My Husband

He is my best friend; there are so many clichés to describe Luke. He is kind-hearted, loyal and selfless; he is my rock.

We met working in an insurance call centre when I was 17. He was the systems administrator for the whole company, and I’d often see him walking the floors to check on people’s computers; he was always proactive when it came to problem solving. The first time I met him properly I was enamoured by his long, curled blonde eyelashes and his unkempt mop of short-but-curly fair hair. He struck me as something of a lamb; it seemed there was something gentle and innocent about him.

I didn’t know how to properly introduce myself to him. I was nervous; I wanted to say hi but I was too timid (very out of character for me but I was crushing, hard!). One day, as I saw him coming up the office towards where I sat, I was struck by inspiration – I kicked the power cable out of my machine and voila, an instant need for technical assistance. I must have seemed so dim when I called him over and explained that ‘the power just cut out’; I can’t imagine what he thought of me when he saw it was just a cable issue. But that was it, we had officially met. Neither of us really knew the potential we had before us.

From there on, we begun spending all our free time together. We weren’t a couple, not dating, but I suppose you could call it an almost-traditional courtship. Summer lunches were spent in the park listening to music on his headphones. After work, we’d pop to the pub for a couple of drinks before getting the train together; each of us going to our respective family homes. It was a lovely summer, and I was so happy I’d made such a good friend, but I still wanted more – I wanted to kiss this wonderful man and make him my boyfriend.

It was September when we finally started making progress on becoming more than great mates. I now know that he was too shy to ask me on a proper date. Instead he let me barrel my way into his plans; he knew me well enough to know I’d take the bait. After work one Friday he told me, ever so casually, that he was going alone to London the next day; being who I am I instantly invited myself (something along the lines of “I’ll come and keep you company”). We made plans to meet on the train; I was so excited that we were finally doing something together outside of the sphere of work and work-related socialising.

We kissed for the first time that Saturday. It was such an innocent kiss; it began as a hug that turned into a cuddle and when I turned my face up to look at him from my spot under his shoulder he moved down for the first kiss. I still have butterflies thinking about it. It was unutterably perfect.

It was a month later that I moved into his family’s homes. His mum and dad had been divorced a few years earlier and Luke split his time between their houses. I wasn’t getting on with my mum at home and he invited me to stay one night that turned into two and three; before long I was spending all week with him at his parents’. It was the first indication of the generosity that is inherent in his family; they probably would’ve kept us on forever but we made the decision to look for our own place together.

We married in December 2011 – I was 22 and he was 24. No one told us we were too young to take such a big step; I think everyone knew we were made for each other. It was the best day of my life (how clichéd but so true!). I didn’t feel nervous on the day – I just wanted to get to the front of the church to finally solemnise our relationship in front of people who loved us. Walking down the aisle I remember looking around and seeing so many smiling faces; then I looked to the front and saw Luke absolutely beaming at me. It was amazing; the ceremony passed in a happy blur and the reception was exactly what we had planned; we’d arranged afternoon tea for our guests and a live band to play all the songs we’d danced to in the pub when we were first getting to know each other.

I look back on that happiest day now and still smile, despite the turmoil that we didn’t know was about to hit our lives together. From around January, I began to get unwell as I’ve written about a lot on this site. By May I was in the depths of a major psychotic episode and I know, with hindsight, it was a dark time. My husband – my wonderful husband – stood by me, even when I wasn’t letting him in on the reality I was living, even when I yelled at him for not understanding, even when I printed him off a booklet of my psychotic writings. Throughout the whole thing he remained strong and stood right by my side through appointments and referrals; he was my advocate and provided a voice I couldn’t find for myself.

The last three years have been a mix of highs and lows. Without stumbling, he’s been there with me on emergency trips to hospital and stroked my hair as I’ve hidden myself in the bedroom to sob my heart out. When I’ve been high, he’s been the first to help me divert energy with suggestions of ‘do some baking’ or ‘shall we go for a walk?’ Throughout the darkest, hardest times, I’ve always had the safety net of my husband’s love to fall back on.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him in my life; I never want to find out. So, my love, this is my tribute to you and my promise of love for the rest of our days on Earth.

