Time to Change
Last week (I'm not bothering to explain whether I mean my time or your time anymore, because I've realised that nobody cares) I put a pledge on the Time to Change campaign wall. Time to Change is a charitable organisation committed to supporting people with mental health problems, and ending the stigma around mental health issues by getting people to talk about their mental health. So my pledge was that I would use social media to talk about my own mental health and to give others the space to talk about theirs. I posted this information on twitter and promptly got eight new followers. This means, I suppose, that I actually have to do it now.
I explained the plan to my wife. She told me more or less straight away that my biggest problem was I didn't open up and talk about myself. Last week when I was finishing up after a session with my counsellor she told me that next week we were going to focus on me. How did I feel about that, she wanted to know. The truth was that I felt somewhat invaded, and uncomfortable with the idea of talking about me. I don't really know why, I suppose it's a combination of the idea that talking about me is a bit self-centred and the social convention that you don't really talk about problems. I noticed this when people on twitter engaged me in conversation about my early mental health updates. My first instinct was to play down the issue. 'Just a bit stressed' 'it's not physical' , 'I'll be fine'. None of these things were true and, if I was going to make any sort of contribution to talking about mental health, much less talking about me, I had to get past those habits and be honest.
Did you notice, by the way, that I seamlessly snuck in a reference to the fact that I have a counsellor? That's not the sort thing you want to tell people is it? That must mean there's something wrong with you. Well, yes, there is. I don't know what specifically it is, if it's a diagnosis you're looking for. When I go to my GP it isn't because I know what the problem is, but because I've identified a symptom that I think is worrying. Shortness of breath, pain, dizziness. Sometimes the GP gives me a diagnosis, sometimes I'm told there is nothing wrong, or nothing specific, or that they're not sure. With mental health we're not always so savvy as a to recognise when their might be a problem, and even if we were counselling is nowhere near as readily available as GP consultations. Perhaps both of these things need to change before we can properly come to terms with the idea that physical and mental illness need to be treated in the same way. That means getting proper treatment and also talking about it properly, openly, and not just ignoring or dismissing it. So here goes.
I can't remember when my GP first prescribed me anti-depressants. As I understand it, since then I have effectively had a diagnosis of depression. Several years ago I had a diagnosis of a condition called parasomnia. What this means is that I walk, and talk, and generally act awake, in my sleep. The weird psychedelic dreams people tend to have get acted out as if they were real. I have, I'm told, left the house in search of a camel. I saw a documentary where one woman was putting on weight because she was binge eating in her sleep and another man was waking up his poor girlfriend every night to keep her out of the way while he fought off aliens. It sounds pretty funny, perhaps, but it leaves you out of control and unaware of what you are doing or why you are doing it. It's a bit scary at times, and I am lucky that my wife is able to manage me in the main.
So there you go. That's me, talking about my mental illness. Any questions?