World Mental Health Day – 10th October 2019

My experience of depression is; that it’s a pain in the neck! When feeling depressed it eats at everything in my life.

I don’t want to:

  • Get out of bed
  • See anyone
  • Leave the house

I feel:

  • Guilty
  • Ashamed
  • Angry
  • That no-one wants to know me because I am a despicable human being and horrible to know

The things I do:

  • Cry, I can’t stop because for whatever reason tears keep flowing (very embarrassing when this happens at work)
  • Stay in my safe bed and home
  • Sleep
  • Watch mindless TV

So where did all this start?

Looking back I think it started at school, but I guess the first time I was aware of things being badly wrong was whilst returning from home to the place where I was training to be a nurse. I was on a train and life felt intolerable, and I did not want to live.

I am convinced that I would have committed suicide if a woman had not got on the train and talked to me. She spent an hour telling me how her son had just committed suicide. She said she loved him so much but she had no idea why he had done this. She then went on to tell me how if she had known what he felt she would have loved him, protected him and cared for him.

I sat there thinking about why I was not sharing my feelings. This was because I believed I was worthless, useless and no-one would care if I was dead. Her words slowly penetrated my despair and self-loathing. I realised if I killed myself then my family would be devastated and have no understanding why I had killed myself. At the end of my train journey I realised whatever happened I could not kill myself, so the dreary misery of carrying on started again.

This happened back in the 1980s when I was 18 and having mental health problems felt shameful. You may wonder why I did not share my feelings; well I was too ashamed and didn’t want to disappoint other people. I also felt I was the only one – so how could I share anything so shameful?

Writing this is very painful because it brings back horrible memories. To give you the rest of my story briefly in my mid-twenties I trained to be a mental health nurse and worked as a volunteer with people who could be suicidal. This helped me to understand I was not the only one who had dreadful feelings and had felt suicidal.

I had 18 months of counselling which helped me to dismantle the cheerful and happy mask that I presented to the world, hiding the despair inside. Pretending is exhausting and takes an enormous amount of energy. I learnt about being honest with myself and with other people. This meant I could share with people what I was feeling, rather than keeping damaging feelings inside for months and years which previously destroyed my sense of self.

Today, I am honest about my feelings, most of the time. I can let someone I trust know how I feel and feel comfortable saying; I feel angry/sad/ upset. By releasing these feelings, I take away its power to eat away at me.

I am not without moments of depression, and recently experienced a time when my long term anti-depressant had become less effective. With support from my GP changed the type of anti-depressant and after four weeks felt whole again. I am so lucky that anti-depressants work for me and I do not get side effects.

The theme for world mental health day 2019 is preventing suicide.

Looking back on how I felt on that train journey in the 1980s I feel fear. If that woman had not got on the train I don’t think I would be alive now. That is a scary thought because I love life most of the time now.

My depression is part of me, but only a small part. I would not be without it. I have close friends and family, a great job and a wholeness inside which I would never have found without the depression. When I have a ‘bout of depression’ it is dreary and miserable but I am glad most of my life is okay and enjoyable.

I think it is vital that stories such as mine are shared, and hope the stigma of mental health problems is once and for all got rid of! I feel concerned about how people will view this story. Had I broken my leg I would have no fears about what people think…but I want to believe there is no more shame in mental health problems.

Join Mental Health Day and say with me… “Its Okay to not be Okay, let’s talk about it”

Elaine Wilkes, Mental Health & Learning Disability Team Leader