Stigma… But not the kind you’re thinking of.

I experience mental health stigma most days.

I’m berated for my weakness when I’m exhausted after another sleepless night.

I’m ridiculed because my chronic tiredness sends me to bed at 10pm most of the time.

I’m told to “snap out of it” when I can feel myself falling into the darkest parts of my mind.

When I’m most desperate for an understanding ear and open arms, I’m greeted with a sneer.

When I’m laid low under the weight of the depression that has been an unwelcome guest in my life for nearly a decade; I’m called pathetic and crazy.

Once the pressure eases and the exhaustion recedes, I’m reminded that I’m not really strong enough to meet life face on.

Perhaps I should just give up, give people a break from my neediness.

The voice that repeats these things is loud and stubborn and I can’t get away from it.

Why?

The accusatory voice is my own.

I spend my life fighting the stigma of mental illness in the church and in wider society, but perhaps the place I have experienced the most stigma, is in my own mind.

I cannot recall feeling as worthless and guilty because I had an asthma attack at work. It was unpleasant, yes, but it didn’t leave me wondering if I was capable of doing my job.

When it was a panic attack however, within moments I had convinced myself that I would get the sack because of my incompetence. Everything I have worked so hard for would come crashing down around me because I was clearly mentally unstable – my fiancé would leave me unable to cope with my madness and I would not be able to continue work or be a valuable member of society.

Unsurprisingly, these thoughts did little to ease my panic.

What I feel above all, is hypocritical.

I am not practising what I preach.

I am all too aware that I would never to speak to someone else the way I speak to myself.

The disdain and disappointment is reserved for my ears only.

Much of the advice surrounding depression revolves around the idea of self-care. Of nurturing the mind in the same way that one might nurture the flu-ridden body with box sets and kingsize tissues. The problem is, all too often people suffering with depression don’t feel able to provide themselves with the care they so desperately need.

We will work ourselves into the ground, just so that we can keep our heads above water; punish our bodies to make up for the equilibrium our minds lack.

There is a better way.

In all honesty, it’s a way which is harder too. It involves that little bit of fight, the reserve that we cling onto just in case all else fails.

It’s compassion.

It is, as it says in Philippians “Being transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Easy, eh?

In truth of course, it is far harder than it sounds. It involves holding the thoughts that ensnare us up to the light. It kind of reminds me of the bit in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where the Devil’s Snare begins to tangle itself around Harry and his friends and they don’t loosen their grip until the light forces them to shrivel and retreat, leaving them free.

When we hold our darkest and most painful thoughts up to the light – their power begins to recede.

Light, if we let it, transforms.

If, for example, I hold the thought: “I’m weak because I’m easily tired and have to go to bed early” to the light its power is easily stripped away.

Of course someone who doesn’t sleep is going to be tired; this is not indicative of weakness. Going to bed early is actually a sensible decision designed to make the best of a difficult and exhausting situation.

When you think about it, self-stigma makes about as much sense as any stigma… that is… it doesn’t make much sense!

We all have an internal dialogue, those thoughts which may berate us for scoffing that last biscuit or sigh inwardly at another train delay.

We can rarely help the thoughts we have, but we can hold them up to the light and not allow them to dictate our worth or wellness.

Speaking of Suicide

I’ve attempted to commit depression.

I’ve committed an eating disorder.

It doesn’t sound right, does it?

So why don’t we balk when we hear of committing suicide?

Suicide is an expression of profound hopelessness. It’s no longer a crime.

So why do we still approach the whole issue of suicide with suspicion and condemnation?

I will not pretend that the issue of suicide is something easy to talk about. It is painful and uncomfortable – but that doesn’t mean we should avoid it.

The scale of suicide means we cannot keep ignoring it. A World Health Organization report released earlier this month estimates that someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds, and for every person who dies – another 20 attempt suicide. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death (above murder and cancer) in 15-29 year olds.

Sometimes numbers can lose their meaning – we hear them and can hardly begin to imagine what it means in reality for those affected.

Millions of people who need, more than anything, something to hold onto. Hope.

Hope is not found in claiming that suicide is the unforgivable sin. It’s not found in telling people to pull themselves together, or banishing them from our churches.

It’s found in allowing people to give voice to their darkest and scariest thoughts.

