I wanted to take a break from telling my story to discuss coping strategies. I thought it might be worth sharing some advice I’ve been given, both good and bad.
Perhaps the most spectacularly awful piece of advice I’ve been given was to have a baby.. because, ‘it would give me something else to think about besides myself’. This came from an acquaintance. I’d told her about my problems in an attempt to become more open and honest on the subject of mental health. I think it’s worth mentioning here that this woman had recently suffered from post-natal depression.
Where do I even start?
My beliefs about having a baby are that you should to be in the best physical and mental condition possible when you conceive. There should be a longing and a desire to bring a child into the world knowing that you are ready to take on the emotional and financial responsibility of raising another human being.
My beliefs about depression are that it is not a self-indulgent state where you constantly think about yourself. When I am severely depressed, it is an all encompassing, mind-altering state of being. It isn’t possible to think about anything properly because your mind is ill and you are not functioning properly. At my worst, I was desperate for something to take my mind off how awful I felt. I kept busy, saw other people and tried to work whenever I could. But it wasn’t something I could choose to ignore. You can’t think your way out of it or choose to focus on something else. Once you are seriously in the grip of it, all you can do is try to create the conditions for it to improve. It takes the right help, the right medication and a LOT of time. I tried to abolish my depression and anxiety with willpower and it did NOT work!
To get pregnant in this state would be utter madness! I can’t imagine bringing a child into the world because I felt like crap and needed distraction. A baby isn’t a cure for depression. It seems to me that depression can be seen as a selfish illness, but isn’t all illness selfish? I wonder if I had multiple sclerosis or cancer whether people would be advising me to have a baby to stop me thinking about it? I’m not so sure because with a physical illness it is accepted that you have to put yourself first, look after yourself and not take on any extra stress. I think having a baby in this state is probably one of the most selfish things you could do. It’s not fair on anyone, least of all the baby.
The second worst piece of advice I received was to ‘smile at myself in the mirror every day’. This nugget of wisdom came from a member of the mental health crisis team and I’d waited six hours in A+E to hear it. It is shocking that such a cliche came from a person on the front line of mental health intervention. Maybe it works for some people, but the last thing I wanted to see was my own face grimacing back at me through a forced artificial smile.
Some of the most helpful advice I’ve been given was actually the most simple. For instance, accepting that this is how I felt. Not trying to run or hide from it, or desperately make it stop. Just simple acceptance and saying to myself that at some point things would feel better, even if it took a very long time. I think there is always pressure to act as though you are trying to be positive and this can be exhausting. I think I am very good at appearing just fine, when inside I am at breaking point. I’m learning now to change what I say to myself and other people. It is OK to say ‘I am depressed and that is how things are at the moment’. That doesn’t mean you are indulging yourself or that you don’t want to feel better.
From this, I felt more able to accept that I couldn’t necessarily choose how long it would take to recover. I received a very good tip to see myself as a ‘work in progress’, which helped with the frustration of not being able to stop my terrible anxiety attacks. I started to see that although I could take responsibility for my problems and take all the help available, the process of recovering would be gradual and was not something I could engineer by willpower alone. This advice came from a different member of the mental health crisis team, which also helped me to see that sometimes you have to keep trying to find the right person to help you. Over the 2 year period I was ill, I saw that doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists and the crisis team were human too, flawed individuals just like the rest of us with no perfect answers to suit everyone. I learned to keep asking for help in all kinds of ways until the people I saw and the discussions we had made sense. Sometimes I felt that I’d seen a professional and they hadn’t helped me at all, but then over time I realised that I was taking on board what they had said. Other times I felt that the same person had been fantastic and terrible in the same session. Being patient is important, also accepting that you might have to filter out the good help from the bad.
Anyway, you can always post the bad advice in a blog and have a laugh about it when you feel better 🙂
So what kind of advice have you all found helpful? Can anyone top trump my worst advice tales?!