A friend told me about an idea for a New Years resolution based on a word. She chose health. I like the idea because there are loads of things you can then do which will contribute towards it. Whether it’s getting fit, going to the dentist or giving your mind a break. It will all help with health.
I’ve decided that my word will be sleep. This has been prompted by starting to read an amazing book recommended by a friend called why we sleep, by Matthew Walker. That’s the books name, and the authors name. You should read it.
Anyway I digress, and hope I haven't sent you to sleep already.
According to Professor Walker we sleep for between 25 - 35 years of our life but focus disproportionally on how to improve ourselves in the time we are awake.
We don’t understand or make sure that we take care of ourselves for a third of our day. For a third of our lives.
A balanced diet and exercise are really important. But sleep is the third spoke in the wheel. We likely concentrate more on diet and exercise, but eat poorly or don’t exercise for a day and you’ll be generally ok. Get a bad nights sleep and you’re knackered, literally and literally. And this not only affects your physical condition but also your mental.
That's all I have to say today.
Sleep is important, more important than you probably realise.
I'm off for a nap now
Today another guest blogger, Mary. I've known Mary for a number of years now but only knew part of her story about when she had been flooded. But I wasn't aware of the other challenges she has faced and continues to face, the mask she has put on and the bravery she has shown to face life head on and passionately champion causes.
We spoke briefly about mental health at a recent work event and I asked if she would be able to share her story. I'm pleased to say she did....
Take Care Paul
Behind the door - Mary Dhonau
I have given numerous presentations about what it’s like to be flooded. These are based on both my own experience and those of the countless people I have spoken to over the last 18 years. One of the things I always emphasise is that we don’t know what is going on in the lives of people before they were flooded. I’ve been told many heart-breaking stories along the lines of ‘My mother died, the day before the floods came’, or ‘I had just had a diagnosis of cancer and then we were flooded’. Such appalling coincidences are among the many reasons I have championed the plight of the flood victim.
Let me tell you what was going on behind my front door.
Just before the floods of the year 2000, my youngest son Peter was diagnosed with severe autism and severe learning difficulties. His behaviour was challenging to put it mildly: he didn’t sleep, self-harmed, broke windows with his head and regularly smeared poo about the place. Try to imagine, if you can, being flooded in that situation. We lost every one of his toys and had to cope with builders in our home for many months. It was that experience that made me don on my wellington boots and start campaigning.
Fast forward to 2007. During the intervening years, Peter’s autism had become unmanageable for us; no state school could meet his needs; and my marriage had imploded under the strain. (He had recently escaped from his special school, the only child to do that in the 30 years the headteacher had been there.)
Someone from my local Council said Peter was the ‘worst case of Autism they had seen in a long time’. After a multi-agency meeting, it was decided that he should go to a specialist residential school. He was only 10 years old and the decision to let him go was such a painful one - I felt I was letting him down, it was a bit like giving your baby to someone else to bring up. Then we were flooded again - not as badly, as I’d made our home flood resilient, but we were still flooded, and it wasn’t a picnic by any means.
I was also running the National Flood Forum at the time and my phone didn’t stop ringing (remember 55,000 people had been flooded). I was giving advice to people and talking to the media day and night. I guess with the name ‘National Flood Forum’, people thought we were huge but at the time, it was a very small organisation.
Luckily carers from Peter’s new school were with him during the day, trying to get to know him but in the evenings and nights it was just me, answering that phone at the same time. Peter wasn’t my only child either). I was determined to keep going, even though the demands on me were incessant. Then the time came in September for Peter to go to residential school 35 miles away - although we did it gradually, parting with him was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Something broke inside me after that but still I kept going. I can clearly remember walking to a local river bridge with tears pouring down my face, to give a TV interview. I gave ‘a brilliant interview’ (so the guy said afterwards) but I walked away and cried again. Then one day I woke and didn’t stop crying for days. I felt totally broken.
I really struggled with going to my GP, ‘what will she think of me’ etc but she was brilliant. She had a mildly autistic son, so knew something of what I was going through, and she’d also seen me many times on the television news. She was very supportive and said I was exhibiting ‘true grief’, having put Peter into care. She was astounded that I had been able to hold down my job.
