I was not sure whether to share this one or not and if I did how much detail and how personal I would get with this. So this is a strange anniversary and one that has got me thinking. It is roughly two years since I got help for the third time for my mental health.
Some of you might have noticed (or not noticed) that I am not as active playing out and about over the past few years. Weirdly when I am playing music I feel perfectly fine but that the bits before and after can sometimes be a little too much for me so sometimes I tend to sneak off into a corner and keep my head down. Other days I will ask far too many questions and annoy the hell out of you! I have a couple of songs written about this time that I would love to use to raise money for people who desperately need funding to keep up the services they provide. Without these services there is a strong possibility I would not be here to write this today. If you have any ideas please get in touch and we can see what we can do.
This blog isn’t a music-y based one so bear with me. I will put a song at the end for those that make it through this one. It is not an easy one.
So time for some context The first time I went for treatment for mental health I believe I was 12 or 13. Honestly cannot remember too much about it now other than missing History class and grabbing a sausage roll on the way back to school. I had my ups and downs over the years but I thought it was just how my head works and there was nothing more that I could do with. It would pass.
These up and downs were manageable for a long time until I started working in a more stressful job. Now, don’t get me wrong my old place and managers were incredibly accommodating and understanding. Over time it took its toll on my mental health. So now we go back for round two of therapy. But, truth is, the counselling sessions took place during work hours, so I always had half a mind focused on that. So that one didn’t work out so well.
So things got worse over time and I was not doing anything to help it. As far as I was concerned I had two choices. Try to cope with it as best as I could or give up. Well, the second time around I was leaning closer towards the latter. My wife talked me into going back to the GP again and I went back for her. I knew I was struggling but in my mind this was now normal.
I did go and broke down when I tried to explain everything as best I could. Luckily there are people a hell of a lot smarter than me who recognised what was clinical depression and anxiety. We talked about the causes and we talked about suicide and if I had any plans. This was very difficult to talk about because it was a very private thing to go into the details. The doctor referred me to what is known as the Crisis Unit and I would have an appointment with the Mental Health Unit at Broadgreen Hospital. The doctor then told me that this is something that with medication and therapy would take 3-6 months before I would start to feel ok and recommended signing me off for an initial 6 weeks with 2 appointments a week until the therapy sessions started. I was still of the belief that this still was not a big deal, even though we were talking about how I was suicidal. I went with being signed off for 1 week. I could not comprehend that this was something that could be helped if I worked at it.
Now I am sure if you think of someone who is suicidal and planning to kill themselves you imagine someone who is an emotional wreck but for me it was not like that. There are three times that it went beyond a thought, (I think we all get that way from time to time) beyond a plan (things are getting a bit risky) to the point of being ready to go. On those three occasions I remember feeling, for the first time in what felt like forever, completely relaxed and more than a little relieved that it would soon be over. On the third time I phoned the Crisis Unit and they set me up with an appointment within the hour. If I did not attend, they would phone me and if I did not answer the police would be sent to my address.
At the appointment they recommended I speak to my wife and see if she would be able to meet me to ensure I would keep myself safe. Now for an insight into my thought process at the time. They had to convince me to phone her because I did not want to be an inconvenience and worry her. I remember the mental health worker looking at me like I was an idiot. “Gary, which would be more of an inconvenience, leaving work to meet you or you being dead?” Well even I couldn’t argue with that logic.
The medication part of this took me a long time to get used to. No matter how many times those people who are a lot more educated in mental health would ask if I broke bones would I take a painkiller. Accordingly it’s the same thing. As logical as that sounds I still struggle with this. To convince me I started off on the tiniest of doses. Well that didn’t work so it kept rising. The side effects are hell for a few days, both physically and mentally and to this day I do not know if they work.
I know my mental health is better now than it was but is that due to the changes I have made in my life? I have left a very stressful job and take better care of my mental health and am a lot more aware of mood changes and getting myself out of stressful mindsets. It is probably a combination of both.
A couple of things I have learnt.
- This idea that there are good days and bad days. A day seems like a far too long period of time. As I am sure anyone know knows me can attest to it changes a hell of a lot quicker than that. I can be having a great laugh and out of the blue it is gone and I do not want to be there anymore. It feels instantaneous.
- There are not always triggers so it is better to not ask what “triggered” it. Sometimes the anxiety picks up and there are no obvious reasons why. My head can be completely blank and my heart rate will just go batshit for no apparent reason. Same thing with depression.
- More weird than that is I have caught myself in a good mood and my mind has kicked in with “oh crap, I am doing ok, what have I forgotten?” I think this is down to feeling low and anxious for so long that it became my default position.
- It is ok to be down, just don’t let it take over your every perception
- You have to look after your mental health. It is not going to magically get better. You have to work at it.
- If you need it, get help! It is what these services are for
So there you have it. That was the beginning of a long road that continues over 2 years later. I had a health worker visit me at home every friday for about 2-3 months. I had counselling for what felt like most of the year at 3pm once a week. I had a couple of medication specialist appointments. I still see my GP every 4-6 weeks and have a lot of phone numbers saved on my phone. Luckily I have not needed to ring it since that story earlier.
Thanks to everyone in the NHS who has helped me over the past two years and to friends and family who have put up with me and continue to support me. Thanks to Charlene for keeping me focused and for how she continues to keep me on the middle of the road even when I steer off into the ditches from time to time. Most importantly thanks to everyone who supported and helped Charlene when I was not able to.
Some contact information for anyone that might need it.
0151 228 2300
0800 58 58 58 (5pm to Midnight)
In NI - Mind Your Mate and Yourself
028 4372 7549