Blog: Mental Health
I wrote this blog in December 2016 and published it on Facebook with some very positive responses.
After a lot of talk about Mental Health over the recent weekend in particular with Prince Harry, I thought I'd put it on my website.
"We all have physical health. We all have mental health. Physical illness is often visible. From broken bones to runny noses. Physical illness has many levels. So does mental illness. It isn’t always as visible.
Over the last four days, I have been without my car. I have walked everywhere. The most being 10 miles. When driving, there is much to concentrate on to keep yourself safe. When walking, there are things to look at, things to think about.
So, I got thinking.
Where am I now? Where have I come from? Where do I want to get to?
I have been in and out of depression for several years, in different forms and on different levels. Some counsellors I have had have worked. Others haven’t.
Some find refuge in drugs, some in alcohol. For me it was food. I was once slim. But at 13 stone I felt fat. Without realising it, I reached 18 stone.
A fortnight without my drug – chocolate – and a fortnight of walking saw me lose 10 pounds. I’m still fat, but I am happier and moving in the right direction.
So, when you are depressed, how do you get out of it?
Of course, there is no solution that works for everyone. For me, it was music. Christian music to be precise, but even if you have no faith in God, there are lots of Christian songs that are uplifting and about wronging rights in your life, thinking positively and realising that some things are meant to be – a better plan, a better route.
Like the counselling, not all artists appealed to me. I have a faith, albeit many would rightly argue a backslidden one, a distant one from God. So, I didn’t need “I love you Jesus” type songs. I needed something very real.
I needed a hook to hang onto. Something that gave me something to believe in.
Cue Sheffield singer Philippa Hanna. A song of hers called “I am Amazing” made me start to believe that I had something that people might like. My self-confidence has always been low. Please don’t tell me I am doing something well, because I won’t believe you.
I looked at Philippa’s Wikipedia page which (at the time) didn’t have her age or birth date on it, so looking at her website and reading her news, I found my hook. She shares my birthday.
Something so simple. Possibly so irrelevant to someone else. To me, it was massive.
I looked more deeply into her music, read her book and realised that others have been through self-doubt like I have and have come through it.
I don’t want this to turn into an advert for her music, but one song lyric kept me alive (mentally, not physically as I never reached a point where “ending it” involved anything other than quitting work, leaving the area, starting afresh).
The song, “New for Old”, the lyric, “There is nothing that’s beyond repair, there is no-one too far gone” and later, “Blow the dust off the surface, of a tired and weary life, there’s a diamond to discover if you hold it to the light.”
This was me. “A tired and weary life.”
I have to find my own diamond.
I turned my attention to writing my books. A saying that stuck in my head when I was younger, “How do you get air out of a bottle? Fill it with something.”
I tried to give myself a purpose. A diamond to discover.
I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to make money from my books. I would. Part of my depression is caused by the day-to-day working and if I could guarantee a wage even half of what I earn now, for life, I would go full-time as an author tomorrow.
But, there’s something greater than money. There’s love. There’s purpose. There’s feeling wanted.
I went to a football tournament to try and sell my books. I sold next to none. But, something happened that made it all feel worthwhile.
Sat in my car, I saw a girl holding a copy of my second book “Leah and the Waiting Game”. To be truthful, I thought she had picked it up off my table and was wondering whether she was going to put it back or walk off with it. (Anxiety is a part of my depression).
She hadn’t. She had bought it off Amazon and wanted it signed.
To see her face how that made her feel, made every word I typed worthwhile.
I digress, though all the above is relevant to the mental health picture. My picture.
Throughout my recent working career, I gained a “grumpy Paul” reputation. I flew off the handle, got exasperated. Got frustrated. At the time, I thought it was just being moody.
It wasn’t. It was depression.
On, off and on again with anti-depressants, six months off work through ill mental health and a doctor who was brilliant with me to get me back to work. I started to build my own strategies for dealing with those things that made me anxious and depressed.
For a while they worked.
Things change. I had dreams and goals for life that weren’t happening. Other people can also influence how you feel – no matter how much you try and avoid it.
I was back on that slope to self-pity and worthlessness and changes that I hadn’t foreseen put me further back than I was before.
One friend and a colleague I hadn’t worked with directly before both suggested something I had never been diagnosed with (and still haven’t medically) – Asperger’s, autism.
My knowledge of both are still limited. But, have read enough to see traits.
Putting a label on something makes you think differently. It almost becomes an acceptance of your “faults” and has allowed me to say, “Okay, it isn’t me, it’s the illness, now let’s get on with things.”
I still have bad days at work, but “grumpy Paul” is less frequent and more manageable. And more tolerated.
I’m not healed from my mental illness. May never be so. But, I can see what I have done to people in that time, hurt and discomfort, distancing myself to hide away under the duvet hoping no-one will find me in my dark place.
Some of those friendships are possibly beyond repair. The “unfriend” option on Facebook is a sinister tool when someone does it to you. But, if any of those who have done so are reading this, then I am sorry for whatever I did to you. I cannot change that. I can only change the present and the future.
So, why write this?
Simply, I wrote it for me. If it helps you too, then great. But, I wrote it because all I have done is thought about it for days and days and have tried to summarise maybe fifteen years of my life into something I can close and move on from.
Will I fall again? Probably but I will get back up quicker than I did last time. Check out a guy called Nick Vujicic if you want to learn about getting back up again!
Other people have problems, some are worse than yours, some are less so. But, your problems are yours and they are very real, very personal and no matter how worse someone else’s might be, you cannot see that.
That’s okay to think that. But, I have tried to use that as a strategy to pick myself up. A recent flooded ceiling at my home. Yes, it wasn’t nice. Yes, there was a danger of further damage structurally and to the electrics etc. I found the positive in it though. I did still have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, somewhere to go to if the damage became too great that I couldn’t safely stay there.
I still have dreams that probably won’t be fulfilled.
I still have aspirations that probably will never happen.
But that’s okay. Maybe those doors closing were for a reason. I may not see it now and it does make me feel numb and disheartened, even as I write this, to say that they may never will. Yet, whether it’s God’s plan (for those who believe) or one of those things that just isn’t meant to happen to me, I will continue to try to believe that there’s a reason I am the way I am. A reason why I am on this path; that the road I am on is better than the one I could have followed instead.
If you got to the end of this, thank you for reading."