One huge mistake I made was not to tell the board of the NFF just how bad things were for me. (My advice to anyone going through something similar, is please tell your work place - I literally couldn’t cope, and my work relationships suffered).
To this day, they still don’t know. I was put onto antidepressants and was on them for quite a while. I think once this has happened to a person, you never fully recover. I’m self-employed now (which can be very scary, as it tends to be feast or famine, and when it’s a famine time, I do become quite anxious but who wouldn’t?)
I’m seen as ‘strong’ ‘passionate’ and ‘charismatic’ about the work I do - but some mornings I can wake, and that bloody ‘black dog’ is in my room and sitting heavily on my chest. The type of person I am, I plaster a smile on my face and get on with it but it’s not always easy.
My son is now 21 and in a local specialist care home. His mental capacity is between 9 months and 4 years, He was also recently diagnosed with epilepsy. Hindsight has told me that putting him into specialist care was the best possible thing we could do for him - he has had a much better quality of life as a result. My ex-husband and I care for him together every other weekend and we have quality time with him. It is still stressful and demanding but we do get to hand him back afterwards.
However, as I result of all I’ve been through, I have been left scarred. It has planted a permanent ‘seed’ in my brain that will always be there, and one I guess I will always wrestle with.
Relationships, friendships, how well you get on with people can be heavily influenced by your mental health.
That's not really a very insightful comment, but it's very true. How much have you thought about the impact mental health (yours or others) has had on your life?
We meet some people on our journey who we get on well with but realise that were not as compatible for whatever type of relationship we have or thought we would have.
Sometimes this realisation is linked to who someone actually is, sometimes its linked to who someone actually is because of the situational impacts of the challenges of life.
I lost myself a few years ago. I struggled. My mental health was poor, but I can see now that it was situational. In the same way that things like living in the wrong area, not enjoying your job etc can lead to you losing your zest.
I'm pretty certain I had a breakdown. But hindsight is a great thing.
Situational change is ok because you can try and change the situation, or at least realise that the situation has a lot to do with why you feel and think like you do. And that poor mental health doesn't define you and like Ronan said life can be a rollercoaster.
As an example I went to a music weekend recently. The last time I went was 3 years ago and I was anxious for the whole weekend and didn't enjoy it. I didn't want to be there and I pulled out the following year. However last weekend in the same place I felt like a different person, the anxiety wasn't there, I was more relaxed, I was enjoying life more.
My situation had changed and so had my outlook and my default position on life to be anxious was not there.
People can change. Some people can't. Some people say they can but don't.
You can see change, you can observe it, you don't need to tell people you've changed because they tell you that you have.
Take control, make the change, realise life is a rollercoaster, accept that you can struggle at certain times, but also believe in yourself that you will get back out of the trough.
I feel like this was a real random ramble so I'll probably re-write it later, but its good enough, and i don't need perfection.
Today I'm delighted to be hosting another guest blog from my colleague Jason. Jason shared his story at a recent event at work. He stood tall on a stage and told people who he was and told them it was alright to be himself. He did himself proud. I'm proud to know him and pleased he has shared to help others understand about bipolar disorder
Take Care Paul
SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND
1 in 4
You know that statistic sounds familiar? 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental illness at some time, stress, anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia for example. If you are lucky you never will, but you will know somebody that does – it touches us all!
I am that 1, if you think about it in a team of 20 people 5 will be affected by mental health issues.
I have bipolar disorder – this is my story which I have written to be honest and thought provoking - so that you can understand what goes on and that there is always hope. People with bi-polar disorder experience mood swings from depression to extreme elation and these cycle at different rates. Left untreated can lead to psychosis –as you will see.
If I think back I was always happy, high spirited, mischievous and outgoing, but then this was interspersed with periods of being seriously introverted. I never thought anything of it. I did very well at school, college and university – degree in Environmental Science. I ended up working for a big international company and was picked up in their management development program. So I was managing a large business with a multi million £ turnover.
