In sickness and in health

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This blog post has been written by wife, Frankie Edwards and edited (ever so slightly for grammar!) by myself:

Dealing with somebody who has anxiety and depression, can be just as tough on you, as it is for the person who has the illness. I know this first hand. The past year has been a series of highs and lows that have been tough to bare. The highs arrive when we’re thinking things have come to an end, only to have the low the next day, when we realise we aren’t quite there yet.

I have been with Steven for nine and a half years and for over eight of those years, he was my version of perfect. I have loved him since the day I met him and to me there is nobody better. Nobody better for me, nobody I would rather be the father to my children… No man compares. Steven was always super calm, super rational and some might say relatively emotionless, but now he’s very different. Since getting poorly he is a very different man, but through his battle of a lifetime, he is doing his best to come out the other side a better, more rounded and more emotional person. But it’s been tough, really tough.

Some days I just want to run. But then I see a glimpse of my hero and I know that I can’t.
Over the past year I have learnt some things about myself and I feel that I have changed a lot because of them. I have learnt; to get less stressed… to be patient… to be more understanding… to be less reliant on others… who my friends really are… who actually cares… who doesn’t… how to handle crisis situations (better than I ever imagined I could)… to let Steven be free, because sometimes he just has to do things for him.

I love Steven. In sickness and in health. And I have to believe (and I take encouragement from his progress) that I will get him back, and more than that, I will get an even better version of him, new and improved. I will also be a better version of me.

I know that everybody’s situation is different, but I have found the following things really useful for me and Steven. Maybe they could be useful for others?

1) When someone with anxiety is struggling and starts stammering or getting worked up, prompt them to pause and to breathe in through their nose. This helps them reset.
2) Encourage exercise, on the days that Steven has worked out, he is a much more positive person.
3) Sometimes people with this illness become irrational, very irrational, so be prepared for that. Remember that not everything they say is truly what they think, it’s just how they feel at that moment when their chemicals are all out of sync. Be understanding, say you get it, try to rationalise it without upsetting. Always remain calm. If you stay calm, it’s easier for them to become calm. Trying to deal with two worked up people is harder than one, so at the moment forget about yourself and think only of them.
4) Never, ever, ever say “calm down” “pull yourself together” “it’s all in your head”. Never get aggressive, stuff like “go f*ck yourself” will do the most damage. They can’t help what’s happening. Remembering that it is an illness like any other, allows you to be more sympathetic.
5) Find something that they love to do and encourage it. Steven loves to write, it’s his outlet, his therapy, and he’s BRILLIANT! This is what he wants to do as a career, so it has given him a goal. For Steven, writing – more than anything else – has helped him express how he is feeling.

Remember, you are not alone. There are so many people who want to help you, as well as the people who want to help the person whose poorly. Accept this help, you need it. Don’t expect it from the person suffering, they have enough on their plate. Make the most of good friends and good family. They love you and they will do anything for you. When it comes to those people who don’t help out, or make you feel worse, restrict your time with them. Avoid the negativity.

Finally, do something for you; work out, get your nails done, go for walks, have tea and cake, go on a girls holiday (I’m off to Italy with my best friend and I cannot wait!)… Whatever makes you happy. Because you need to be okay, if you want to be able to help.

Life brings ups and downs, but everything will work out for the best.

Love to all.

Frankie

xxxxx

*We are raising money for Mind, you can sponsor us here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6*

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In sickness and in health

Lonely

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Recently, I have found that I am almost able to curb my anxiety – at least compared to how it has been in the past. Often I am able to see it coming and use some of the tools that I have acquired to cope with it. I now find it easier to meet people and explain what’s going on with me. Generally speaking, I am able to make the decision to do what I want, and not care about what other people think. Positive steps.

Despite this positivity, I am seemingly  unable to shake my “low mood”. It remains a constant, bubbling away in the background, before forcing it’s way to the front and clouding my brain. I cannot shift it. I cannot cope with it. I have the cause, but not the cure.

