Put Yourself First…

Each year in the UK, approximately 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem. Depression is the second leading cause of years lived with a disability worldwide.This was a difficult blog to write and there is a point to it. I’m trying to talk about mental health – my own – and that’s not something that’s ever come easily.So why am I writing this? Partly, for catharsis.

But mostly because, a week on from Mental Health Day, I felt I should do something to share my experience. I want to show how important mental health is to everyone. It’s not just for people with a diagnosis. And I want to start a bit of conversation…

So, having written the odd blog, I thought that it might be a natural way to do that, or at least the least awkward.

I’ve been diagnosed Bipolar for nearly ten years. I’ve also been very lucky. For much of that time, it’s not played a major role in my life. Until earlier this year, when the old black dog reared its head and treated me to the longest, most severe period of depression I’ve experienced yet.

I was signed off work for nearly two months. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I could barely talk. A walk around my garden became a marathon.

This is not a sob story.

I’m not looking for sympathy.

I won’t be the first, or last, agency bod to ever experience the highs and lows that Bipolar brings. I’m now back at work, enjoying it as much as I ever did and with fresh perspective.

So, what have I learned?

For f**** sake talk about it.

The worst thing about depression is it steals people from you. Or, more accurately, it steals you from them. The more you talk, the easier it gets, the less you are stolen away.

People understand and people care. Give them the chance. Confiding in someone is the greatest compliment you can give them. All they will want to do is listen, and will do anything possible to help.

It feels like it’s the most difficult thing in the world. But trust me, once you get started it just gets easier. The load gets lighter and the darkness gets a little brighter.

The RPA say it far more academically with their Lift the Weight campaign. Talking about mental health is not a sign of weakness – anathema for rugby players.

CALM and Chris Hughes were a little more tongue-in-cheek with L’Eau de Chris – bottling up your emotions is ludicrous.

How they say it is very different, but the message remains the same. Don’t suffer in silence. Talk.

I think about it like this. If I want to get physically fitter then I do some exercise. Talking to people is exercise for the soul – the more you do it the fitter you’ll get.

Find your secret weapon.

For me, it’s my bike. It’s a way to escape, get out of my psychological square mile. A quick spin does as much good for my head as it does my legs.

I know people that swear by running.
It could be yoga or meditation.
It could be painting.
Or writing.
It could be anything.

Find yours and deploy it when needed.

Put yourself first.

This matters. It’s not trivial. It hurts. Don’t feel guilty for needing time off work or putting your social life on hold.
Agencies are some of the most understanding employers out there. What we do is about understanding people and communicating with them; we practice what we preach.

And it was my agency that taught me this. My biggest fear after being signed off was letting my team down. Their response? They told me not to worry, to focus on looking after myself and to come back only when I was ready.

If it was a physical health issue you wouldn’t hesitate. You shouldn’t with your mental health either. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to recover and don’t rush back. You’ll come back all the stronger for it.

I hope I didn’t preach. I hope it might even help someone. But, if you take one thing from reading this, I hope it’s that everyone needs to look after their mental health as much as they do their physical health.

If you want to find out more, or talk more, about mental health issues, I hope the below links help.

Mind

Mind provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They offer a range of support including a confidential Infoline, free information resources and support through their network of local Minds.

Website: http://www.mind.org.uk/
Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393
Email: info@mind.org.uk

CALM

The Campaign Against Living Miserably is an award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. In 2015, 75% of all UK suicides were male.

Website: https://www.thecalmzone.net/
CALM Infoline: 0800 58 58 58