This week I will be on an intensive 2-day mental health first aid course in London. This is part of my role as a mental health champion (doesn’t sound quite the right title does it?!) at work and I am hoping that the course lives up to my expectations so that I am able to recommend that others across our network also take the course in future.
I am sure they will be two long days and will be tiring, interesting, thought-provoking but most of all useful. I am looking forward to it and will let you know how I get on.
Brain Fog is a common symptom of ME/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and it can strike with deadly effect out of the blue. It did. Today. To me.
I knew as soon as I came round this morning that I was in trouble. I sat up in bed and my head felt like a ball of cotton wool. Every time I moved my head, even slightly, I felt dizzy and disoriented. I couldn’t think what day it was.
It slowly dawned on me that today is Monday, a work day, and I needed to get ready. Driving through thick fog is hazardous and slow work. It can confuse a person very quickly and is claustrophobic. As I slowly drank a very welcome cup of tea I gathered my thoughts and calmed down.
Brain Fog causes me panic at first as it throws my routine into confusion and leaves me having to remember what Plan B is. It can also make you think that you are developing a degenerative disease such as dementia. I hope not, but I did come across a quote from a Doctor today which is mildly comforting; ” Brain Fog can cause you to forget where you left your keys. Dementia renders you unable to remember what the keys are for”.
So far, so good.
On days like this my Plan B looks something like this;
Stay calm and accept that today is going to be more difficult than usual.
Try not to put extra pressure on myself by trying to perform at normal levels.
Don’t make any important decisions or provide technical advice without getting a second opinion.
Stay close to home and as quiet and undisturbed as possible.
Continue with the day but slowly and surely. Just keep swimming even if it’s against the tide.
Be patient and kind to myself.
Ask for help if needed.
Brain Fog is exacerbated by noise, crowds, activity, stress, bright lights and stress. I couldn’t face taking 4 trains to work and back so I worked locally instead. This was a good move and after a relatively peaceful morning my head started to clear at around 3pm. I feel much better this evening and hopefully I will have a better nights sleep-something which is critical if Brain Fog is to be contained.
Brain Fog is debilitating and distressing but there is a lot I can do to help myself recover as quickly as I can so normal service can be resumed.
As mentioned this morning, my one aim for today was to put together a Depression-Busting Plan to help me in my recovery. It helps to have a focus and although I need to make sure that I am not setting myself up to fail by setting my sights too high, I also understand that if I am to emerge from this debilitating fog I have to challenge myself and my lifestyle.
My GP asked me to think about changes I need to make for recovery and when I see her this week I may not have a definite plan in place but I have managed to put some thoughts down in my new Depression-Buster notebook.
I have been mind-mapping.
Following the holistic approach, I chose 6 areas of my life which need careful attention and wrote down all the ideas/thoughts which immediately came into my head. There are likely to be many more added later but on the basis that the most urgent ideas came to mind first I didn’t want to over burden myself with too much information.
The 6 topics I chose are;
Over the next few days I will be working on all of these issues alongside my GP and my support network so any ideas/tips/techniques that you use and you wish to share will be gratefully received 🙂
It is 7.00 am and after spending two days in bed I am up and showered, teeth cleaned and fully dressed, albeit it my shirt could do with an iron. For those who understand depression these are seen as the triumphs they are. For those who have no experience of this illness, these are the daily tasks that we all take for granted when healthy and feeling good. I take them for granted too but on mornings like today I feel like I have conquered the world.
My advantage in dealing with my bouts of low mood is that I have recovered before and I have hope that I will do so again. My GP as ever has been very supportive for which I am truly grateful. I am lucky to have a GP who takes the time to discuss my condition and the best way forward. Not everyone has this advantage and I do appreciate it.
At times like these, little things mean a lot. Thank you “Sally” for an uplifting quote for today;
In my role of Mental Health Champion at work, I have been invited to attend an event at the Barbican, London next Monday evening. It features Ruby Wax and is part of the series, Wonder: “Art and Science on the Brain” a collaboration between the Wellcome Trust and the Barbican Theatre.
“Join comedian, actress and converted neuroscientist Ruby Wax for a journey from the heights of fame to the depths of mental illness and back again. How has understanding her brain shaped Ruby’s career, depression and life itself? From celebrity interviews and Absolutely Fabulous to the Royal Shakespeare Company and stand-up comedy, Ruby has led a life of success and fame.
She has also experienced depression and debilitating mental illness, a subject she treats with dark humour through her shows ‘Losing It’ and ‘Out of her Mind’. As she has learned to cope with her mental illness, and with a growing number of degrees in brain sciences under her belt, Ruby’s perception and understanding of her condition offers a fascinating insight into the way our mind and spirit works. But how much does understanding her own brain change this perception and what’s actually going on in there? This is her tale.