I am lonely.

Not just “wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to watch the football with” lonely. It is “not a single person in the entire world understands what I’m going through” lonely.

The feeling of loneliness is easy to identify with. We have all sat at home on a Saturday night, wishing somebody was around to grab a pint with, or play a game of pool or playstation. I know I have. I can intellectualise that, I am sat in a room alone, so obviously I am going to feel lonely. What I can’t intellectualise is being surrounded by people and feeling completely alone. It doesn’t make sense. Especially when those people also have depression or anxiety. Surely they share what I am experiencing?

People care, they want to talk to me, they want to help. But they can’t. The feeling is all encompassing. Like a virus it has spread and now occupies every cell in my body. I have been sucked into a black hole.

I am unable to identify with anybody, bereft of a kindred spirit. I have no empathy. No sense of experience shared. No bond. Physically I am present, but not mentally. I am disconnected. Nobody “gets it”.

Who wants to exist in a world from which they are disconnected? I don’t know how to plug back in. More medication? More therapy? Major changes to my life? I have no answers, because I am trying to solve the problem on my own.

I will continue to reach out. I will continue to share. I hope it helps.

Lonely

It’s okay to ask for help

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I lay in bed, wide awake, sleep nothing more than a forlorn hope. Then it struck me, I have no interest in enduring another day of this. End it. End it all. Stop the suffering. For the first time in my life I plotted a way to kill myself. And I mean plotted. My plan was specific, calculated, it was achievable. No vague ideas for me.

Unfortunately, my first thoughts of suicide were not my last and had it not been for timely/lucky intervention at various points in the preceding months, I may well not be here today. So how did I find myself at the point of suicide? How did I get that far along? Primarily, by not telling anybody that I was on the way there. Sure, I was having therapy, trying my best to confront issues I’d never dealt with before, but that was with a stranger. My words and feelings were left behind, confined within the four walls where I spilled them. I wasn’t sharing them with my friends or family, to them I remained a closed book.

Maybe it was my upbringing? Maybe it was my job? Whatever it was, I was a man who did his best to avoid any show of weakness. Weakness was dangerous. Weakness could get you hurt. I believed that displaying my emotions was the biggest weakness, so I bottled them, pushed them aside and left them to be dealt with another day. Eventually though, the time came that I ran out of bottles. My emotions ran free, overwhelming me, drowning me from within.

I would suspect that there are many men out there just like me. Men unable, unwilling or simply too afraid to show emotion. Men do not want the stigma of terms like ‘mental illness’ or ‘depression’ hanging over their head. Men are strong. Men keep it together, they are providers, warriors. Men are misguided. Men commit suicide.

The latest figures released in 2015 by the Office for National Statistics show that 78% of suicides in the UK are men. That’s over three quarters of all suicides. That’s staggering. Suicide is also the leading cause of death for men my age. In England and Wales, 24% of all deaths for men aged 20 – 34 years old is suicide. Otherwise healthy men, are being cut down in their prime by suicide – and therefore issues with their mental health. Yet nobody really seems to be talking about it.

If you listen to the typical conversation of any group of men, you are likely to hear discussion about general health; exercise and healthy eating, or illness; flu and stomach bugs, or even sporting injuries; muscle tears, sprains, broken limbs… yet you wont hear talk of mental health or illness. There will be talk of death by cancer, disease or road traffic accidents… but no mention of suicide.

So how do we begin to address this problem, this epidemic? Firstly, we talk about it. If we have problems, we share them. If we know somebody going through a tough time, we ask them how they’re feeling. And if they tell us they’re depressed or anxious, we don’t baulk at the subject, we confront it. I know that can be difficult for men, it doesn’t appeal to our sense of machismo, but it’s time to step up guys.