My Husband

The People Who Help

I wanted to write a little bit about the people in my life who have supported me over the last three years. Without them I believe I wouldn’t be here to tell my story.

The primary supporter in my life is my husband Luke. We’ve been together since we were in our late teens and got married in Dec 2011. When we first began getting serious (i.e. after about a month!) I explained my struggles with depression from my early teenage years and the anxiety that had gone along with it. He made a promise to always be there for me when I need him, and he’s gone above and beyond that time and time again in the years that followed.

It was Luke who first noticed my mental health deteriorating in early 2012. As you’ll hear a lot from people who have been psychotic especially, it’s those around them who notice it even before the sufferer. I was living in an alternate reality in which it was perfectly normal to be hearing voices, not sleeping and suffering paranoia over the people living next door. Amazingly, and thankfully, the paranoia did not extend to my husband. Although I’d visited the GP on my own to get help for the anxiety, the warning signs of mania and psychosis had not been picked up.

Luke has since stood by me through thick and thin. He has sat with me in the hospital following overdoses. He has accompanied me to appointments and talked to the mental health team on my behalf when I couldn’t speak for myself. He is my carer; I still struggle with being out in public without him if it’s not part of my routine, and he makes sure I take my medication morning and night. When I’ve been unwell he’s kept the house clean and us fed. The stress I have put him under is unbelievable and he is still his jolly, jokey self.

What do I owe him? Everything – and nothing. What he does for me comes from a place of true love. I couldn’t be more appreciative, and I have no idea how I can repay it all. But he tells me regularly that he did it because he loves me and couldn’t imagine being without me – that he’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

My family have also been there for me in an entirely supportive capacity. My mum has driven me to the hospital a few times, and never judged me for it. She is a lovely, warm and caring woman and I am so lucky that she’s supportive and understanding. Never one to shy away from anyone in need, she makes sure I know she’s there for me any time I need her; as she says, her kids come first.

I didn’t speak to my father for three years following an argument in the run up to my wedding. When we got back in touch early last year I debated with myself for a long time over whether to tell him everything or not. I decided that honesty was my best course of action and wrote him a letter that described what had been happening with my mental health. I was terrified that he would see me differently once he knew everything, but there was nothing to worry about. He told me he supported me.

Unfortunately there is so much stigma surrounding mental health issues that there’s no guarantee that people will be supportive of those who suffer. I used to feel ashamed of my diagnosis, that the important people in my life would somehow blame me for what I was going through. The fear of them taking it personally was huge; I was worried that my parents would wonder what they’d done to cause it, or that my husband would think my suicidal ideation was proof I wanted to leave him behind.

I am so thankful to those who have supported me over the last few tumultuous years. I have learned that I have nothing to feel guilty for; no guiltier than someone who’s suffered a heart attack feels. It is my hope that this blog is not just for those with mental illnesses, but that the people supporting them will read and understand that the best thing they can do is be there for their loved one.

The People Who Help

Tools To Mitigate Relapses

Writing about mental illness and health issues really brings things into perspective for me. I am able to notice that I am more self-aware and that my insight has improved greatly. No longer do I bury my head in the sand until things reach crisis point; instead I communicate openly with the Intervention team and my support networks to keep them in the loop over what’s going on.

There are many tools to help with improving your insight into your own red flags and issues. One of the most helpful things I’ve found is to keep a mood journal to track fluctuations in energy levels and symptoms. There’s a few online (Google search: mood tracker) or there’s a few apps out there too. I have just started using iMood Journal which is 69p on the Play Store for Android, and it’s fabulous. It asks you to rate your mood on a scale and then gives a journal page to take notes on what’s happening with your mood. It gives an overall picture of how your moods can change and helps with spotting patterns.

