The Shame of It…

…and why (for now anyway) I am posting anonymously.

As if the challenges you have to face living with and trying to battle mental illness (in my case recurring severe anxiety and depression) aren’t enough! There is also the feeling of shame that goes with it. That’s my experience anyway, and I would guess also that of most others who are living with any type of ongoing or recurring mental health condition.
During my latest/ongoing episode  of depression and anxiety, I have on many occasion likened the shame I experience to how I assume one must feel when they have committed a serious crime. The big difference is, I haven’t done anything wrong. I experience this feeling of shame and embarrassment on a daily basis, often many times during a day. At the moment, I routinely find myself in situations where it is impossible to avoid the subject – you bump into someone (it can happen anywhere – school drop off/pick up, football, supermarket to name but a few) they ask why I’m not working, when will I be going back to work, they wonder why my wife has had to go back to full time instead of part time work given that we still have young children, and I’m now home as the main child carer (although the number of stay at home dads is definitely on the up, it still most definitely isn’t the norm, certainly where we live). Most of the time, I find it extremely difficult being honest, despite many years of experience of this retched illness. And when I do tell people, I very often only tell them part of the story. And even then, after the conversation has ended, I then get paranoid about whether I have said too much, what will they think of me etc etc. I completely over analyse most conversations for that very reason. And that puts you off getting into conversations.

I long for the day that I can be COMPLETELY honest about who I am, and remove myself from these shackles. In the past I’ve been able to get by without having to be too open about my condition, being honest on a need to know basis only! But the latest episode has had such a major impact on the lives of myself and my family that it’s almost impossible not to be honest with people.

Even small talk with a completely innocent and friendly individual can be awkward. Cashiers in the shops often ask things like “so you’ve got a day off work today”. Such a simple everyday situation shouldn’t be difficult. I usually find myself just going along with it and say “yeh”, to avoid that topic going any further. And then I try to change the subject. So even the most seemingly straightforward of encounters can be uncomfortable. I assume many others will relate to this.

And then there are the questions from family members – I would like to stress in my situation this is well meaning family members who themselves are at a loss as to what to do and what to say to their friends. Questions along the lines of “what should we tell xyz if they ask how you’re getting on at work?”, “is xyz allowed to know that you’re not well?”. And as a chronic migraine sufferer, a frequent and at times convenient cover used by myself and my family – “shall we just say that you’ve been having a bad spell with your migraines?”. Having also experienced first hand the stigma surrounding migraines, using that as a more acceptable line to tell people says it all really.  There are also the comments such as “we don’t know who we’re supposed to say what to”. Going back to my earlier comment about crime, that is how comments and questions such as those make you feel, like you’ve done something wrong that shouldn’t really be spoken about, and if so only to a very select few.

I had to deal with those conversations regularly when I was at my lowest point in April. When getting through each day is a huge struggle and a major achievement in itself, the absolute last thing you need is to be faced with making decisions about who is allowed to know what about your condition.
Having been forced to leave more than one job in my chosen (now ex-) career because of mental health issues, I constantly live with the fear and the shame of bumping into former colleagues. Again, I feel as if I have done something wrong. I left because I suffer from anxiety and depression, not because I had my hand in the till embezzling money. But shame doesn’t seem to differentiate.

I still feel awkward bumping into people I worked with almost 15 years ago. What do they think of me, I still wonder. Do they think I’m crazy. In reality I’m sure they don’t give it any thought whatsoever – they have their own lives and issues to deal with. In an attempt to help, my wife often says to me “what makes you think you’re so important that these people are giving you any further thought?” And that is so true. But it doesn’t seem to make it any easier. I frequently avoid social occasions or find myself crossing the road to avoid such encounters.
Even now, when starting this new blog, I feel unable to be honest and attach my name to this blog, for fear of my posts being seen by someone who knows me. And of people I know then talking about me.

In the 20+ years since I first became aware of having mental health issues, it is a subject which is definitely more widely spoken about. And it is more acceptable to admit to suffering from it than it was back then. But despite the progress, anyone who has experienced mental health problems will I’m sure agree that it does remain very much a taboo subject. And none more so than in the workplace.

First timer

Hello. I’m a first time blogger, in my late 30`s.

For pretty much my whole teenage and adult life, I have been impaired to varying degrees, ranging from mild to very severe episodes, by anxiety (generalised anxiety disorder seems to be the closest fit when trying to put a label on it), and depression (most recent episode earlier this year diagnosed as chronic treatment resistant depression). It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. It is usually the depression that I get treated for, however I believe that for me it’s the anxiety that comes first and is the underlying problem, and in times that it gets out of control it then causes a period of depression, often resistant to treatment. But trying to get medical professionals to explain it in those terms hasn’t been easy!

In addition to the specific mental health issues, and I’m sure as a result of these issues, I have also suffered from chronic migraine for a number of years and also ulcerative colitis (now thank the Lord in remission).

My motivation to start a blog is in the hope that by sharing my experiences, built up over the last 20+ years, starting when in my mid-teens I was first referred to a psychiatrist, I can in some way help and offer support and encouragement to others who experience mental health challenges. And whilst I don’t currently see it at the moment, being in the midst of a very challenging time, I’d love to one day be able to inspire others with mental health problems to believe that you can live a fulfilling and rewarding life, despite the illness.

As a result of the recurring nature of my condition, and the length of time I’ve been in the “system”, I believe that I have a lot of insight into the illness and the treatments offered. I can certainly relate to many people experiencing similar challenges.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, I have experienced the following, in no particular order – being on anti-depressant medication for the majority of the time since my   mid-teens – for the last 10 years I have been taking a high dose of citalopram combined with lithium (to augment the anti depressant medication as opposed to being for any other condition); a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ETC) in 2005, a 3 week period of hospitalisation at a time of suicidal thoughts, I have been under the care of 3 or 4 psychiatrists over the past 20 years, have done CBT, have been seen by the psychology department at the local hospital, been referred to Occupational Therapy, I now have a Communuty Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who I meet regularly at the moment. I have also received numerous private counselling sessions arranged through employers at the time. I have also privately tried hypnotherapy and attended a mindfulness retreat.

Despite living  with what I consider to be a disabling condition, I have to some extent been relatively high achieving/high functioning for a lot of my years – although that depends I guess on your definition of high achieving and high functioning. I left school with decent grades, went on to University and successfully graduated with a degree in accountancy.   I then successfully applied for a position with one of the large global accountancy firms, where I successfully qualified as a chartered accountant. It certainly wasn’t an easy journey. But it was in the world of work that my problems really escalated and became at times completely disabling. However I (foolishly I would say with the benefit of hindsight) soldiered on and tried to persevere in my chosen career. I ended up leaving a few jobs because of it. And looking back I can clearly see now the impact it has had on my health, my happiness and my family. I’m now embarking on a journey to change that, before it’s too late!

I’m in the midst of a very bad episode, which really spiralled downwards in April 2016 and resulted in me leaving a job I had only started 2 weeks earlier. Prior to starting the new job, I had just been made redundant from a job I’d done for about a year and a half, due to a downturn in the industry the company was in.  Thankfully things are a lot better now than they were 2 months ago – but I’d say still far from normal, whatever that may be.

In addition to academic and work “achievements”, I have a beautiful and much loved wife and we have two adorable young children. Many years ago I was reasonably successfully at a local level in the sport of cycling – but as with many things, I put too much pressure on myself to be good, which took the pleasure out of it.

I reckon that’s probably enough for my first post. Already wrote way more than I intended!

Good night

The chronic worrier