I had noticed that my performance at work would vary markedly and I did end up in two uncomfortable performance reviews (not good when you have depression and don’t know it) – all my colleagues seemed stable and even, but I felt like life was a roller coaster. I did well until 1998, I suffered from a serious bout of depression and was off work for a month. Well it happened, at the end of 1998 until the beginning of February 1999 I suffered from a serious manic/psychotic episode. What does this mean? Racing thoughts, paranoia, hallucinations, flashing lights, no need to sleep, spending sprees and really totally out of control.
At this point I nearly became another statistic – the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide – the only way out of this thing is to stop it dead?
Luckily for me my wife, best friend and father took control of the situation – they took me to a psychiatric hospital in Manchester and had me sectioned under the mental health act. Hard as it was for them and for me (this was the most frightening, degrading and humiliating experiences of my life) it probably saved my life. I recovered, I spent 4 weeks in hospital and 9 months off work to recover – what’s more is that now I had a label, BIPOLAR!
What I needed now was a period of stability, but this did not happen. In 2000 I was made redundant as the company was bought out. I finished my MBA and worked part time as a consultant, looking after my new daughter as much as I could. I knew that I wanted a “proper” job again but struggled to find what I wanted. So I took it upon myself to work up from the bottom – this is exactly what I did and now find myself working in a really interesting and demanding role at the Environment Agency.
All this time I am medicated and I will be for the rest of my life – I take lithium (plus others) as a mood stabiliser, but mood swings still break through from time to time although not as severe. I have wrestled with the NHS, they added a very strong anti-psychotic medication to the mix about 9 years ago as I was still having issues. I never liked this medication for a whole host of reasons – and eventually with the help of my GP I was released from its grasp in November 2016. This has made an enormous change to my life – every aspect, I now know that this medication (does work) affected my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my kids and my performance at work. Now I feel like I am back (a bit like Arnie!!) , the old me that I knew so long ago.
Working at the Environment Agency has helped me a lot, I regained my dignity and self respect. The EA actively helps people like me, all of the team leaders that I have had (about 6) have supported me throughout. I use the employee passport scheme and this has helped me explain and negotiate reasonable adjustments – I don’t ask for much just some understanding, support and flexibility. I have been involved in some fantastic challenging work and worked in some great teams, and a number of years ago I thought that my career was over. You might have seen my story before as I have shared it with the Mental Health Network, a group that I helped establish.
My concluding comments are – I do not feel mentally disabled I feel “enabled”. I represent the 1:4, if you do the right things you can stay well and achieve many things that you didn’t think possible. I have developed a sound self management regime including – correct medication, support network, exercise, good diet, proper R&R, planning workload and I have a crisis management plan too. I promised myself, my wife and my family that I would never go back to the “ward” – keeping everything in balance helps – working here enables me to maintain this and be myself.
I have come to realise that I am part of an elite group of people – some great people with bi-polar - Stephen Fry, Kurt Cobain, Sinead O’Connor, Frank Sinatra, Ludwig van Beethoven, Spike Milligan, John Cleese , Robin Williams, Mel Gibson, Bill Oddie, David Walliams & Katherine Zeta-Jones &Paul Gascoigne – the list goes on and on………………….if you check out Wikipedia there is an A to Z
When I was at Paul Wyse’s brilliant Mental Health unconference recently I had a brief conversation with the EA MHN sponsor. We talked about all the brilliant creative people that work for the EA and how to capture their creativity as this is something we often miss. Being bi-polar I am very aware of this and my creativity and passion ebbs and flows like the tide. Andy talked about harnessing this, but I am not quite so sure?
When I am in an up phase I am very prolific and productive and I am not sure that this really need to be encouraged too much because things could accelerate away out of control. There is a way of capturing this and it takes recognising that it is happening because sometimes it is over before it’s over. When I am in my creative /up phase I pass on lots of ideas to my team and team leader and the people around me, they might not recognise this but it does happen. Sometimes the ideas are really good and sometimes they are rubbish – they do need to be filtered.
The way in which I manage myself – I try to control the urge to be too creative and get excited about new ideas. However, when I do have them I have to let them out or else they go around and around in my head eventually going into an accelerated freefall. I guess it is about balance and the balance that I have found over the years seems to work.
