about Mental Health has been a revelation. It has prompted more understanding, valuable conversations and new and deeper connections. One of these has been with someone I have known, respected and liked for a long time, He calls me a colleague below, but I feel more like friends since our recent conversations, being open is good for that too.
Below is his guest blog, a powerful, emotive, inspirational, brave piece of writing that I am immensely grateful he has shared.
The challenges of developing true empathy - Paul Burrows - 16/10/17
Paul has inspired me to do this blog. Whilst I am now an open sort of chap and have used the short-burst mechanisms of Twitter and Facebook to share things that have been going on for me, I haven’t had the courage to share a longer story for fear of not being inspirational enough… silly gremlin that…
Paul is a colleague of mine and we used to work together quite a lot until about 10 years ago where our career within the Environment Agency took different paths. We met again recently at a conference and I was humbled when he opened up to me about his mental health challenges but also felt guilty that for so long I had no idea.
We disconnected in 2007 after the death of my daughter Eve which followed soon after major life changing surgery for Crohn’s disease when I was really struggling to come to terms with my disability and my new colostomy… not physically but mentally cope particularly in terms of my body image and feeling like damaged goods…. That struggle meant I didn’t make the most of the 14-months we had with Eve and that is a guilt that I just can’t shift to this day.
No doubt about it, whoever deals the cards of life has given me a couple of poor cards – and it has taken a long time, ups and downs, trials and errors to turn this into more of a winning hand. I now appreciate better what I’ve got, am better able put things into perspective and to value the personal capabilities and resilience that those extreme experiences have provided me with.
Now that is not to say that I don’t still have moments of bitterness or wish that Eve was still here or that I was healthy… but life doesn’t work like that and I know from experience that being in that place does me no good.
Undoubtedly I’ve been to very dark places and have been depressed … have I had depression? I’m not sure, but I can certainly empathise with some aspects.
I get the ‘Sliding Doors’ feeling a lot (you know the film directed by Joey from Bread?!)– especially triggered by the news or hearing others’ stories – the tragedy of Robert Enke was around the time I was in a dark place… why hasn’t my life taken a different path? What is it about me that hasn’t led me into depression? With suicide such an issue for men my age, why haven’t I? How the bloody hell are Lynne and I still together?!
I’m not sure – I wish I did – What are the ingredients that have made me resilient and why can’t I bottle them and give to others to help them? Or is that just arrogant?
Being able to talk openly to your colleagues and your boss, trusting them to listen and support you is the first step to managing your mental welfare at work.
In the aftermath of losing Eve, I felt I wasn’t a very good boss. However I recognised that fact relatively quickly and chose to change path. Indeed it took me 6 years to get back on the line management horse.
Why? It became all about my issue. I didn’t appreciate that the loss of Eve had an impact on my team. I struggled to deal considerately with others’ issues which felt trivial in comparison. It took me a number of years and some crucial emotional intelligence training to move out of an unhealthy feeling of judgment when listening to others’ issues to one much closer to empathy.
Openness is now one of my inner leadership values that I’ve developed (I used to think that I should show no weakness), and it leads to people being more open in return, which is great, but has created its own challenges for me.
I often get the “but it’s nothing like what you’ve faced Paul” at which point I feel bad that my experience may inhibit people opening up to me or that I come across still as judgemental…. But I can only provide support, advice and empathy from my own experiences. There are no top trumps in mental health, everyone’s experience and resilience is different and deserves respect.
One of my challenges now I find is that because of my experiences I am so sensitive to issues, particularly around sick children. Stories such as Charlie Gard trigger an emotional response within me that often brings back dark memories; taking me back to that helpless place within ICU at Alder Hey hospital; or the moment the consultant took us to ‘that room’; holding her, feeling the true weight of her little body as the oxygen was turned-off; or carrying her coffin into the crematorium.
How can I provide caring support without taking on the emotional weight of other people’s issues? I’m getting much better at it now but boy it needs constant energy. Whilst I had my moments, I’m really proud at how I handled my last Crohn’s relapse, surgery and recovery. Part of this was allowing close colleagues to see me at my lowest, something I probably wouldn’t have wanted in the past.
So I now have improved measures in place (swimming, diary management, safe spaces, lunchtime walks and even Tranmere Rovers) to enable me to better manage my mental health, this in turn makes me better able to support my team and my colleagues.
Now it’s this part where my gremlin jumps out and says Paul “where’s the inspiration in this story Paul?!”… I leave it there. Thanks for reading...
I saw another article on the news this morning about someone being detained under the Mental Health Act. It’s often in the news and especially big news when a celebrity checks into rehab and the media has in the past (hopefully) used infamous headlines like ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up’. Whenever a tragedy happens the media seems to look for a mental health angle, because all bad people are mentally unwell right and therefore all mentally unwell people must be bad and dangerous?
I’ve just been chatting across the desk about the language of Mental Health after hearing that “it’s depressing when you have to write a will”, well it might make you think of the future and lower your mood but does it mean you have to go to the doctor and you are actually depressed?
Things at work are driving me mad at the moment, the meeting drove me absolutely crazy, someone on one of the soaps the other day went mental at their friend. Even Beyonce was crazy in love.
It’s not helpful this type of language, but I know that it has its own place in society and in songs and is often used for other reasons ‘we had a crazy night out last weekend’.
It’s great that mental health is being discussed more openly, maybe next time you find yourself using one of these words, or a colleague, family member or friend does you could use it as an opportunity to talk about mental health.
Are the 1 in 4 people this year who will suffer from Mental Health illness all crazy, mad, mental or bonkers, I don’t think so, so let's think about the language we use, talk about it and break the stigma.
Thanks Cee Lo, I don't think you're crazy, some people think I'm bonkers, but I just think I'm free.