Another thing that helps is to have a list of your relapse indicators. In creating this, it is useful to consult with people in your support network who have seen you in the run up to a crisis. They can often highlight things that you weren’t aware of. For example, one of mine is increased religiosity which I didn’t think of as a problem until my husband pointed out that every time I’ve headed into a psychotic episode I’ve started attending church and taking more interest in religious issues (normally I am anti-religion and anti-church).

If you do find yourself reaching crisis point, a well written and realistic crisis plan can be a life saver. Written ahead of time, it will serve as a reminder of the process you can follow to access help. Mine has a list of steps to follow; first I should contact my husband who will contact my care co-ordinator. If I can’t get through to my husband and it’s out of hours for the EIiP team I have their crisis line phone number as the next step. The crisis line isn’t always helpful though, so I have the option of walking to my father in law’s flat so that I’m not on my own. And the last step is to get in touch with the authorities if necessary.

Do I always follow these action points? No. It has taken me a long time to get my head around the idea of asking for help. But experience has taught me that it is better to ask for help early on; before it gets to the point at which I am no longer able to ask at all. And that is something I am proud of.

Tools To Mitigate Relapses

Spotlight On Depression

So often in life I hear the phrase ‘I’m so depressed.’ Around the office, in public, with friends; depression has come to be the buzz-word of choice for emphasising just how sad a person is. The fact is real depression is not just sadness. Whoever decided to call it depression rather missed the point.

A huge number of people are affected by depression worldwide. The stats are something like 1 in 4 people will either suffer depression or support someone who does in the course of a year. But depression is a mixed-bag diagnosis just like other mental health problems and it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.

Most of us have experienced situational depression at some point in our lives. This can be linked to life events such as the breakdown of a relationship, loss of a job or bereavement. It is short-term and usually has an onset within three months of the event that triggers it.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) outlines the criteria for Major Depression. The symptoms can be the same for situational and clinical depression – the difference lies in the impact it has on normal life. For a diagnosis of major depression the person will have at least five symptoms simultaneously, and those symptoms will be severe enough to prevent their engagement with regular living.

The symptoms can vary depending on the individual and includes sadness, hopelessness, anxiety and worry, lack of concentration and lack of pleasure (anhedonia). There is usually a withdrawal from normal work, leisure and social activities. For some people, suicidal ideation is present.

Treatment for depression can include the use of anti-depressants and talk-therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). In very severe cases ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) can be used. This treatment uses electrical stimulation to induce seizures and is administered under general anaesthetic. It has proven to be very effective ( suggests that 74% of people treated with ECT responded positively), but is a last-resort option.

My own experience with depression started when I was 13. In the last few years I’ve battled with mixed mood episodes that have landed me in crisis care twice. A mixed episode for me is characterised by rage, restlessness, agitation, hopelessness and suicidal ideation. Commonly I have experienced a total inability to see past the present; a feeling of no hope and no future.

I read somewhere (Matt Haig possibly?) that depressives do not wish for happiness, they just wish for nothingness. Happiness is a luxury. A good day can mean a day in which symptoms are mostly absent. A bad day is the kind where the symptoms are overwhelming and feel endless.

I would love to hear of your experiences with depression. Connect with me on Twitter @dontsayimcrazy – or leave a comment below.

Spotlight On Depression

Wading in on #ClarksonFracas 

I tweeted yesterday about the figures regarding the Jeremy Clarkson debate. Essentially what got my temper flaring was that whilst over 300,000 people have signed a petition to support him, only 164,000 support by following their Twitter account. In the same vein, variations on the Clarkson hashtag were trending above #NHSChangeDay. It makes me wonder what is going on in this country that means people care more about a knob-head, overpaid TV presenter than they do about mental health issues and awareness.