The thoughts that provide both solace and devastation.

Solace, because it is a way to escape unimaginable pain.

We need to allow people to say the hardest words; because as unnatural as it may seem, speaking about suicide can actually help someone to avoid acting upon their feelings.

Let’s try to be more open in our communities, our schools, our churches, our families.

Silence is suicides’ greatest ally.

So let’s break the silence.

S.O.S

Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day.

It also marks the launch of our #SOScampaign.

We’d love you to get involved and you can do this in a number of ways.

1) Get tweeting! Use the has tags #wspd14 and #SOScampaign to join the conversation.

2) Get speaking! Let’s stop speaking about suicide as if it were a crime – instead of committing suicide – use phrases like “died by suicide” or “took their own life”.

3) Get booking! Let us come to speak to your church or youth group about suicide in a way that isn’t scary or depressing – but in a way which inspires hope. We’ll be looking at the scale of suicide, what the Bible has to say on suicide prevention in the life of Elijah and how we can bring  hope to people when they are at their most hopeless. Head over to our resources page for more information.

Silence is suicides’ greatest ally.

So let’s break the silence.

The Gift of Anxiety?

Anxiety is a good thing. It can save lives and propel us forward.

Seriously. Anxiety is a good thing.

But like all good things… it can get corrupted, and become a bad thing.

Anxiety is meant to help save our lives, to get us out of tricky situations.

Blood is pumped around our body faster, sweat so we can keep cool (and make us more slippery to catch), we breathe faster so we can get more oxygen into our lungs and we become hyper vigilant – hearing and seeing things in HD so we can be aware of our surroundings.

All of which are incredibly useful… if you’re anxious because you’re in a jungle about to be attacked by a lion.

Less useful, however, when you’re feeling anxious about a job interview or driving test.

Even less useful, when anxiety is provoked by a trip to the supermarket or the sight of a certain food.

Anxiety disorders are when anxiety is not needed “in order” to fly or fight. The purpose of anxiety is lost and what is left, can wreak havoc…

Imagine a life where the slightest thing causes you to go into meltdown. If when faced with a crowded supermarket, or picking up a trilling telephone causes your body to react as if you were faced with a tiger.

When anxiety becomes a disorder – it becomes a very unwelcome gift.

If there are people in your life who have the unwanted gift of an anxiety disorder, I thought I’d share three key things not to say, courtesy of this post.

1) Don’t tell people they’re being dramatic… panic attacks in particular can be dramatic- but it’s not an act – and they need comfort and calm; not condemnation.

2) What do you have to worry about? The truth is – we all have worries and anxieties, and belittling other people’s anxieties or reminding them of how good their life is helps no-one. Instead, try asking if they need to voice their worries.

3) Don’t panic… Telling someone with anxiety not to panic is akin to telling someone who is having an asthma attack to stop!

Anxiety can be a gift… but an anxiety disorder is never a gift… it’s an illness and it’s time it was treated like one!

Friend in Need? Depression Awareness Week Blog 2014

I used to feel quite sorry for my friends.

They’ve had a lot to put up with.

Depression ravages the best relationships. And it’s not just the obvious things.

Aside from the fact that I get very tired and sometimes disappear off the radar for a week or so every now and again – there are the unseen effects of depression.

Personally, one of the ways depression manifests itself in me is what the psychologists call “inappropriate or excessive guilt”.

Some of my friends actually banned me from apologising because it took up half of our conversations! At my darkest – I apologised for my very existence.

One of my favourite writers on mental illness (and you will know this because I quote her a lot in these blog posts!) Kay Redfield Jamison, writes

“Mental illness sabotages the best of relationships, and even in the most steadfast, generates an unrelating bone-weariness.”

It is not easy to be a friend to someone in the grips of depression.

They may flicker between wanting you there every minute of every day, to sending you away – claiming you’re too good for them.

What your friend really needs to know – is that you aren’t going to run a mile. Equally, you can’t be there 24 hours a day. It might be appropriate to ping them a text to see if there is anything they need… but less so to camp out in their house!

Listen to what your friend needs, don’t barge in with what you think they need.

Friends with depression might not be the easiest people to be around – but they’re still good friends – friends with the ‘flu might not be great company either, but they’re still good friends!

Friendship can’t cure depression… but it can make it a load easier to bear.