Doing things, different things and pushing your boundaries makes you realise that life is really worth living. It also helps build your resilience and your ability to cope with uncertainty, which is a major cause of anxiety.
[Yeah yeah here he goes again talking the talk but not walking the walk I hear you say (you're probably not but that's my anxiety whispering it in my ear).]
Fixing yourself requires (unfortunately) a certain amount of discomfort. The same way that doing a couch to 5k will make your legs ache, doing a 'anxious to less anxious' will make your mind ache (and probably give you that horrible churning feeling in your stomach too). But it's worth it, it may not feel it at the time and you may not (probably won't) be immediately fixed but it will help, and it will help by topping up your bucket (dear liza) or making the hole a bit smaller.
Last week I went on holiday on my own this involved going on a plane on my own. I've never done either of those things before. It was weird and uncomfortable and I didn't come back 'fixed' but I did top my bucket up and coped with uncertainty and proved to myself that I can do things and be ok.
I've done quite a few things this year for the first time, or the first time in a long time like:
Now these things might be small things to you, but to me they were all uncertain things and came with associated anxiety because of that uncertainty. And they were all alright, I mean I was rubbish at salsa but it was alright and I came out of them all relatively unscathed and with more experiences under my belt.
Off the back of this I've decided to do some more things I've not done before which will make me anxious, but I was lacking inspiration as my typical past mindset has been to avoid the uncertain, so I set about googling some bucket list ideas and found this one bucketlist which has just over 1000 ideas!
These range from things I know are a step too far, things that would be a good stretch to easily achievable things but things I've never done (bake off next year maybe).
What do you do to challenge yourself, to challenge your uncertainty and anxiety?
Could you do something?
Today I spoke to someone about someone they were worried about. The second someone wasn’t seeking or using the help that was on offer. We wondered why.
I then remembered that realising and accepting that you have a mental health problem is an ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE STEP. It’s a massive step to accept things when you’re thinking straight but it’s even harder when you’re not, and I’ve blogged before a few times about anxiety and it’s impact on your pre frontal cortex (the decision making part of your brain).
So why won’t they accept the help?
Well I’m not them so I don’t know but perhaps they aren’t thinking straight, perhaps everything feels overwhelming even picking up the phone to talk to someone, perhaps they feel that because of the stigma of mental health illness (remember it’s an illness) means that they feel useless, shame, guilt and a host of other emotions that the simple act of picking up the phone and talk to someone is too big.
A friend told me that when they shared at work about depression that it was a bigger step than when they came out. Saying this stuff is BIG.
So how can we help people accept that they might need help?
And importantly we can try and help people build their personal resilience so they feel more able to make that massive step.
Imagine you can’t dance, have never danced and can’t think of anything worse than going and dancing in front of someone you don’t know. Perhaps you're on Strictly. Feels scarey, makes you feel anxious. Ok well then just ring the helpline. There’s help out there. Off you go. Make that massive step. 'Now messing up the Argentinian tango with Flavia is....'
Now imagine you have to do that dance but you’ve spent some time beforehand building your confidence, working to reduce your anxiety, understanding that uncertainty about what might happen is normal and is ok, realising that the catastrophe you think might happen will very likely not, taking some time off to relax, doing some exercise, writing a diary about your thoughts etc. Is it a bit easier to make the step, when you feel a bit more resilient, a bit more in charge?
Ok so you don’t like dancing so perhaps it’s a big sports match, you’ve been thrown in the deep end, you’re taking a penalty, you’ve not practiced enough, your mind isn’t in the right place, it’s bloody hard, you feel so much pressure, you’re worried about being viewed as a failure. But with practice, and coaching, and healthly living and a host of other things you can do it. It’s still scary but you can do it.
It’s essential for recovery that you do accept you have a challenge to overcome and that you might need help.
Enabling yourself to make that huge acceptance step by being kind to yourself, taking care or yourself and giving your anxious / depressed / insert other condition here brain a rest is just as important.
So if you’re struggling, maybe try being kind to yourself first and build up to that step.
