Taking Stock

I think that we should all take stock of our lives every once in a while. The last time I did that here was a year ago today: I posted Missing, Inaction, in which I reflected on the effects of an enforced 15 day absence from the internet, and how dependent we had all become on it. That was the main reason for what had been an 18 day gap between posts, but I also mentioned that I had been having a stressful time in my life, having had to move home – a natural hazard when you are a private renter and are at the mercy of the landlord’s wishes. Reading the post again I noticed I had said that I intended to write about the effects this had been having on my mental health but, in the usual fashion, best intentions went out of the window. Things began to settle down, I was getting used to my new home, and it didn’t feel right to be talking about my mental health when there were many people in far worse situations than mine, people who had real stories to tell. The anniversary of that post does, however, seem a good time to be ‘reviewing the situation,’ as Fagin put it.

Looking back to this time last year I now realise how much the whole episode had destabilised me. I didn’t notice at the time but there were impacts, in particular on my sleep patterns – which were shot to pieces. I’ve had sleep problems for years, and was tested (negatively, I’m happy to say) for sleep apnoea during my long spell off work in 2011-2 with depression. Retirement had helped enormously in stabilising that: no longer being required to get up and go to work meant that if I needed to sleep in I could, whatever day of the week it was. I occupied a lot of my time in the internet break by reading – 16 novels in 18 days – but even so, I found myself nodding off at odd times: I’ve never been one for afternoon siestas, but I had a few then. It didn’t register, but these were probably a sign that all wasn’t as it should be.

Over time, though, I began to settle into a new routine, and into a revised version of life. It’s funny how a move can change your outlook on life, and I don’t mean just the view from the window. But that wasn’t the only important factor for me: I had been able to get the medical treatment I needed for a long term condition, and the benefits of knowing that I was in good hands for that had a positive impact on my mental health.

I got to the end of 2019 thinking I’d done well: I was over the move, my health was improving, and I’d managed to get through some outrageous behaviour by my ex-landlord. 2020 was to be the year I really began ‘taking back control,’ to borrow a phrase, but then along came Covid-19 to show me that my use of those words was about as meaningless as they were in their more widely known context. My mobility is limited, so I don’t get out much anyway, but being told that I had to stay in and couldn’t see anyone – not even my daughters or granddaughter – wasn’t part of the plan. Much has been said and written about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, both in the obvious sense of our being required to stay at home whenever possible, with shops and public venues being closed, but also on the hidden factors, such as the effects on our mental health.

Using myself as a sample of one, I can see how my mental state has changed since lockdown began in March, and it hasn’t improved! I’m not saying that I have relapsed into depression – far from it, thankfully – but I can see that my outlook on life is different. I don’t have to go out much, but I know that at some point in the next few months I will need to go back to my doctor for the periodic testing that keeps me well, and I really will need a haircut! Normally, I’d think nothing of either of these but now, if I’m honest, both of these prospects scare me. Am I being stupid? I’d like to think not. Every day we hear new warnings of the potential for a second wave of the virus, and with the reopening of shops and public facilities there comes a relaxation in people’s minds of the need to be alert to the danger that may be lurking. I know I can do the right thing if I go out, but can I trust others to do the same?

I’m potentially vulnerable, and I don’t think I should have to take risks to go out and do simple things. That plays on my mind: I don’t want to become a hermit, but I can see how easy it would be. Looking at those words on screen they strike me as a little pathetic, but they are accurate. I think back to my dark days of 2011-2 and I know that is how I behaved then: I don’t want to go back there. This may all be in my head, but it’s hard to shift, and I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way.

This time last year I was looking ahead to what I believed would be better times, now the outlook is very unclear to me. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that the basic level is classed as Physiological needs, which include food, shelter, health, sleep and clothes. Here is the pyramid, in case you haven’t seen it:

Those Safety needs in the second level include factors like personal, emotional and financial security. Somehow, I think that many of us will be struggling with this tier of the pyramid at present, and for some time to come. That will impact on our move up the levels: relationships with those we love will be affected, and there will need to be a lot of rebuilding after enforced separations.

The future is uncertain for all of us. My outlook is very different from a year ago, and I’d imagine that everyone feels that too. I wonder where we’ll be a year from now? Maybe I’ll take stock again then – hopefully whatever passes for ‘normal’ will have returned, given time.

How do things look for you? How does that compare with a year ago? Are you having to readjust your hopes and plans? I expect we’ll all be doing a lot of that now and in the months to come. As I said at the outset, I believe that we should all occasionally take stock of our lives: I don’t think any of us has had to do so in circumstances like today’s.

The Time Has Come…..Again

I was going to post for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) anyway, but this post from last year popped up in my Timehop feed, so I thought I’d share it again as many of you are new readers and probably won’t have seen it before. At least I’m posting this year while MHAW is still live!

A quick personal update, to get that out of the way. I did move flats and am now coming up to 11 months in the new place. It took me a while to feel settled, but I do now, and my mental health has definitely improved. I haven’t felt the need to seek out the services I mentioned in last year’s post, but somehow I doubt that the general situation regarding provision in this area will have changed much. Physically I have now been moved on to the next stage of treatment, which can largely be managed by me, rather than my having to go for weekly hospital visits. This is a huge step forward for me: if only I were allowed out to celebrate, or there was anywhere to go!

If you have a moment, please click on the link in last year’s piece to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), as the link takes you to this year’s MHAW materials. As I said in Tuesday Tunes 9 this year’s theme is ‘kindness,’ which I think is especially appropriate. In these pandemic days we need to be more kind towards each other. My Facebook news feed has contained many instances of kindness to others, and I expect yours will have been the same. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do something which will brighten someone’s day, and this can be beneficial for the mental health of both parties. The MHF have many useful tips and resources, so I hope you take a look. If you have longer, there is a very well-written piece about why kindness should be a driving factor in public policy – governments would do well to read this and heed the advice!

I hope you have a chance to reflect on the theme of kindness, and that it will help you and someone else that you know: friends, relatives, other loved ones….

Take care, stay safe, be well and be kind – to yourself and others 😊👍

Take It Easy

Lewis Carroll: Through The Looking Glass

Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about any of those things in this post, though there is a temptation to think about when pigs might have the wings to fly. But I’ll pass on that, for now. The ‘many things’ I have in mind are the reasons why I have been away from here for some time. I’m sharing them to show how easily what we believe to be the equilibrium of our lives can be unbalanced. Last week, when I began writing this, was Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and that seemed as good a time as any for a post which has mental health as its underlying theme. MHAW is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find out more about it from their website. I wasn’t really following their theme for this year – how our body image…

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#TimeToTalk Day 2020


Tomorrow, 6 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who might need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this poster:

There are many other resources there too: from quizzes, games and puzzles to prompts on how to start a conversation. Please take time to visit their website: it is very informative and you’ll find helpful tip cards, like this one:

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I submitted it too late, and not in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, so is worth sharing again, I think:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

As it says in the image below, one in four of us will be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives. That is a huge number and, as I said in the piece I wrote (above) there are often no visible signs that someone is suffering. Mental health problems can be all-encompassing, taking over your life, and it can be incredibly valuable to feel that there is support for you. So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!