I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight, because my conscience leaves me no other choice. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war this way of settling difference is, is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm. Filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from the dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.
It’s official, life is good and you have pretty much got your sh*to together. You are the perfect example of someone who is going places, you are busy and keeping up with the turning world, getting up at seven in the morning and eating breakfast like humans do. Running errands and smiling at people as they pass by. You are being extrovert and sociable to the point where those around actually enjoy your company! That’s a first…
Sh*t is so much together that, you schedule your daily intake of multivitamins, drink eight glasses of water and day, get fresh air, laugh and giggle and sing and skip along to life’s little beats. Friends want to see you, family want to surround you, lovers want to love you, work wants to inspire you, music wants to dance with you, life wants to be your best friend. Even the household animals want to be petted by you! This sh*t is totally together right!!!
There it is again. That little twinge in your chest. That sharp pain that takes your breath away and leaves you questioning your existence one more time. You are doing so well. You are doing so much. But there is still so much left to do. The mental list is adding up in your minds eye and suddenly the little twinge feels like a tight knot suffocating you from the outside in. It is surely impossible, it is impossible to make progress here in this world, there is so much to do and so many barriers to achieving it all. Time suddenly feels like it is running out and panic surrounds your every thought. You can’t do this. You just can’t get it done. You don’t have time… It’s all too much for you to do. It’s all too much for me to do!
Your head begins to ache and you forget to breathe. The outer shell is going to crumble and the world is going to devour you in one single bite. Breathe. Close those eyes and take a breath. Count to ten. Let it pass… You recite all the tricks you know to get this feeling of doubt and impending doom out of your way. Overwhelmed you dare not utter a sound.
Breathe. Calm. Eyes closed and mouth closed even tighter, you slowly get back to your safe place. Pulling the covers over your worrysome body you recite the well rehearsed words, “I don’t feel very well, I’m going to go to sleep.” And there you are left alone with yourself. Left to seek reassurance within the darkness of the room. You will be safe there, you can crumble alone and drift off to the dreams that the sandman blesses you with and in those moments life is good and you have pretty much got your sh*to together. You are the perfect example of someone who is going places, you are busy and keeping up with the turning world, and everything is going well….
Just as soon as you are blessed with the sandman you are stolen away from it all and your eyes open. It is seven in the morning and you take your multivitamin. You do as you do and live as you live. Even the household animals want to be petted by you.
Until you feel that little twinge in your chest.
What kind of person jumps into their own grave in the search of hope…
The grass’ green through the tinted lense,
Everything smells so sweet.
Flowers adorn this world of pretend,
Living in this beautiful retreat.
I keep my mind busy as I walk around,
I want the colours to stay.
Trying to ignore the skies of cloud,
I won’t let this dream go away.
If I stop to think too long it’ll end,
The darkness becomes more real.
I might lose my world of pretend,
Longing for flowers of yellow and teal.
Happily I dance to my beautiful tune,
Pushing out the doubt.
Nothing helps me see that doom,
I ignore the soul that shouts.
It will all be perfect of this I am sure,
Nothing is going wrong.
Safely I choose to lock the door,
And hide within my beautiful song.
Ignorance is bliss or so they say,
But the rose tint is real.
I won’t ever see that day,
Where he goes back on his deal.
I’m 32 years old and never have I felt this type of tight knot in my heart. I am ridiculously independent and have always been proud of my ability to grin and bear most things but recently I have been feeling ever so emotionally weak and tearful. I hear you all worrying about my mental health! This time, it’s not depression making me weep.
They say that major life changing events have the ability to stir up emotions you never knew existed… The top three are deaths, moving home, and divorces. My life changing event is rather more positive than the above mentioned events but has caused just as much heartache in a weird twisted kind of way.
I am getting married in ten weeks time and as the date draws closer, I find myself making preparations and planning the smaller details of my fairytale day. I have been loving every moment of it. I had been loving every moment of it until last week…
We had an appointment at the registry office to apply for a marriage permit. Apparently common law states that we apply and wait twenty eight days. All very normal. During the appointment I was asked if I would like my father’s details to be included in the application and service. The room went quiet as I muttered the answer “yes”. Sitting alone in that office I filled in the forms, my fathers full name, birth place, occupation, marital status… And current life status. Apparently in hundreds of years time people can use this information to track my family history and delve into the life of my bloodline. All very poignant and romantic I guess.
