My first blog for a month. A number of lovely people have been in touch to check if I am ok. They know that going quiet can be a bad sign with me.
The reasons for my recent radio silence are several. I admit that I have had one or two days of lower than optimum mood. Nothing terrible, just feeling a bit bleurgh. This came as no surprise; my mood tends to reflect the lack of daylight at the start of the year. As usual, I am perking up with the lengthening of days.
I have also been busy. Family stuff, domestic projects, volunteering and my coaching work.
As a coach, it is important that I practise what I preach, and develop non-preferred ways of thinking, doing and being. By nature I am an extraverted thinker; I tend to work things out by writing about them or talking them through. What comes naturally to an introverted thinker, ie working out ideas fully before expressing them, takes considerable concentration and effort on my part. But I can do it when I need to. And I have felt that need recently.
Something I have been pondering is the personal cost of sharing, specifically in relation to the book I have written. It is a memoir of my NHS career as a leader, including a how-not-to-do-it guide plus a bit of polemic about the future. The style is similar to many of my blogs. It is ready to be published this year. But I have been wavering. What added value might publication bring? Maybe the benefit was in the writing of it? Some may find the stories of interest and the lessons useful. But there will also be criticism and negative comments about difficult stuff from the past. Can I face this? Do I need it? I grow increasingly unsure. Thoughts on a postcard please…
I have also been thinking about the nature of mental illness, and how some of us are prone to it while others seem to have greater immunity. I tend to agree with those who say that that there are few people, if any, who, faced with enough mental trauma, would not crack under the strain. Some of us simply experience mental distress more readily than our fellow humans.
But despite all the evidence about the impact of genetics, other inherited traits, early experiences of trauma and loss, plus environmental factors, to have a tendency to experience mental illness is still seen by some as an indulgence, a weakness, even a personality flaw.
Those who, despite all that has come their way, have learned to tame their mental health, are heroes in my opinion. They should be admired for their assets, not pitied or shunned for their deficits. Many are the kind of people you would most want to be stuck on a desert island with. They are kind, resourceful and patient, and often less prone to judge others than those at whom life has thrown less excreta.
I have also been thinking how lucky I am. When I was last off sick with depression (from my old job as an NHS chief executive), I didn’t want to be alive. But I wasn’t worrying about paying the bills, losing my job or being made homeless. A few nameless folk were judgemental, but the ones who mattered most were hugely supportive. I got excellent treatment when I needed it from a wonderful psychiatrist and GP. When I was ready, I had the wherewithal to pay for psychological therapy. And as I got better, I didn’t have to waste precious emotional resources fighting a hostile benefits system. Nor did I find myself in accommodation where I felt unsafe, or removed from a caseload because I no longer met their treatment criteria. And I had no fears of deportation or having to hide from an abusive partner, people traffickers, drug dealers, pimps or lone sharks.
It is true that mental illness can happen to anyone. If we can find the strength, most of us can do something to help ourselves. But people who are lucky like me have many times more chance of a meaningful recovery and successful management of relapses than those who have been dealt a less favourable hand.
It was always so. And as austerity sinks its vicious fangs ever deeper into public services, it is those who already have the least who are most negatively affected. Instead of achieving their optimum, they are diminished and disabled, not necessarily by the condition itself, but by the need to fight battles every day, the lack of immediate and ongoing support, and by not having all the other things people like me take for granted.
And that is why I have been quiet. I have been thinking about this a lot. I am privileged in so many ways, including having a voice. And I feel I have a responsibility to make use of it.
Another incredibly thought-provoking blog as always, and you’ve got it spot on! Inspirational and courageous.
I’m off sick today, mainly because of the flu-like symptoms that come with trying to withdraw from an anti-depressant I’ve been on for well over a year, but also partly because after trying to function with depression for so long, a day off is never a bad thing. I’m privileged enough to be getting paid today. But what that also means is that my depression starts to tell me that I don’t deserve the help I need and that if I try to access it, I will be taking it away from someone else. It’s taken me a long time to start to see that that isn’t necessarily true.
