If anyone had told me that I would end up being a writer when I was growing up, I would have probably laughed in their face. It just wasn’t on my radar. I was wired up to learn, not create. So after years of academia, stressful careers and excruciating lows, I started a blog to write about my passions (travel, art, culture, fashion). Then I was published in a local magazine. Other writing jobs came up. I ended up in copywriting, writing for businesses. Then at the beginning of this year, I was called to write my story.
I avoided writing it for a long time. It meant that I would have to revisit the dark times, the times that I’d buried so I could get on with my life and stop identifying as a victim. Luckily, when you recover from severe depression, the memories of the pain and the suicidal thoughts tend to fade (Otherwise you couldn’t move forward). But in January, the chapters came to me overnight, which meant that I had a blueprint to work with. I dedicated my mornings to writing, and did my other work in the afternoons and evenings. It was cathartic, isolating, healing, painful, joyful and heart-opening. I focussed on the bigger picture (inspiring people that things CAN and WILL get better) instead of on the fears that came up about telling my story, warts and all. What would people think of me? Would it hurt me professionally to be so open and honest about these things? I was encouraged by the current breakthroughs in conversations about mental health to tell my story, and especially the high profile Heads Together campaign backed by the young Royals.
My story isn’t just about depression and recovery. I realised that a big part of getting better for me was creative recovery. By pushing down my natural creative gifts for so long, my soul was crying out to create. I honestly believe that many mental health problems are caused by a disconnection with the soul and blindly going down the wrong path, completely out of touch with our intuition. Obviously prolonged stress is a major factor too. When we prioritise work to such an extent to the detriment of our families, our hobbies, our social lives, our health and we’re not enjoying our work, our mental health suffers. Often we don’t even need a trigger to have a mental health issue.
When I started to write, I found that I had been craving an outlet for my voice for such a long time. For me, creative expression is crucial for a happy, fulfilled life. We must create, not just blindly consume. No wonder mental health is currently the biggest health issue facing the world. It’s not easy to rise above the consumer culture and create. Many of us believed that we would never make a living from creativity due to the education system, and quickly replaced our dreams with more practical career ideas. Or we didn’t have the opportunity to explore our creativity to its fullest extent. Luckily, as adults we can choose to explore our creativity through writing, blogging, photography, taking an art class, drawing – whichever creative pursuit speaks to you. The trick is finding the time to express yourself. What with the pressure to earn more, spend time with family, look after children or elderly relatives and all of the other things pulling us in many directions, creative expression can fall way down the list of our priorities. I believe we must reassess our priorities if we want to lead more balanced, healthier lives.
I also dedicate a chapter to my spiritual awakening as a result of my depressive episodes. Again, lots of fear came up about ‘coming out of the spiritual closet.’ Yet again, I was encouraged by the many brave people that are coming forward and speaking out about their spiritual beliefs at this time. As a result of my first depressive episode, I became interested in holistic therapies, wellbeing, self-development and energy healing. During the second, hellish, three-year episode, I again learned more about wellbeing, started to read spiritual books by Doreen Virtue, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and started to recognise that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. The third breakdown led me to a psychiatric hospital and a real test of faith. I deepened my interest in angels, finding our passion and purpose and started to get clear angel signs, white feathers, angel numbers (1111 etc), coins, messages in music. I questioned my sanity, even when I was well, but this experiences were happening too often for it to be a coincidence. Right now, many people around the world are experiencing an awakening. It doesn’t need a mental health issue to kickstart it, but it’s often the catalyst for many.
I also wanted to talk about medication and ECT (electro convulsive therapy). There is still a big stigma around medication and many people with mental health issues engage in a constant struggle with their meds. I always felt ashamed for taking them. I couldn’t understand that it was no different to a physical health issue. Hidden health issues, such as mental health, kick up that shame in a big way. It would be much easier if there was a cast or a bandage, right? I’m sorry but when you’re brain is broken, it’s not the time to fight with yourself about whether medicine is a good idea. The cold hard fact is when your brain doesn’t work, you can’t live. I couldn’t even open my laptop at the worst points. And I’m sure as hell not prepared to live like that. I still take Seroquel (an anti-psychotic used to treat severe depression) which literally switched the lights back on for me about four years ago now. I will take it for the rest of my life if it means I can have my life back.
I wanted to talk about my experience with ECT as it was so positive. After the third (completely unforeseeable breakdown) I knew deep down that I didn’t have the strength to start all of the recovery techniques that I had collected over the years. In hospital, desperate and suicidal, I penned a letter to my psychiatrist begging to have electricity zapped through my brain. ECT has received such a bad press, probably due to phrases like the last sentence! There is so much out there about memory loss, potentially horrendous side effects and it’s made to sound like some elusive practice that is only available privately. It’s happening day-in, day out in NHS hospitals. I am so passionate about this treatment being available to people who have been depressed for longer periods. Being in hell like that, with no hope and no sign of recovery, is what often leads to suicide. If there’s a chance that people can be given the kickstart they need to recover by this simple treatment, then it can and will save lives. I get so angry about people being left like zombies in their homes, unable to go out or look after themselves, when ECT exists. It switched me back on after the second treatment. The medical staff were amazed. Obviously it will not work for everybody, but shouldn’t people be given a chance to recover quicker instead of being left to rot, no longer a part of society? I’m all for natural recovery, but sometimes medical intervention is needed to save lives.
Yes, I had to learn a lot about stress and to look after myself better during all of this. I can’t be on go-go-go mode all the time. I have to take more time out than others who haven’t been affected. I had to modify my diet, incorporate fitness, put measures in place to stop me from sinking. Stress can often creep up on us and take us by surprise. There’s a lot of external pressure to be doing so much, when often we are running on empty. Social media demands that we appear to be having the most fun possible, adding to the pressure. We must take the time to get to know ourselves, our triggers, what fills us up and what brings us down. We must be brave enough not to settle, and try new things if our current lives don’t fulfil us. Now I understand the simple joy of a cup of tea in the garden. Walking my dog. Sitting in silence. I was going so fast for so long, these things seemed boring and unnecessary. Reconnecting with ourselves is the only way to combat the pace and soullessness of the current consumer culture.
I would love to get the book to a wider audience, and talk about my experiences in educational settings and workplaces. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. Education and self-awareness is key to the current mental health crisis.
Please feel free to contact me about any of the issues I’ve written about here or issues raised in the book. It’s currently only available on Kindle (I’m working on a paperback). I’m also looking for a publisher and editor if anyone can help me with that.
If you’re a blogger, please contact me if you would like a copy in return for a review.
You can buy Awakened for Kindle here
To join my workplace mental health Facebook group Stay Sane At Work click here
To join my spiritual Facebook group Let’s Get Spiritual click here