It’s January, and we all know what that means. Short days, cold weather, no money and January Blues. For many, this can be a tough, unhappy time of year. For some – especially those with mental illnesses – it can be even worse. One in four people suffer with depression. I am part of that one in four. This is for them, and for those want to try to understand.
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This condition causes debilitating chronic and acute pain. In October 2016 I was lucky enough to go on a three-week rehabilitation course at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Middlesex. This hospital stint is designed to help people cope with managing pain and attempting to create a fulfilling life. Through my blog, I was hoping to share everything I learned to help others manage their conditions; to share strategies and give support. Since finishing my course, I have not done this. I have not been able to write. And now I confess why.
I have come to realise that over the past few months I have quietly, discreetly, and almost invisibly been having a mental break down. I’ve spent a lot of energy on trying to be okay, trying to be better, trying to be empowered. I’ve been lying to friends and family, and I’ve been lying to myself. I’m not okay. I’m further from okay than I’ve ever been. I’ve been depressed and unhappy for years, and only just managing to keep it together. The difference is that over the last few months the depression has been winning. I’ve been lying so well that even I didn’t realise how bad things had become. It’s amazing how dark your world can become in the time before you notice. You’ve spent so long trying not to sink that you hadn’t spotted that what had before been choppy water has turned into a Tsunami, and you are now miles from the coast, drowning. It isn’t until you do something stupid or terrible and you spend the next day recalling your behaviour, the horror of it, that you realise. It hadn’t been until this point that I could see what was going on. I’ve been fooling myself. Grasping to articulate it, unable to explain. I always knew that my condition would bring sadness, but I couldn’t admit how close the black dog was. He’s now bearing down on me, gnashing his teeth, breathing sweet and sickly on my face.
The rehabilitation course was amazing. It was empowering. It was everything I had hoped for and more. The best and hardest thing about it is that you have three weeks where your sole purpose in life is to look after yourself. You have permission to focus on your health and progression. It’s a beautiful bubble.
It’s not just you looking after yourself, either. There are brilliant, amazing health professionals who are there just for you. They’re ready to care about you, to sympathise, to believe without question. The only battle you have to deal with is the one in your body and you now have an army of people that will fight alongside you. But just as important as the health professionals – who, let’s be honest, are being paid, though of course this doesn’t take away the value of their care – are the people on the course who experience life the same way you do. No two of us are exactly the same, but we all wear the same metaphorical shoes. Suddenly little explanation is needed. We no longer need to ask for help – we see each other. We see ourselves in each other. We come with different understandings that are then pooled to help us all. We are friends, and we are each other. Most of us have gone our whole lives without meeting another person like us. Like I said, it’s a beautiful, strong, healing bubble.
The best and hardest thing about it is that you have three weeks where your sole purpose in life is to look after yourself.
Then the bubble is burst. You go home. You may still have people to help and care, but the world no longer revolves around you. It’s a hard and cold reality. Something I was prepared for. In fact, I was looking forward to the course ending because I didn’t want to get too comfortable in the bubble. I knew it was going to end. This would have been manageable – had it not been for one particular element of the course.
Over the three weeks, you experience a combination of group talks and individual sessions with different health professionals. One of these professionals was a medical psychologist. During our stay we had a total of two 30 minute one-to-one sessions with the psychologist. This is ridiculous. You cannot achieve anything in this space of time. To cope with this, the psychologist has two options – either talk vaguely about things and skirt over the issue of personal mental health problems, or unpack as much as they can within an hour and send the patient on their way. Our psychologist went for the latter. For me it was the equivalent of a surgeon cutting my chest open, tinkering about with my organs and then sending me off without bothering to stitch me back up again. I do not blame the psychologist for their actions. They was very good at their job, but were deeply restricted within the confines of the course. It is the course that needs changing.
I would urge anyone who is considering to apply for the course to persevere – but be warned. It’s hard. In ways I had not predicted. I will try to write in my blog more about the different things I learned over the three weeks. I hope by passing on this information I can help others. But before I can do that I must sew up the gaping hole the psychologist has left – by myself.
For me it was the equivalent of a surgeon cutting my chest open, tinkering about with my organs and then sending me off without bothering to stitch me back up again.
I realise that this is very personal, but I want to share it with the world because I know I’m not the only person out there whole feels hopelessness, loneliness, and self-loathing. It’s never easy to talk about it, express yourself, or help others understand. However, it’s only when we start talking about it that we can begin to heal. Mental health still has stigma attached to it. I hope that through communication, honesty, tolerance and understanding, we can start to tackle that stigma.