Filling in the forms I paused. Reluctant to complete the final question. Life status.. Retired, working, self employed… Dead. My father died January 19th 2011. Approximately. I say approximately because in reality, January 19th was the date I was told he had died. But no one really knows how many weeks he had be dead for. One week? Two weeks? I will never really know… He had been gone a while before he was found, and he wasn’t in the best state. At all. But we need not go there. So for the sake of this post and for my closure I cite January 19th. My parents divorced when I was young and I had very little contact with my father for many years. A year before he died we both made an effort to get to know each other again.
I spent my whole life never really missing him. I didn’t crave a father figure and was able to let his absence disappear from my conscious thoughts. Eventually, we reconnected, grew fond of each other and talked on the phone every few weeks. Then he died and life moved on. I was OK. I grieved and carried on living until the day I Sat in the bloody registry office filling in the stupid forms.
Every night since then I have dreamed of him. I find myself thinking of him in almost every situation I come across. Looking at wedding dresses I wonder what he would like to see me in. I imagine walking down the aisle with him holding my arm. Planning this big special day has become stressful (as expected) but it has left me truly feeling like something is missing. My father. My daddy.
I am ridiculously traditional and the wedding shows this fully. Beautiful church wedding with my friends family and favourite priests all gathered to witness me marry my love in the eyes of God. Beneath the surface though, there is no tradition at all. My father wasn’t there to offer his blessing. He isn’t there to listen to me stress out over colour pallets and flowers. He isn’t there to hand over oxen and a cow to my fiances family… He isn’t standing there with a cheque towards the day. He isn’t there to choose hymns or readings. He isn’t there to prepare a speech. He isn’t there to point his finger at my fiancé and order him to look after his little girl.
And he isn’t there to hold my arm, walk down the aisle and proudly look at the woman I have become. And this hurts me. It makes me feel sad and angry and upset and broken. I feel like a huge part of me is missing and I can’t bring it back.
I was never close to him. I know that. I’ve gone my whole life not missing him. And yet here I am feeling this way with no rhyme or reason. I can’t control it. It’s as if something has awoken in my heart and suddenly I am fully aware of something precious that has been taken away from me. And at the same time it makes me feel so selfish. Selfish and greedy because I have a wonderful step father who’s been in my life for ten years. He adores me and I love him. He is so proud of me and will cherish the duty of giving me away on my wedding day. I love him. He is my step father, but he isn’t my father.
Maybe I am being overly emotional. Maybe this is selfish and greedy. These feelings bubbled up from nowhere and they won’t leave me alone. I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that something is going to be missing on that day. Today as I write this, I grieve all over again for the father I lost. And cherish the loved ones I still have.
A few weeks ago I was invited to discuss mental illness with David Susman PhD who runs a “Stories of Hope” campaign which is a series of interviews with people who have dealt with mental health challenges to share the lessons they have learned through their journey. Below is an overview of the interview;
Sam Davies, Rebel, Psychotherapist, Mental Health Advocate, Public Speaker.
Sam grew up in a house where every day was a violent one due to an alcoholic and paranoid schizophrenic stepfather. Years later, after gaining an MSc in Psychology, Sam realised that not all those suffering from mental health problems are dangerous. Sam became a mental health advocate and spent eight years campaigning for the basic, fundamental rights of those who were being stigmatised. Then one day her raison d’être was taken from her. Sam was made redundant. With her job loss, her identity dissolved too. Within months, Sam changed from being a confident outspoken woman, to a hurting mess. The mental health professional had become the client. Sam will share her journey to show people that having a breakdown, having depression, or any other form of illness is not the end of the road. People can get through a day. Sam uses poetry and humour to tell her journey to get people shifting their perspective. Sam is now a qualified psychotherapist and works with individuals suffering from mental health issues. She also has expertise in the following areas; Addiction, Abuse, Relationships, Poverty, Homelessness, Behavioural Psychology and Domestic Violence.
Sam is a public speaker and has recently spoken at a North Wales TEDx event.
1) Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you and those around you before you sought treatment?
