Tag Archives: Mental Health Awareness Week

Life Awareness Week

I feel caught in a perfect storm of life’s difficult-to-deal-with-moments.

Every seven days it seems there’s a new awareness week for something.

This weekend marks the end of Dying Matters Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and begins the start of Dementia Awareness Week – three topics on which I have a current speciality.

Get me on Mastermind this instant and I’d answer every question. That’s how “aware” I am!

Having lost my wonderful mum less than four weeks ago in sudden, unexpected and traumatic circumstances – yes I’m going through the numbness, the “it can’t be true” questioning, the guilt of feeling in some way to blame, responsible, at fault for not doing more to prevent it, mum having died at my home, in my care.

The knowledge that professional help was sought on several occasions and that paramedics were there when mum died, because I called them, does little to stop me going over the course of events and trying to change them.

I feel physically ill, my body is doing strange things – even down to drastic bleeding from my gums a few days later. I go into physical spasms of grief, screaming aloud in my sleep, sobbing in a supermarket car park. This is not about wiping the tears away with a tissue.

I’ve been totally lost for words, unable to string a coherent reply to a question. Bad dreams, nightmares, getting up in the middle of the night, forgetfulness, I can tick those boxes, that’s if I remember and focus hard enough.

And the flashbacks and intrusive thinking, that’s all part of it.

That side of it, I was pretty accomplished at already. For 25 years I’ve suffered from bouts of depression, including at times self-harming because of the mental agony I’ve felt. My recurring anxiety, spiralling, hamster-wheeling doubt was diagnosed as OCD four years ago, with childhood traumas recognised as being part of the root cause, leading to 20 weeks of intensive therapy.

It helped me a lot, in learning how to deal with it, but it never totally goes away, so yes, I’d say I have a pretty solid awareness of mental health issues.

Dementia, is one of my identified trigger points – the scary demon in my basement. It’s something I’ve been terrified of since a child, when my lovely grandmother’s increasingly eccentric behaviour was put down to being “senile” with very few people at that time bothering to try to understand.

Thankfully, dementia awareness has increased massively since those dark days and there’s been a shift in public consciousness, research and care.

I learnt lots more first hand about this cruel disease, when my dad was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 70 with vascular dementia, dying just over three years later. It was a journey of mixed emotions, challenges, despair, anger, grief, but also laughter, compassion, enlightenment, and love.

This Dementia Awareness Week remains hugely relevant and important to me – my dear husband John having recently been referred by his GP to the local memory clinic. The appointment is in a few weeks’ time, 20 years to the day that we got married. Happy Anniversary Darling!

It will also be a few days after the biggest event of my life, a women only marathon, which I’ve taken a lead role in organising and aim to take part in.

It’s called Women Can.

I love the positive affirmation of that simple straightforward statement.

The medals arrived yesterday, 450 of them glistening in a box. They made me think about all those women out there, going through their own journey of awareness, issues affecting their lives, but still signing up to our event and taking part, because through running, endurance running in particular, pitting yourself against that challenge, you learn that women can, men can, we all can.

It’s about getting through the tough times yourself and helping others through them also.

About being life aware.

Thanks to all the special people who are life aware, who have been, and are continuing, to be there for me.

*Special thanks to Sue, a counsellor with the bereavement charity Cruse, for her recent clarity and insight and her recommendation to visit the website of the charity Sudden Death – awareness definitely helps! For information about mental health issues go to Mind. For information about dementia research go to BRACE.


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”.