Mindfulness – a wheelchair for your head

“You don’t wake up one morning ‘depressed’. Fed up, frustrated, tired, worried or just downright bored with life maybe, but not depressed – it’s far more sneaky than that.

“Depression is something that creeps up unseen behind you, clings on to you, takes over and becomes part of you, often without you ever realising.

“It is a cancer with a voracious appetite that devours your thoughts, your subconscious, your inner self.

“And unlike most illnesses, for it is a recognised ‘illness’, it does not always reveal itself to others, or even to you through physical pain or disability.

“So no-one ever offers you a wheelchair for your crippled mind.”

I copied the above paragraphs directly from a newspaper cutting dated October 1993, and which I’ve had in a drawer these last nearly 22 years.

I’m recounting them here because this week is Mental Health Awareness Week – a time to think about the quarter of the population who’ll experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.

Over the last 15 years the theme has covered a number of topics surrounding mental health: stigma, being at work, fear, sleep patterns, exercise and anxiety among them.

This year it’s focussing on Mindfulness, a way of paying attention to the present moment that helps break the cycle of negative thought patterns that can dominate the lives of people with mental illness.

I’m acutely aware of the impact of mental health problems, the stigma that surrounds them still, and the positive effects of Mindfulness in helping to combat both.

The 1,000 word article, the newspaper cutting from 1993, has no name to it. It simply says it was written by a 28-year-old who had had depression.

The stigma then of being identified directly as someone with a mental health problem was too great to expose in a work place, especially the adrenalin-driven, cutting-edge world of the media.

I know, because it was me who wrote that article. Me who wanted to speak up for people who experience mental health problems. Me who was too scared to let everyone in my own wider life know I’d been affected.

I’d like to say it was my experience of mental health problems was a one-off. A severe episode of the blues that went away. Unfortunately it wasn’t and it didn’t. I’ve lived with anxiety, fear, recurring depression – which was two years ago diagnosed in my case as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – for 25 years now.

It’s an insidious illness, that has dominated my adult life, affecting my work, my social interactions, adding extra pressure to everything I do. Like many people who suffer I try to be positive and upbeat in company, even if I’m breaking up inside.

I’ve been able to get through mostly, thankfully, without recourse to prescription drugs, instead turning to other complementary therapies and releases including homeopathy and counselling, plus of course running and exercise generally.

Being properly diagnosed with OCD and a course of CBT have also helped immensely in me understanding more and coming to terms with how my mind works.

What’s been the icing on the cake, the thing that’s really made a daily difference is completing a Mindfulness course offered on the NHS.

It was the best referral ever. It was OK just to be ‘me’. No one there judged me, and I learnt how to silence my own inner critics more often – it was at last that wheelchair where for a moment I could rest my crippled mind.

I’ve practised Mindfulness on a regular basis for the last 18 months, and it’s really helped me find a better balance in my life.

I’m sure it can benefit many more people, and if my experience helps even one other person I’d be delighted.

That’s why I’m backing the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign this year.

And that’s why 22 years on I’m not too ashamed or embarrassed to say: “Yes, I suffer from mental health problems”.

 

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