Let me appeal to the logical, grizzly, manly man side of your brain. Imagine that you are shipwrecked on a desert island with a group of people. You’ve got a nice collection of firewood, but it’s starting to rain. The hut you’ve built to house the firewood is beginning to flood. You look strong, so the group asks you to hold the firewood to keep it dry. They start to pile it on… and on… and on. Until you begin to realise that you can’t hold any more, you’ve reached the limit of your strength and any second now you are going to drop it all onto the floor to get soaked. What would you do? Would you ask them to stop loading you up? Would you explain that for the benefit of the group, you need others to share the load? You would. So why should your mental health be any different? Why should you allow yourself to be loaded up until you break? Speak up, for your own sake and that of others around you.

The next step is to raise the message within the public consciousness, we do that by supporting charities like Mind, by fundraising or sharing blogs like this. By breaking down the stigma attached to suicide and mental health, we make it easier for people to open up about their problems. We also help support and expand the services offered to those who are suffering. The more help available, the more people who can be helped.

I say all of this from a position of experience, because the best thing that I did for myself was to open up. Only when I shared my emotions, did I begin to feel the load lighten and in turn spy a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, I realise that it was the strongest act I’ve ever performed.

*This blog was written for Mind and also published here (with some slight amendments for the Mind website)*

Please check out my blog at: https://stevensaysblog.wordpress.com
I am raising money for Mind, please find out more and sponsor me at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6
Twitter: @TheStevieE

It’s okay to ask for help

Exhausted

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I feel exhausted. It seems silly to say now, but I never expected to be ill for this long. My initial estimation was a couple of months of regular therapy and I’d be ‘ready’ to go back to normal. I didn’t expect ‘ready’ to take so long. Like a cowboy builder, I was way out on my first guess. Before I knew it, a couple of months became six months… then six months became nine… and nine became today.

My wife, Frankie, has never pushed me to be ‘ready’. Her priority has always been to make me feel better, no matter what it takes. She never set a date and neither did my GP. A system of continuous and regular assessment was implemented. My line managers have also been fantastic, to the point that I almost feel guilty about it. Everyone just wants to see me get better.

But not everyone understands. You’d be forgiven for thinking, why are you exhausted? You’ve not been physically ill, you’ve not had surgery, what’s the deal? The deal is that I find myself here, a year down the line, completely exhausted by my emotions. Every passing day becomes a self contained hell. It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’m doing, my brain quite often does what it wants. And what it wants, is to over analyse every single interaction that I have, replaying incidents from my past, making it expressly clear when I fucked it up and letting me know how I should have done better.

It doesn’t feel obliged to stick the to the past, there is plenty of thinking to be done about the future too. Making plans. Double checking them. Triple checking them. Checking to infinity. Nor does it restrict itself to complicated tasks. It worries about the little things, the mundane. Such as… Should I have that cereal bar before I walk the dog? Instantly, that question leads on to… Should I save it for when I get back, because it’s the last one? When I get back, am I going to be hungry for more than a cereal bar? Should I get some food to eat after? As I can’t take the dog into a food shop, should I walk her, bring her back and then get food? Should I go out and get food first? Will she need to pee soon though? Maybe I should just give her a quick walk, then go get food? Will she need a proper walk as she hasn’t had one yet today? Am I going to be really hungry by the time I get back? How long will it be until I eat? What can I get that’s quick to prepare? Where can I go that’s quick and easy? Should I get something healthy? Will I want to eat chicken and salad considering I had that for dinner yesterday? Have I decided to walk the dog and then buy food? And what about this cereal bar? And so on and so forth.

That is not an exaggeration. It’s a whole lot of questions without any answers, and I still don’t know if I’m going to eat the fucking cereal bar! Try to imagine having that train of thought, for every little decision. Beginning to see why I might feel exhausted? I used to feel blessed. I was always two steps ahead of the person who was two steps ahead, able to make a decision and foresee the consequences. I was aware of everything that was going on around me, I was the most aware person in any room that I stepped into. The King of seeing everything, able to explain miscommunications and settle disputes. Those abilities, are now a curse. I ruminate about rumination.