I haven’t had a lot of success trying to navigate the NHS to get the support I need to help me manage, and maybe one day, recover from, my ongoing depression. I’m not ill enough to need crisis support, but I’m far from well. Rather than get frustrated with my GP, who is doing the best she can with what she has, I’ve integrated things like yoga, pilates and mindfulness into my schedule, and they keep me going. Unfortunately they’re never going to be enough. All of them cost money, and while I’m lucky enough to be being paid for today’s sick day, and I can just about afford to do all of those things, it has been a struggle. Unfortunately, well being is expensive. I’ve accepted that the NHS doesn’t have the resources to support me, but like you, I also find it hard to get the balance right to use my voice wisely. While I don’t want to put other people off from accessing NHS mental health support, it’s important to speak up against the barriers that people are facing.
In this blog you’ve got the balance just right, and I have found hope again that maybe things will improve.
As I read your blog, I can’t help but think how courageous you are; not only in speaking out against the stigma, but in challenging depression itself. I can only speak for myself, but I find it so hard to accept that I have depression when I know that other people, like those you mentioned, have it so much worse. What you’ve managed to do is step back and be objective. Mental health conditions do not discriminate, and you have shown that you deserve the support that you got as much as anyone else does, regardless of your financial situation. While I have never managed to get the support I need, it fills me with hope that other people have found something that helps.The biggest tragedy isn’t the mental health conditions, but it’s the barriers that are still in place which prevent so many people from accessing the support that they need.
I completely understand why it took you so long to write this blog, and why you felt like you had a level of responsibility to others to use your voice well. Only you can decide if you’re in the right place to publish your book, and if you’re in the right place to deal with the inevitable response. Whatever you decide, it needs to be your decision, but know that others are right behind you.
I’m a fellow-sufferer, and I’m also a writer- so I can totally empathise with you. When I’m feeling particularly “fragile” I wonder whether the inevitable negative responses are worth having to undergo, but in my experience, anything negative I’ve had to hear, in terms of responses to my work is more than made up for by the positive experience of having the opportunity to express myself, and share my thoughts and experiences with other people, from whom I in turn learn a lot, and benefit greatly.
Are you planning to self-publish, or submit to publishers? If the latter, of which I have experience, be prepared for long waits for responses, and don’t be deterred by any rejections- if you believe in your work, keep sending out your book, and bear in mind, most of the truly great writers also had their work turned down numerous times before they finally found a publisher who’d take them on.
If you are self publishing, there won’t be those long, agonising waits, but obviously, you’ll have to master the art of marketing your book- do find out as much as you can before you take the plunge.
It’s always so good to read your blogs and I’m sorry you have been feeling so low lately. Having gratitude, feeling privileged and being grateful are all great for our own mental health and wellbeing. Showing your vulnerability is healthy too and really helps others to not feel alone in this world. You have such compassion, understanding and empathy for others, these are all wonderful traits, but they do present positives as well as negatives. The positives being that others benefit greatly however the impact of such feelings can sometimes leave you emotionally exhausted.
I think it is brilliant that you have finished writing your book and I would really love the opportunity to read it, whether you decide to publish it or not. Personally I feel your wisdom would have so much to offer others and to help and support them through difficult times. I understand your concerns that some people may not be so supportive however what I have learnt is that we can only truly learn and grow when we put ourselves in situations that are difficult or uncomfortable. Being outside our comfort zone is where the magic happens and where we find new insight.
Whatever your decision Lisa it will be the right one for you, just remember how amazing you really are and the difference you make to others. Some people make the world a better place just by being in it. Keep going beautiful lady, you make such a difference, thank you.
Another interesting blog.
Juan here. You probably don’t remember me. I am a trainee Counselling Psychologist and we met at Samaritans AGM a couple of years ago, we had a great conversation on the bus on the way back. I’ve been following your blog since and really enjoy your email newsletter.
I also live in Fiveways and let me know if you want to have a coffee sometimes. Hope to hear from you.
With best wishes,
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
A personal question – how often do GPs treat depression (in particular as most people are treated by GPs) expecting the person to achieve remission, or is the expectation that people will struggle along……How often will a GP refer to a psychiatrist because someone isn’t improving? Why are GPs expected to be able to treat a serious mental illness?