Jeremy Clarkson didn’t kill anyone – in the UK in 2012 suicide was the cause of male deaths to the rate of 18 per 100,000 people. To the people supporting his cause; where do your priorities lie? My cause is mental health awareness, but that’s not to say you can’t spend your effort on something close to your heart. There was a tweet earlier that more people had signed the Clarkson petition than signed the end female genital mutilation one, as an example. It is unbelievable to my mind that people care more about their light entertainment than real issues facing us in the world.

And to Mr Clarkson himself, I would suggest that your audience is currently a rather captive one. To quote the Dalai Lama: “You have a microphone – use it to say something.” Sure, you may not believe that mental health campaigning is in your wheel house. That’s fine with me, but what do you care about? And is lining your Levi pockets more important to you than doing something worthwhile that will make a difference to the world we share?

Let’s see more public figures using their influence to make a difference, and hopefully less of this celebrity-obsessed melodramatic showboating. Wade in on the debate, speak up and change the world for the better.

Wading in on #ClarksonFracas 

Sometimes It’s Good To Reflect

I’ve just walked the door after 10 hours away at work. I’m sitting with the laptop, in the recliner chair in front of the fire (mostly because I didn’t wear a coat today and it’s still only March). My husband will be home in around 20 minute and I can’t wait to see his smiling face and have a nice big hug. All in all, I am very content. Sure, there’s things that went wrong today. But instead of being a disaster as I would have seen it three months ago, I am able to shrug it off as just one of those days.

It is when I pause to reflect that I see just how far I’ve come. My care co-ordinator always reminds me to acknowledge my achievements and be proud of myself. So although this post may seem indulgent, or self-congratulatory, I actually don’t care. Today I am in a place where I can sound my own trumpet from the rooftops and I’ll be damned if I don’t do it.

In my eight years of working life I have worn many hats. I have been a minimum wage administrator, and I have been a customer services manager. I’ve spoken to many people, answered millions of emails and worked under lots of bosses. Currently I am working with a tech giant of a company, and although I am a contract worker, I feel good about the job. Compared to some of my permanent positions, I’d still rather be on contract and happy. Maybe that says something about what I have learned to value over the years, especially since I became unwell.

Then-me would have had kittens over a day like today. I thrived in the high-pressure crock pot of the customer services world, and even one slow day would see me climbing the walls with the anxiety of not being active. I needed to go go go to feel like I was earning my keep. Now-me sees things differently. I am a lot more relaxed and value quality over quantity. I work to the beat of my own drum, and I am lucky to have a manager who is only interested in the end-results. Then-me would have needed lots of direction and praise and feedback and management in order to move in the right direction at work, especially in my manic phases where I would start 20 projects all at once, and see none through to fruition. Now-me has a nice, manageable number of spinning plates and hasn’t dropped any (yet! I’m only human, so if I do happen to lose one or two I will learn from it, forgive myself and move on).

It’s not just at work that I’ve changed for the better. I wrote a guest article for Stigma Fighters today and wrote in it that I miss the manic energy. Which is true, except… do I? I miss feeling like I can conquer everything that’s thrown at me, but I’m in no way incapable of doing that whilst I’m stable. In fact, I would wager that although I used to feel that way it would actually be the opposite. I can probably handle more of life now and enjoy it along the way.

Other positive changes include a new interest in actually looking after myself. I mean sleeping enough, eating enough and not abusing alcohol. So really, I am saying that I seem to have remembered the benefits of moderation. Not too little sustenance and not too much booze. Even if I’m in a social situation now I don’t find myself hitting the inhibition lubricant hard. I can go out and enjoy a drink or two without overdoing it.

And this thing called a social life seems to have re-appeared from wherever it was hiding. Up to December 2014 I became something of a social caterpillar (definitely not a butterfly anyway). Since everything has calmed down I feel better equipped to cope with being in a pub, seeing friends and having a nice chat. Funnily enough, it’s a lot easier to hold a conversation with someone when you’re not being distracted by your alter or the voices.