Mental Health is every day for me, not just on an awareness day, but the focus of awareness days is massively important in helping break the stigma of mental health and encourage people to take the first step and open up.
For me the first step in opening up about my mental health challenges was admitting to myself that I 'probably' was depressed and taking the first small step to talk to someone about it and get help, because I knew that I was going to need it. It made it more real and easier to focus on doing something about it by actually saying it out loud.
Just like a physical health problem that you have, mental health can be scarey at a time when you can actually find it harder to cope with worry. That's why you need to be brave, love yourself and take the first small step to open up to someone.
There is so much help out there, whether it's from medical professionals, friends or a stranger you meet at a support group who listens. And that help helps.
You might not know what is wrong but just that something doesn't feel right, you don't feel yourself, you're more withdrawn etc. And it's fine that you don't know what it is because you're probably not actually a doctor or a mental health specialist. You don't always know what's wrong with you with a physical ailment but you do know the start of the solution for that is to go to the doctor, so do the same with mental ailments.
The world really is changing about mental health. It feels like the last year has seen a real step change in awareness with media campaigns, royal support and individuals sharing and helping normalise it. And if you have mental health challenges you are normal.
I've had conversations in the open in the office with colleagues who have opened up and I'm humbled they have shared and feel like I have made stronger connections and am thankful to them for doing so. Mental Health has been discussed in senior management meetings and leaders are playing their part, although I still believe we need a greater focus. Colleagues at all levels of my organisation have shared their stories with a bravery and openness that has taken real strength and they inspire me every day.
And all it takes is that initial bit of strength to open up. It's the start of a journey to a mentally healthier life.
If you're struggling take the first step, it will be hard but it will be worth it.
If you know someone who is struggling, offer to hold their hand while they take that step.
Today I was talking to my colleague Caroline about mental health conversations and why they are or appear to be more difficult to have from the perspective of the person listening.
We both agreed that the conversation is pretty much the same one as a physical health one so nothing really out of the ordinary, it’s just a different subject but the types of things you need to say are the same.
If someone, a friend or employee maybe approached you to talk, or you asked them how they were the conversation might go like this.
You – “Hi Paul, how you doing?”
Me – “Not too bad thanks, but I’m suffering from a bad back at the moment and it’s really affecting me”
You – “I had noticed you seemed to be struggling, is there anything I can do”
Me – “I don’t really know”
You – “Do we need to change anything about your work area”
Me – “Yep, that might help”
You – “How about your workload, are you ok sitting at the computer for a long time”
Me – “A look over workload would definitely help”
You – “Have you been to see anyone, like the doctor”
Me – “No, but I do need to do that”
You – “Please make sure you do so you can get well again, do you need any time off, are you well enough to be at work”
Me – “I think I’m ok but I’ll keep an eye on it”
You – “Great, please do, and make sure if you need sick leave time off that you take it”
But why can’t it be like this?
You – “Hi Paul, how you doing?”
Me – “Not too bad thanks, but I’m suffering from a lot of stress at the moment and think I might be depressed and it’s really affecting me”
You – “I had noticed you didn’t seem to be yourself but wasn’t sure why, thanks for telling me, is there anything I can do?”
Me – “I don’t really know”
You – “Do we need to change anything about your work location?”
Me – “Yep, that might help, I’d like to work at home one day a week”
You – “How about your workload, are you ok sitting at the computer for a long time, do you need more breaks?”
Me – “A look over workload would definitely help and I am struggling with longer days and maintaining focus”
You – “Ok, let’s have a look at workload later and working patterns, have you been to see anyone, like the doctor?”
Me – “No, but I do need to do that”
You – “Please make sure you do so you can get well again, do you need any time off, are you well enough to be at work?”
Me – “I hope I’m ok but I’ll keep an eye on it and appreciate the chat”
You – “Great, please do, and make sure if you need sick leave time off that you take it and let’s set up more regular catch ups”
It’s pretty much the same conversation isn’t it, pretty much the same questions.
You just can’t see the ‘illness’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Have a conversation, don’t be put off listening because if it’s not a situation you are familiar with. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or a friend or even if you’re listening to your own manager, just chat and listen.
And make sure you have that conversation with people who work remotely from you or the rest of the team, there are a lot of people in that boat, it can be a lonely place and you don’t just need phone calls about work.
There’s loads of helpful guidance out there how to have those chats and what the options are, the first step though is active listening.
Take Care, Keep Listening
My computers been going really slow this morning so I had to open task manager to see what the problem is.
It appears I've got too many processes running, and some of them are taking up too much memory and its making the whole system slow down.
A quick re-boot would get everything in order, and i'm fortunate that it is quick and I have the time to do it.
But how do we do that for our own really personal computers (I mean our brains by the way but hope that was obvious).
As is often part of my solution we need to talk about lists, and writing things down to get them out of your head and start making plans to do something about them, or ignore them, or pass them to someone else. I always like lists as its a good way to start to reduce uncertainty.
My CBT course looked at worry last week and how some are current (I need to finish this blog during my lunch break) and some potential (what if everyone thinks this is another load of recycled nonsense), so you could mark that list up as current and potential worries.
But what can you do about those worries, well we started looking at that too and how most worry is caused by uncertainty. I'm uncertainty intolerant, it's like being lactose intolerant (I know it's not really) because that stimulant creates a reaction. The problem then is that you can't be certain about lots of things, you can try to reduce the uncertainty but the best thing to work on is increasing your resilience or tolerance to it.
We haven't got onto that yet, but I think one way is by doing a quick Ctrl-alt-del on your mind and giving it some time off whether it's by sleeping, exercise, a chat or mindfulness find something to do to help build your resilience.
Mr Paul Wyse