TIME TO TALK
It’s Time to Talk day on Thursday February 2nd 2017.
Time To Talk day is an event organised by Time to Change.
Time to Change are a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about Mental Health problems. Their aim is that everyone with a mental health problem is free of fear and that they have equal opportunities in all areas of life.
Information on their website shows that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year – that means that, right now, one of your friends, colleagues or loved ones is going through it.
Too many people with mental health problems are made to feel worthless or isolated. The way you act towards someone with a mental illness can change their life: by opening up to mental health you can make a real difference.
Their website not only provides vital information for people with mental health issues but it also aims to tackle some of the common misconceptions and myths about people with mental health issues. It also provides a wide variety of personal stories on all ranges of topics from those dealing with different mental health issues.
I recently found a statistic from a recent study by Time to Change that revealed that on average it takes around a year before someone with mental health issues tells their family, friends or work colleagues.
MY PERSONAL MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
In my case I’d been dealing with depression and anxiety since childhood.
I’d always been a happy go-lucky kid right up until I was seven years old and my grand-dad died. Something changed in me at that point and I wasn’t the same child. My grand-dad (mum’s dad) was my absolute hero and I’d placed him so high up on a pedestal that my whole world came crashing down when he passed away. When you’re that age you just assume that everyone around you will live forever. From that point I spent the next twenty years or so worrying about death. If my parents went out I’d worry if they’d come back or if my brother went away or stayed out overnight I’d often be found in his room on a night worrying that he wasn’t going to come home. If they hadn’t come back at the time they said they would I would worry that they’d been in serious accidents and worried right up until the point I heard the key in the door and I heard their voices. It was happening more and more when I was lying down in bed at night with my own thoughts which would lead to sleepless nights, tiring days and an on-going battle with insomnia which, to some degree, I still deal with to this day. Although, thankfully, it’s not as bad as it used to be.
I was always a little awkward as a child and socially I wouldn’t know how to act which led to many people labelling me as aloof and geeky. I was pretty clever but it was just in different ways so I was destined to be a grade D student in my GCSE’s. I struggled with school to be honest and spent the vast majority of my time daydreaming or thinking about other things which led to teachers telling my parents that I didn’t lack drive and I’d probably end up drifting and daydreaming my way through school.
I felt down, a lot and I always looked at the negatives in a situation rather the positives. When presented with an opportunity I would often look at what could go wrong. When life was going great I was waiting for something hiding around the corner waiting to spoil it all. I carried these feelings into my adulthood and went on to spend most of my early adulthood stressed, anxious and worried. The anxiety was horrible. I used to worry about tests, meeting new people, going into new environments, going to interviews or having to speak to groups of people. I would work myself up into such a frenzy about some things that I would end up having to take myself off to the bathroom where I would end up retching. I would stutter, trip over words and sweat my way through a talk at work or an interview. One of the worst things was being made a mentor at my first job, a job I’d only been doing for a year. I was told that I had to do it as part of my job even though it wasn’t in my contract or job description. So now, not only did I have to meet new people but I had to talk to them about stuff as well over a prolonged period. The stress from that was unbelievable. I used to worry about going to work every day.
And boy did I like to worry about everything. Like every little thing in great detail. I’d sometimes analyse a conversation I’d had with someone or an email or text I’d sent and then wonder if I’d unintentionally offended in some way. I’d sit up late on a night and worry about money and if we had enough to pay bills. This would more often than not lead to sleepless nights which would lead to being tired the next day which wouldn’t improve my mood in any way. I over-analysed every situation and stressed myself out about the littlest things.
One of the best things to happen to me (like ever) was getting married to my beautiful wife. We got together back in 1997 and married in 2003. It took me a while for me to settle into adult life with all the associated bills, house stuff and those bills which came out of the blue. Not to mention all the things that was going on in my family at the time. Everything was a trigger for me at this point. I felt like I was being a sounding board for everyone yet I wasn’t able to tell anyone how I was feeling.