My relationship is on a lovely even keel. The husband has stood by me through some rough times, and has been my carer in so many ways – making sure I take the meds, keeping on top of the housework, listening to many, many incoherent rants and taking the brunt of my rage. I finally feel I am able to repay some small part of what he’s been doing for me for the last few years (he would argue that I don’t owe him anything though). The nice thing is that doing little things to make him feel good also makes me feel good about myself.

I am better connected with my family now that I am trusting them to love me unconditionally – which they always have done, it’s the ‘trusting’ part that’s key here. We have argued, fought and screamed at each other over the years but we’re at a mutual meeting place now as adults and friends. Now I’m no longer ashamed of myself and my struggles to be well, I can see they were never ever ashamed to call me their relation.

So this has been a rather introspective bit of writing – I am sharing it because I want to let the world see how far I’ve come. The changes are down to finally being on the right medication, and having surrounded myself with the right kind of support. Also, it’s partly because I’ve accepted that I don’t have to fight to accept this reality anymore. I am proud to say I am me and this is my life.

Sometimes It’s Good To Reflect

Starting the Conversation – How to Approach Your GP About Your Mental Health

In one of today’s posts, I have talked about my initial experience attempting to access help via primary care services. I’m now going to flip that on its head and talk a bit about what did work for me when I finally changed doctors and started on the path towards recovery.

  • Be Prepared

This is so vital. Here in the UK, GPs have around 7 minutes per appointment to assess your issues and decide what to do. Anything you can do to make the reason for your visit clear will help. For me, that included tracking my mood swings on mood charts and bringing those along to my appointment. I used It allowed my GP to see clearly that there was an issue with my moods and enabled him to take action based on that. I also had been keeping journals full of my psychotic ramblings, and my husband brought those with us to give the doctor an insight into my state of mind.

  • Don’t Be Scared

Well obviously it’s a scary prospect. Most of us aren’t good at talking about ourselves when it comes to the mysteries of mental health issues. But if you think of it like a physical illness (which it kinda is, seeing as it is effecting your brain!) then hopefully some of the fear will dissipate. You wouldn’t hesitate to visit your doctor for an ear infection after all. The other thing to remember is that this isn’t some middle-ages quack. Your doctor is a trained professional, who is in their field for a reason. They care about people’s health and will be open minded with your concerns.

  • Pick The Right Doctor

This one doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it is helpful if your doctors’ office has a good website you can research on. My GPs surgery has their team listed on their website, along with a little information about each doctor’s special interests. So if you can, see which one is interested in the field of mental health, and make your appointment with them specifically.

  • Advocacy Helps

Having someone (my husband) to speak up on my behalf took half the battle out the equation. If you can talk to a friend or family member about what’s happening, you probably will be ok to ask them to come to the appointment with you. There are also advocacy charities who will talk to you and arrange for one of their volunteers to sit in on your appointment with the doctor.

  • Know Your Options

Referring back to my earlier post, it is clear I’d have had far less of a problem if I’d researched the options available to me before I saw the GP. Know your mind; do you want to try medication, or would you give talk therapy a go first? If you are considering medications, ask your doctor about side effects and potential issues during the appointment. Talk therapies offered initially are usually conducted over the phone with a trained counsellor, or in group settings, so if you don’t feel happy opening up in front of a group of strangers, let your GP know this.

  • Be Honest

Your doctor is not going to be fazed by tears. Crying is a natural and understandable reaction to what you are going through, and it may well help for your GP to see that you are struggling. When I saw my doctor for the first time, I was manic and psychotic. I couldn’t sit still, I was beyond agitated and I couldn’t hide it – I paced the office whilst we talked and my rapid-fire speech was another sign to him that something wasn’t right. On top of this, let them know if you’re self-harming or suicidal. They are not going to judge you, and they can only be effective if they have the whole picture.

Sadly there are primary care doctors out there who have one eye on the budget and the other on the clock, as I found out the hard way. But if you go in with getting help in the forefront of your mind, the majority of doctors will be listening with a sympathetic ear.

Starting the Conversation – How to Approach Your GP About Your Mental Health