Saturday, 9 November 2013

Leading By Example...

Thursday night, as I sat watching Bedlam - a laudable Channel Four documentary focusing on patients of world renowned psychiatric institution Bethlem Royal Hospital - and discussing the myriad issues it raises with a friend via Twitter, it occurred to me that I've never spoken about my own mental health issues.

Having decreed - again, on Twitter - that it's time mental health was brought out into the open, I realised I'd not actually brought my mental health out into the open, on here at least, and I should probably lead by example. 

Practice what you preach, and all that...

It's not that I've been ashamed to talk about it, far from it, but given the whole litany of other conditions I suffer from, I felt a bit silly owning up to yet another thing 'wrong' with me. Because, seriously, just how many ailments does one girl need? At the last count: five*. Apparently.

Anyhow, it's time for me to say it loud and proud:

I have clinical depression.

And you know what? I'm not the only one.

According to this BBC News article from last year, around 4.7 million Britons have it too. And the number is increasing: 500,000 additional cases in just three years.

It's not just depression either: Mental Health charity Mind reports that 1 in 4 people, or 300 out of every 1000, "will experience a mental health problem in any given year".

Pretty shocking, isn't it?

Clinical, or major, depression, the most commonly experienced mental illness, will affect 1 in 20 people at any one time.

That's an awful lot of depressed people out there.

And when I say depression, I mean depression, not 'feeling a bit down' or 'having a bad day'. Sadly depression has become a catch-all term that's flung around far too often, to the detriment of those genuinely suffering from this debilitating condition.

We can't just "get on with it", or "over it", for that matter. It's not that simple. Unfortunately. And don't even think about telling us to pull our socks up or slap on a smile. It ain't going to happen.

As for me? I've had . Over a decade in fact: February 1st 2003. The day, and I say this with no hint of irony or hyperbole, the light went out.

Because that's exactly how it felt: as if someone had flicked a switch off in my brain. It was so sudden, and so disarming.

I remember being inordinately emotional, I could not stop crying, but at the same time I just felt numb, totally empty. And the worst, most frightening part? I had no idea why.

This initial spell lasted around a fortnight, I fobbed myself off with it being down to university stress and got on with my life.

Until it happened again. And again. Again.

There was no pattern, no rhyme nor reason but, every so often, for the next four and a half years I would be engulfed by this desperate, inconsolable sadness; a feeling of worthlessness; a total apathy to everyone and everything, and an overwhelming emptiness.

On paper it's impossible to convey the sheer helplessness that I experienced.

Life to me, when an episode struck, became something I spectated, rather than took part in. The best way I can describe it? Like looking through a window at the riotous party in full swing inside.

And the tears. The tears that just would not stop. No matter how much I clenched my fists, physically willing them to not fall.

Somehow I struggled on like this until the autumn of 2007. I felt a fraud, how could I have depression? I'm functioning, I'm holding down a job, I'm not taking to my bed for weeks on end.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

It was a dear friend of mine at the time who finally persuaded me to seek help.

Waiting to see the Doctor for that first appointment was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

I went in armed with a sheet of paper on which I'd written down exactly how I was feeling, no holes barred. I handed that over and promptly burst into tears.

I was given a questionnaire to fill in (I later learned this was the Goldberg Depression Test) and, on the basis of my score, told that yes, I had depression, and actually? With a score of 69, it was really quite severe.

So, not a fraud at all then.

I was handed a prescription for Prozac and sent on my newly-diagnosed way...

The Prozac was a revelation.

On it, I felt whole, complete, again. No longer a shell, a husk.

I was on it for just shy of three years. And that's when I made the mistake of thinking: that's it, I'm cured, I absolutely don't need to take these anymore. So I stopped. Cold turkey*.

Unbelievably I suffered no ill-effects from doing so and, until last year, I really, truly, believed I had been cured.

And then it came back.

I hid my head in the sand for a month...

Until I couldn't really ignore it any longer.

This time around I was put on Citalopram which, like its predecessor before it, gave me my life back. I was me again.

And here I am, nearly eighteen months later.

Yes I'm still on Citalopram. Do I regret it?


Not one iota.

It goes without saying that the medication route is not for everyone, the same as the CBT and talking therapy route is not for everyone (it certainly wasn't for me), but, in my case it's the one that's worked.

I feel no shame in admitting that I need to take medication to keep me on an even keel. The way I see it: you wouldn't feel embarrassed to take medication for a physical ailment would you? So why should I. Or the thousands of others who take anti-depressants or anti-psychotics?

So there we go.

My mental health. Out. In. The. Open.

Where it should be.

* Definitely not advisable.

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