During the summer of 2014 I was diagnosed with Depression. It was the first time I had ever fallen ill mentally and every day since then has not only been a battle, but a bitter sweet journey. I had got to the stage in my life where everyone around me knew something was wrong with me. Even I knew I was losing my mind but I had no idea how or why and I certainly was not ready to admit I needed help. It is really hard to describe the feeling of depression, it’s not simply ‘being sad’ nor is it a case of being ‘lazy’. I could not get to sleep at night and was suffering from violent dreams during the rare moments where sleep came. My eating habits were non-existent and I lost weight fast. My body ached constantly and my head pumped with pain on a daily basis. Physically I was unable to do very much at all, getting out of bed was like running a marathon and the concept of leaving the house was impossible. Very soon I started ignoring calls from loved ones and ignored the doorbell. I was isolating myself from everyone and everything but I didn’t care. My partner and I would argue daily and rows would often end up with me packing a bag and wanting to run far away. I was convinced he and the rest of the world would be better off without me- truly convinced I should be dead. I felt nothingness. Empty. Alone. Lost with no hope. My hair became a mess, my clothes didn’t fit, music gave no joy, god was absent, family were a chore and my greatest desire was to stay awake all night and sleep all day. I knew something was wrong, but I had convinced myself that the issue was environmental. I was sad because of my relationship, or work, or friends, maybe it was just stress, or maybe a virus… I came up with a hundred reasons as to why I was not feeling myself, to think that I was suffering from a mental illness was not an option for me, I was the mental health professional- It couldn’t happen to me.
2) What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
I had got to the point where alcohol became my only escape. I would drink wine, sometimes a few glasses, sometimes a bottle. As I became drunk, I became angry, angry and tearful. I would do everything in my power to push loved ones away and often became aggressive and impossible to live with. My self destruct button had been pressed and I was intent on hurting myself and everyone who loved me. The final straw came after yet another drunken argument with my partner, one moment I was sitting down quite happily watching TV, and the next I had engaged in a blazing argument, screaming and pushing him away, I started throwing clothes into a suitcase. Screaming at him that I was better off dead, He slumped on the floor and cried but I didn’t care. He looked at me and quietly said, “look in the mirror, you are a monster” I looked, my hair was a mess and my face was red. My makeup was smeared down my face and I looked like a terribly angry person. I didn’t recognise myself. I ran into the bathroom and took a razor blade to my arm. The sharp pain and blood shocked me into uncontrollable hysteria. I finally broke. Sitting on the bathroom floor in floods of tears I prayed as hard as I possibly could; ‘God I beg of you to take me away, let me go to sleep and never wake up’ I sat on that floor and begged for my life to be over. Every natural survival instinct had gone and I wanted to die. I planned to die, in fact I made many plans, different methods, possible risks, I wrote notes to loved ones and made sure my affairs were in order and I felt peaceful- and THAT is what scared me the most. My partner eventually forced me to go to the doctor…My 10 minute booking with the doctor turned into over an hour as I sat there and broke down. I had reached the point of no return and begged and pleaded for help. it was obvious to her what was wrong with me yet there I sat crying and shaking begging her to tell me I hadn’t lost my mind. I had no idea what was wrong with me and I was convinced nothing could save me. She took my hand and gave me a tissue and said to me, ‘I think you have depression and we need to get you help immediately’. I broke down again- how did I miss this? how did I not see this coming? I left the surgery with a white bag of pills and a leaflet about depression and drove home to tell my partner that I was broken. And that day I took my first pill…
3) What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
The first drug of choice which made my life hellish for a long time was citalopram, followed by sertraline and finally venlafaxine. By day 2 of taking these pills I was experiencing every side effect in the book. My insomnia grew to the point of seeing creepy crawlies out of the corner of my eye on a daily basis. I was suffering from constant nausea and vomiting as well as restless legs and increased suicidal thoughts. I became angry and confused and experienced moments of no emotion at all. Within 5 weeks my mood had started to lift out of depression and into nothingness. no despair, no anger, no joy, nothing. and on top of this I had the additional battle of trying to get my loved ones to understand what was happening, the ‘D’ word scared most of them away to the point I stopped telling people. In the space of 4 months my medication was increased more and more as the depression started to win and with every increase, the side effects got worse to the point where I felt worse off than before. I went through a week of staying in bed and only eating when forced, washing only when needed and alienating loved ones again. The final straw came while driving down the expressway at about 70mph listening to music and basking in the sunlight… then out of nowhere I started crying uncontrollably. I could barely see the road ahead and realised how pathetic and worthless I had become, my partner should leave me, my parents should disown me, even my bloody cat hates me, I am nothing. And then it came to me- what if I just put my foot down and drive as fast as possible into a wall? I sped the car up, I took deep breaths and looked ahead at the traffic… lots of traffic, lots of poor individuals who have no idea what I want to do. The thought of causing so much damage on that road scared me into sense and low and behold I found myself back at the doctors shaking and crying and in need of help… more and more drugs were given to me in the hope that something would work long term, and eventually I was introduced to venlafaxine- this is the pill that worked best for me although the side effects were bad. I remember on one occasion things were really bad, a diary entry follows;
“Not sure how many of my friends are currently taking a tablet called Venlafaxine but if you do, or know someone who does… Please feel free to pass this on… I have been taking it for a few months now. It’s a great drug and really helps the issues for which it is designed. But please take warning. I accidentally forgot to take my dose on Tuesday. And on Wednesday I was feeling rather emotional and very sleepy. This lead to me going to bed early and unfortunately missing my second dose…Last night I suffered cold sweats, night terrors and insomnia. And today, I make no exaggeration… I felt as if I was going to pass out. Dizziness. Blinding migraines. Hallucinations. Hearing voices. Seeing insects. Violent sickness. I honestly can’t express how horrific I was feeling. Finally at about 5.30pm the penny dropped and I realised I had missed two doses… I quickly swallowed one and LITERALLY less than an hour later, I was totally back to normal. It was as if nothing had happened. Please I urge you to pass this to those on this medication. Missing or skipping a dose is very dangerous, I’ve been told had I have missed a third… I could have ended up in hospital”. After a very long fight, the medication started to work and the side effects wore off. It took a long time, and I had to try many different types of medication to find one that worked for me. This was the most frustrating part for me, I assumed that taking a small pill would make everything better immediately but the truth is, it takes time, and lots of adjustment- not just with dosage, but also with the types of anti-depressant, it’s very much a case of “try this one for a few weeks and if it doesn’t work, try another”.