I am looking forward to hearing what Ruby has to say about her experiences of mental illness as I have read a lot about her, but have never heard her speak live. I’m sure it will be fascinating and I will let you know!
Over the past few weeks I have done a couple of interviews about my experiences of depression for the Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine and the Daily Mail, neither of which has yet been published as there are clearly far more interesting and worthy news stories around.
The latest scheduled date for Stella is Sunday 21 October, but I’m not holding my breath. The Daily Mail is clearly holding us all in suspense but it will be worth waiting for 🙂
One of the benefits of the Daily Mail adventure was having a make-up artist and photographer come to my house and do a photo shoot. Normally I hate my photo being taken but they both made me feel very relaxed, to the extent that the make-up guy (can’t remember his name 😦 ) drank the bottle of wine that I’d bought to calm ME down and I didn’t notice until he fell out of my front door on his way to his car!
After my make-up was complete and I looked more like Elvira Munster than I cared to, I had a couple of arguments with the guy about what I should wear for the photos;
“No black”- “But my whole wardrobe is black!”
“Nothing jazzy”-” You are telling me that my M&S Per Una cardigans are too jazzy?”
“No low-cut tops showing vast amounts of cleavage”- “I don’t do low-cut tops showing vast amounts of cleavage”
Me; “That dress is too tight”
Him; “Caroline it only has to look good from the front!”
and so it went on until we agreed to disagree and I bowed to his greater experience in these matters.
“It’s well-known that unemployment can lead to mental health problems but doctors say those still in a job are suffering too” (The Scotsman, 24 August 2012)
I wish I could say that this headline comes as a surprise, but of course it doesn’t. I have seen too much evidence to support this claim over the past two years and unless and until the economy picks up, we can expect a lot more.
To summarise the austerity Insight Research Group GP opinion survey conducted recently it concludes that;
Just because you have a job, don’t expect to escape mental health issues brought about by worrying about job security and related financial concerns.
The recession is seriously damaging our mental health.
Those in employment are displaying much greater levels of stress, depression, panic attacks and anxiety.
Increased workloads and working longer hours leads to higher levels of mental illness in the working population.
Drink and drug dependency has increased and the amount of time spent exercising has decreased.
Employers need to be aware of these potential issues and put support structures in place to mitigate the impact on their staff and the business. Sadly, this is not happening enough although there are some very enlightened employers who are trying hard.
Catherine Quinn writing in today’s Scotsman finishes by saying, “We can only hope that the recent rise in mental illness balances out when the economy is back in rude health, and perhaps when the next recession rolls around, we’ll be forward thinking enough to realise that just like any health complaint, a mental disorder is often a temporary stall in an otherwise successful career”
UK MPs discuss their battles with mental illness in Parliament, in public. Let’s not underestimate how powerful this can be. Joining their ex-colleague Alastair Campbell, who has been very open about his personal war with depression, several MPs describe their experiences of depression, post-natal depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) opening up the debate to a wider audience.
Talking about mental illness is the best way to eradicate the stigma and encourage others to seek help. Mental illness is not shameful, it is the norm. It is fast becoming the case that if you do not or have not suffered from mental illness, you are simply not normal. It is a human condition and sadly, unless we get rid of the old-fashioned attitudes towards mental illness, people will continue to suffer in silence.
Our MPs have shown us that talking about mental illness is incredibly powerful. Were they derided? No. The support they have all received has been overwhelmingly positive and this is primarily because we empathise with them. We have been there and need others to show us the way to become more open and honest about our condition.
As my readers will know, I am more than comfortable talking about my experiences of a life-long battle with depression knowing that it helps others.
Let’s hope that more people come forward and show that having mental illness is not a blight and in some cases, can be counted as a blessing.
2010 was the year in which I overcame the fear of prejudice, stigma and of being labelled and finally admitted to friends, family and colleagues that I have depression. There were many reasons why I felt this was my moment and whilst it hasn’t all been plain sailing, I don’t regret it for one minute.
It sounds dramatic, but since my admission last May, my life has changed completely both at work and at home. I am now involved in lots of depression-related activities with my prime target to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and depression and to help others come to terms with this illness. All I have achieved towards this end in the last year is dedicated to everyone suffering with depression and mental illness, and to encourage them to hang in there, keep calm and keep going.
It will get better but you have to believe.
Undoubtedly the best thing about my admission however is that I have at long last found my tribe. I now belong to a large group of like-suffering wonderful people who I now count as some of my best friends because of our mutual association and understanding of depression. There is nothing like peer support to help deal with this illness as it can be a very lonely place and friends who genuinely understand the illness and it’s varied unpredictable symptoms are precious indeed.
Thank goodness for that moment of courage and thank you to all my new friends. I can finally be me.