I’m currently at the police rehabilitation centre for a two week stint, taking part in group therapy sessions and one-two-one’s (I’m glad that back when I was able to make a decision, I made the correct one in choosing to pay into the fund that covers this place). The grounds are beautiful, there is a gym, a swimming pool, a bar (which I don’t use) for an evening tipple and a TV room for watching sport. You also get three decent meals a day. Surely I should be recharging my batteries? Unfortunately not.

During a recent group session, my explanation of how my brain works was greeted by a miffed response of “Wow, that’s a lot of thinking” – and that’s by people with similar experiences to myself. The self exploration and confrontation of issues, whilst beneficial, can be exhausting. Just getting dinner is exhausting – you walk into the dining room, desperately searching for a friendly face to sit with. Then you have to think of small talk. And nothing on this earth is more exhausting than small talk.

How then, do I go about preventing this exhaustion? Firstly, I need to retrain my brain to relax. Relaxation, or switching off, is a skill. A skill that I desperately need to learn. Much of what I’ll be practicing is grounded in mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment’. I’ve heard many positive stories from people that have practiced mindfulness, and although it’s clearly going to be difficult for me, I’m determined to give it my best shot. It’s time to live in the now.

I’m also looking to implement ‘go-to’ behaviours to utilise when my anxiety starts to build. For example, when the speed of my speech begins to increase, I’ll stop, take a big breath in through my nose, reset my brain and speak in a more considered manner to help prevent myself from stuttering. When my hands start to twitch, it’s very obvious to those around me and I can become embarrassed – which only serves to increase my anxiety. Instead I’ll focus my energy on something a little less obvious, like twisting my wedding ring. If things continue to escalate, I’ll excuse myself from a situation and find somewhere that I feel comfortable, where I shall stand still, close my eyes and listen. I’ll find a sound and bring my attention to it (I’ve chosen to focus on sound because I can choose what my eyes see, but I can’t choose what my ears hear!).

Will this all work? I don’t know, but you can be sure I’m going to try. Because putting in the effort and taming my anxiety, has got to be a lot less exhausting than the year I’ve just had.

 

*If you haven’t already, please sponsor me via the below link as I’m raising money for Mind, the mental health charity. Thanks!

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6

 

Exhausted

Lessons learnt.

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I felt that it was time that I wrote something positive, which in itself is a positive thing as it means that I am starting to open my mind to positive thinking (even if it is only on a sporadic basis).

So here are some of the things that I have learnt, from therapy, reading and life experiences.

I have learnt that; I should open up to people about how I’m feeling, instead of bottling up my thoughts and feelings and allowing them to fester. If I’m anxious, I should tell somebody.

… I shouldn’t make a snap judgement about somebody based upon their outward appearance, I don’t know what’s going on inside until I ask.

… the people who truly care about you will move heaven and earth to help you.

… asking for help is not weakness.

… being upset sometimes is okay.

… there are lots of people who are experiencing – or have experienced – what I’m going through.

… exercise, healthy eating and physical wellbeing have a huge effect on my mental wellbeing.

… opening up about my own problems, encourages others to do the same.

… there is help available, I just needed to know where to find it.

… hurting myself is a quick fix, not a long term measure.

… there is no quick fix for anything.

… having an achievable goal to work towards gives my life meaning.

… I need to open my eyes to the world around me and take it in, instead of ploughing on through with the blinkers on. Sometimes I need to stop, take a look around and listen.

… having setbacks is normal. There will be bumps along the way.

… life is balance.

… I shouldn’t be ashamed about what I’m experiencing.

… I should write as often as possible because it is one of the few things in life that provides me a true mental challenge.

… writing is a career I should at least attempt to pursue. It allows me to express myself in a way that I couldn’t ever do verbally, it gives me fulfilment and shows me that I do have at least one talent!

… I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to be myself.

… Each day is a new day, treat it as such.

… I am strong.

Lessons learnt.