If you know someone who is struggling help them by guiding them to build their resilience so they can make that step.
Some will find it easy, like the dance, some will find it hard. Saying the words out loud that you have a challenge and need some help is massive.
Appreciate and understand that, be kind to yourself and be kind to others, maybe try some stuff in the wheel below.
This weekend, much to my embarrassment I was subject to an Ebay scam.
I bought or thought I bought a nice VW Transporter van on Ebay. It was the dream van. It cost me £20,000. I was all ready to take the kids away for a weekend. I even paid the fucker £100 extra to deliver it.
It was a very clever scam, I mean I’m super intelligent and I fell for it (more details are available on request). But I do feel a tit and a much poorer one now.
I waited in all of Sunday. He didn’t arrive. I even bought insurance for it, but fortunately they waved the £25 cancellation fee 12 hours later.
As Tears for Fears said “Shout shout let it all out….” But I didn’t want to, and I still don’t want to, which is a bit weird, but I think is strange but demonstrates how far I’ve come in my MH journey (cue Coldplay music, that one about clocks probably that they always play on X factor when someone talks about their journey, metaphorically, not in a transport sense).
The bank have said I probably won’t get the money back. That’s a bit of an arse, but it’s not the end of the world.
It does shows how far I’ve come. I'm quite impressed with myself to be honest.
I could be really worried. I could be really anxious. I could be really fearful. I could go mad, punch walls and be really frustrated.
I spoke to my best friend. She was worried I was going to punch walls. But the walls were safe, as am I. I don't punch walls anymore.
There’s little point being frustrated, worrying about the past or fretting about the future. What’s the point? Some things in life are shit, they just things are. I’m ok, no one died or got hurt. Everyone is ok, apart from my bank account.
In the present, in this moment, I’m ok. The people I love and care about are ok. So to be honest that’s all that really matters.
I could live in a tent with the people I love with nothing of any material value and I’d be ok. It’s people that matter. It’s health that matters. It’s relationships that matter. It’s memories. It’s holding hands. It’s staying up late talking. It’s playing Bananagrams till the small hours.
Things are, well things. People matter.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, even if it’s expensive. Value the people. Value yourself.
And if you find yourself in times of trouble, let it be.
Take care (and be careful on e bay)
On Friday I was Inspired.
Inspired by the growth of a community who support one another, a community who offer a safe space to talk and to share, a community of honesty, compassion, empathy, time, understanding and friendship.
On Friday I met with colleagues who are struggling with, have experience of or were interested in finding out more about mental health.
We held our first mental health umconference at work. Around 100 attended the day in Bristol from as far away as Preston and Cornwall. Unconferencibg is about setting the agenda on the day about subjects people want to talk about, and helps people find their tribe. Essential for this sort of event. I was a little worried, or anxious even that we might not get enough content, but boy was I wrong. Around 20 sessions were pitched and resonated with those in the audience.
I didn’t attend any of these as I was busy making sure the event ran, but feedback so far has suggested they worked really well.
The biggest success of the day for me was the sharing at the start. First video messages from our senior leaders including about manic depression, the importance of talking and the impacts of suicide.
Then stood on a small stage, watched by 100 people with more hanging over the balconies above, 8 people shared their mental health story. Introversion, breakdowns, supporting others, trying to be superwoman, depression and bi polar.
These stories touched people. They made them realise they are not alone. They built courage. They built understanding. They were incredible.
A special mention to Jason who had told me he would find sharing hard. Visibly shaking as he shared the impact bi polar has had and continues to have on his life, we had agreed I would leave him to wobble, and compose himself, and compose himself he did.
If you don’t understand or believe about the impacts of mental health talk to someone who has struggled, talk to me, talk to Jason, or Nev, Helen, Estelle, Betsy, Clare, Kevin or any of the 100 people who were there.
I heard there were a few complaints about the noise we made (sorry about that but we need to be heard) and also heard someone say they were sorry they couldn’t come down and play with us.
I walked away from that conversation as they pushed my buttons with a poorly chosen word. I hope they reflected and I'd be happy to talk to them or anyone about the realities.