4) How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
Although there were struggles finding the right combination of therapy and medication, in the end the tunnel did get brighter, I did start to feel normal, I started to “feel”. It’s been one hell of a ride and I am now off all medication and coming out the other end much wiser and maybe a little bit stronger too. I know it might come back, that big fat black cloud might show up again and try to take my life away from me, but I like to think I’ll be ready, I’ll see it coming and will know what to do on that day. But for now, I stare at the sunshine and smell the flowers and smile at the small things. For now, I take in as much happiness as possible and hold on to it tightly. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to give myself a break now and again. If I feel very tired, or if I don’t feel like being around people, I allow myself one day to just be lazy and enjoy my own company. I allow myself a break from the hustle and bustle of the word and recharge. I have to be aware of my mood changes and talk to family members when I start to feel down, communication is key for me, if my loved ones know how I am feeling, they are better able to support me and help me recognise signs of relapse.
5) You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
One of the largest barriers to seeking help sooner for me, was the belief that I couldn’t possibly have a mental health issue because I was a professional. This belief stopped me from seeking help sooner and I recognise that belief across the professional industry. Too many people excuse it as simply feeling slightly stressed and leave themselves at risk. Initially, I started blogging and speaking at public events to help educate other professionals of the dangers of not seeking support early on however I soon found myself being stigmatised by other professionals who deemed my openness about my personal journey to be inappropriate. I was often told, “you can’t talk about that! You are meant to be the professional!” I realised that, if I was being treated this way, then many others will be going through the same thing. It was then that I decided to tackle the stigma head on. To educate others and speak openly and frankly about every aspect of my illness so that those around me would feel better able to understand, and perhaps feel less intimidated by the subject. Social media blew up and soon I realised that not only was I challenging peoples’ perceptions of mental illness, but I was also giving a voice to those who had lost theirs. Advocacy is no longer a job for me but an obsession. My desire to help those in need, give a voice to those who are not heard, and change the way mental illness is discussed and treated is now at the forefront of my aspirations. I believe that speaking candidly and openly is the first step to breaking down barriers, reducing fear and giving mental illness a voice.
6) Your perspective is unique in that you’ve been both a mental health provider and a person affected by mental health issues. How have your own challenges affected your perspective as a carer for others?
Given my professional background, I was actually very lucky when it came to seeking help. My understanding of mental illness and my ability to communicate my feelings to doctors and other health professionals enabled me to receive the care I needed. I would be so bold as to say the doctors probably listened to me more because of my own expertise. This allowed me to have much more control over medication choices and dosage recommendations. There was a feeling of mutual respect between myself and the doctors and because I had an understanding of medicine, I was immediately listened to if I said something wasn’t working for me. Most people do not have that luxury, and I think that has definitely altered the way I provide care today. A lot of my work now is around educating clients so that they are better able to communicate their needs to other professionals.
7) What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
The first thing that is worth noting is that, although today I am well, tomorrow may be different and with that in mind I believe it is important to take each day as it comes. Recovery is a long process and it can take time to adjust. My message to those in need is this;
Find someone to talk to, you are not on your own. It can feel incredibly scary to seek help, but please don’t suffer in silence. Mental illness really can and does affect everyone, you truly aren’t alone on your journey. Communicate your needs to others, take each day as it comes and please don’t ever feel like the world would be better off without you. You can and will get through this, one step at a time.