We ticked along quite well until late 2006 when my Grandfather (Dad’s dad) died over Christmas. 2007 started with his burial and then we just seemed to lurch from one thing to the next in terms of family issues, the death of a long time work colleague, health issues and some more serious things.
I became almost robotic from the back end of 2007 and didn’t take any time to deal with or process my feelings. I tried to shut all of my feelings out so I didn’t have to deal with them but this only caused me to be unable to sleep which led to a lot of time alone with my thoughts.
Two months down the line I started to crack and depression hit me really hard. I’ll be totally honest that the thought crossed my mind a few times that I could easily end it all. I’d dealt with these feelings of being down for so long that it had all started to get the better of me. When I say the thought crossed my mind of ending it all I really don’t know whether I would have done anything or whether I was even capable but the fact that the thoughts were even there were a worrying enough sign to me.
At my lowest point some people were still using me as an emotional sponge instead of it being the other way round. I felt incapable of being able to tell people how I was feeling and was still trying to placate others with their little problems while I was trying to deal with a big one of my own.
I knew I needed help and eventually, after a long period of not sleeping, I realised I wasn’t making calm and rational decisions anymore.
I recognised that I’d gone deep down a rabbit hole that I needed help to come back out from so I went to see my doctor who, not only prescribed me with sleeping pills, but said that I’d had a nervous breakdown probably brought on by continued stress over a prolonged period. I’d literally lurched from one thing to the next not dealing with each issue before another arrived.
He also suggested that I might want to look into my depression and anxiety and, at the very least, be honest about it. I left the appointment feeling almost relieved and feeling a lot more relaxed.
That year, above most, brought to a head the fact that I had unresolved issues that I finally needed to start dealing with.
In some ways, I became a better person after that year and we looked to 2008 positively.
Our son was born in late 2008 and we couldn’t have been happier and not long after in 2014 our daughter was born.
The fact that I’d started dealing with my depression prepared me for becoming a better husband and a better parent. I became a lot calmer about things and a lot more relaxed.
Suddenly the little things didn’t worry me anymore and I knew that we’d get through the big things together. It was a complete role reversal which I don’t think my wife was prepared for at the time. If we had an issue I started saying, “Fuck it, it’ll sort itself out.”
I opened up a bit more and started talking about things. I can still be guarded on occasion but I’m getting better at talking about what’s worrying me at a given time. I think that my wife has worked out that I might not tell her something straight away as I sometimes need time to process an issue and work out if I can sort it out myself first. An unspoken thing between us has been that she’ll ask me if I’m alright. This is usually a sign to me that I’m brooding over something and she’s recognised. Even if I tell her everything is ok it’s now brought it to my attention that something is on my mind and I’m possibly thinking about it too much. I may tell her or I may be able to deal with it but the sheer fact that she’s now mentioned it pulls me away from it being constantly on my mind and brings me back to the here and now.
Some days the environment around me is a trigger so, to drown the outside world out, I put my headphones in. I like to get lost in the world of podcasts or music. People sometimes say they’ve seen me around and I’ve ignored them. It’s definitely not intentional and I definitely wouldn’t have ignored them on purpose it’s more a case of I’m engrossed in what I’m listening to and focussed on where I need to get to and I genuinely haven’t seen them. I often laugh it off as me walking around with my eyes closed as it’s easier to say that than to try and explain that sometimes I just need to shut the world out.
There is a brilliant article on Depression from Blurt. It’s about Noise, Answering the Telephone and Making Decisions. These are all trigger points for me. Someone will ring me and I’ll ignore it and as soon as they stop ringing I’ll send them a text. It can be infuriating for the person who is calling and I understand but I just don’t like talking on the phone. Check the article out here.
One thing I still do is look into things to the nth degree. If I’m interested in something I will research it as much as possible until I know everything there is to know about it. It’s a quirk that can drive my wife crazy but it’s just something that I like to do.
In some ways I’m a much happier and relaxed person. In others I still have dark days and can feel down. My aim is to take the positives out of those days and try and turn them around.