What I should have said is “We were not playing, poor mental health is not fun, it’s not a game, it’s a real thing, it’s a disability, it keeps you up all night, it stops you doing things in the day, it ruins lives, families, jobs, relationships, it makes you hurt yourself, it kills people. It’s definitely not playing.”
We've still got a lot of work to do and the more people that share the better understanding will get.
Aside from the pride I felt watching people talk, share and open up, amongst many favourite moments I had one favourite.
The evening before I met Jason and Stephen for the first time ever. We went for a drink and a curry.
Three men, all of a similar age, sat talking openly about feelings, about tears, about challenges and about the strength to be drawn from being open. The strength to be drawn from talking.
Three men, in a pub, then a curry house talking about mental health, not whispering but talking. We might have even got a little bit loud after the 3rd or 4th pint.
We’re making real progress.
This week I worked a 13 hour day on Tuesday, then a 14 hour day on Wednesday. I had no lunch breaks on either.
I’m not condoning this, but wanted to explore why I did it, partly because I wanted to understand and partly because I was challenged today about it and told ‘it was you who chose to do it….’.
Tuesday was prepping for a last minute meeting I had been invited to on the Wednesday.
It was a really important meeting, full of people with influence, who I have been trying to influence to do things differently. It was ‘too good an opportunity to miss’.
I did the ‘day job’ stuff then worked on a presentation after 5pm. I like presenting, and I like presenting with pictures to make it more engaging, so it took a little while.
Wednesday was a 5.40 am train to Leeds (a 4 hour train journey). The meeting went well, I caught up with some other people and ended up sleepily walking back into my house at nearly 8pm.
So why did I do it? Why did I chose to do it? Why did I chose to be physically and mentally exhausted?
I think it’s a number of things:
But I think the real reason, or root cause of why I chose to do it is linked to anxiety and depression.
I’ve written before about when you are anxious it can affect the part of your brain responsible for your decision making https://wysethoughts.weebly.com/home/lost-in-a-maze-of-my-own-making
So maybe I wasn’t thinking straight?
Depression can also make you feel:
So I think that I chose to work these ridiculous days because of depression because it would make me feel better than if I didn’t go.
Was that the right decision?
Was I thinking straight when I decided?
So my mind was thinking straighter the next day because I took the afternoon off on leave. Well I didn’t really, I started my leave at 2pm, made 3 work phone calls and sent a number of e mails from my work phone.
So why did I do that. Again it’s linked to mental health.
I am on an assignment doing a job I love and don’t want to go back to my old job, so I’m trying to impress by delivering, by delivering a lot.
I am suffering from presenteeism, that’s coming into work when you’re ill. I bet you’ve done it.
I also suffer from leavism, that’s working when you’re on leave.
Neither are good. But both happen.
‘Presenteeism’, or people coming into work when they are ill, has more than tripled since 2010, according to the latest CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey.
CIPD/Simply Health also say “In order to encourage a healthy workplace, organisations need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism. Without this evidence base, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.”
We know being present and mindful is good for us, but being always present at work isn’t.
If you need a break have one.
If you’re on a break then have the break.
And understand that if you feel guilty, anxious, self loathing that’s your depression speaking, not you.
Self esteem, confidence, belief, resilience. Just words right? If only.
As the terrible 90’s rock band Extreme would say ‘They’re more than words’. They’re thoughts, things you can think define you, impossible mountains to climb, un swimmable rivers to cross and a place you think you might never reach.
But you can.
And you will.
One small step at a time.
I had a bank holiday weekend of confidence. Some my confidence. Some my sons.
First my 9 year old went down a water slide he’d never been down before. I could see he was worried going up the steps, it took a lot of encouraging to get him up them. But he did it and he loved it.
He made me super proud. He was proud of himself. Up to the top of the slide. One step at a time.
I had a safety harness and was attached to a line. It helped, but I still had to take the steps.
If the steps seem too scary can you get a safety harness, is it a friend, a professional, medication, meditation, exercise or something else. There are lots of safety harnesses out there.
Take care, take a step
Mr Paul Wyse