The good thing is that I’m aware of some of my triggers now and I’m able to deal with them a lot better than I used to. I know that sometimes all it takes is a positive song to snap me out of bad moods and other times it’s just a case of giving it time. Removing negative influences from my life was a start and I now spend more time with the people I want to spend time with. There were some people in my life that were all take and no give and everything was always on their terms. No more of that thank you very much.
I started running in 2009 and it was the best thing I could’ve done for my mental health. I now had time to process issues and clear my head. Add in to the fact that I was getting fit and losing a bit of weight.
3 years later I became involved with DH Runners and the planning of Carlisle parkrun. This helped my social skills and, due to the fact that I sometimes have to stand in front of big groups and talk, my anxiety (and awkwardness) has definitely improved. Due to work and family commitments parkrun doesn’t take up as much of my time as it used to but DH Runners continues to be a massive part of my life. I love that I’m part of something and that everyone has been so accepting. We’re a very inclusive club and that’s something that I really like about it. I’m now a mental health ambassador with England Athletics and a Time to Change Champion and I’m starting to forge some great communication and links with local mental health charities and, now that some people are aware of my role, people are starting to open up about their feelings and issues. I’m able to signpost them to where they can get help but sometimes all it takes is that initial chat to let them know they aren’t alone.
I have a great support system and plenty of people to use as sounding boards (and in turn I’m always there if someone wants to speak to me about anything) but I realise that not everyone has that.
I sometimes wonder what kind of parent I would have been if I hadn’t tackled the issues that I have and I was still the uptight worrier, insomniac who stressed about everything. I’m glad that, to some extent, I’m a more relaxed version of myself.
I could easily have let the dark thoughts get the better of me if they’d continued and I hadn’t sought help and talked to people about things. I can understand sometimes how, if someone doesn’t speak to anyone about their thoughts and feelings, it can get the better of people.
I’m thankful for every day now. At one point I was in a bad place and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. But the fact that I did end up talking to someone is the day that I started to get help.
Sadly an old school friend passed away not long after I started getting my shit together. He’d lost his job and after a few months of knock-backs and not being able to see any way out of his situation he took his own life. He left behind a wife and a child and I sometimes wonder how different it could have been for him and his family if he’d been able to tell someone how he was feeling.
There will be so many people out there in similar situations and there are many institutions, charities and support groups out there that can help.
Many will suffer in silence because they think families, friends and work won’t understand.
I remember telling a former boss that I was suffering from depression only to be met with the reply; “What the hell have you got to be depressed about?” Thankfully workplaces are getting a lot more help in this area and managers are starting to get trained specifically on mental health issues and how to help employees with mental health issues.
But, there’s still a big stigma surrounding mental health and sometimes all it takes is a welcome ear and a little bit of understanding. Sometimes all that’s needed is that first conversation where they can say how they’re feeling.
That’s why things like World Mental Health Day, Time to Talk Day and Run and Talk are doing brilliant work. Let’s get together and talk about Mental Health and end the stigma.
So on Thursday 2nd February let’s take Time to Talk and have those conversations about mental health that could change lives. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life. This is what Time to Talk Day is all about – giving us all the chance to talk and listen about mental health. Whatever the hour, every conversation, every text, every share means more people are reached and more lives are changed.
From Saturday 28th January – Friday 3rd February England Athletics (working in association with Mind) will be running an event called Run And Talk (#RunAndTalk) to coincide with, and support, Time to Talk day. The aim is to help more people understand the benefits of running for our mental health and well-being. Not only that but the social and community aspect of running groups can be a great thing. So grab a friend, take them to your local Run and Talk event and enjoy. For more info on Run and Talk visit here.
So this Thursday I’ll be taking the Time to Talk and all this week I’ll be taking the time to Run and Talk. I hope you can find some time too.
Further resources: MIND
For a wider range of other useful organisations Time To Change have put together a comprehensive list at this link.