For someone who suffers with depression, life is full of awkward or painful juxtapositions. Times when you are sat in the dark whilst others feel bathed in light. Times when you need an umbrella to shield you from the heavy rain, whilst those nearby are reaching for their sunglasses. Times when everyone around you is smiling and laughing and all you want to do is curl into a ball, let out a scream or cry your eyes out.
This week has been the definition, for me, of that awkwardness and pain.
It has been a very difficult, upsetting, and at times distressing, few days. As the old song goes, I’ve had to put on a happy face, whilst my insides have been turning over and over like a washing machine on a manic spin cycle. It’s been a week of sweats; very poor sleep; constant anxious feelings; nausea; panic attacks – including one this morning – a feeling of being out of control and out of my normal routines that keep me feeling safe, secure and well; and increasing cloudiness and heaviness of body and spirit as each day has passed.
I have spent my working week at the magnificent Liverpool Cathedral – the finest building in my amazing home city – at LJMU graduations, surrounded by proud, happy, smiley people. It has not been a normal week at the office – in both good ways and bad. Being here is a privilege. Being around the dedicated, warm, friendly, committed and ‘nothing is too much trouble’ LJMU colleagues has been life-affirming. Not everything has gone to plan – it never does any week of the year – and I’ve had one or two sticky work moments, that have hurt – but that is life and I want to help myself ride out those moments and not let it impact me as much. I cannot get rid of the depression but I can keep finding new and better ways to manage it.
But being here has also meant not being able to access my usual safe places in body and mind. Insufficient time alone during the day; no reading for pleasure; very little access to music (cathedral organ excluded!); getting home later than normal, meaning less time with Miss J and Dr J; less time to be on top of the household routines that keep me on the straight and narrow; no exercise, aside from lots of walking and standing; too tired to enjoy TV in the evenings; too tired from all the small talk and smiling to want chat when I got home; in essence, too little time for me and my self care.
What I have experienced this week – the demands placed on me – are no different – and in many, many cases, much less onerous – than to my colleagues. But, we are all different and we are react differently to changes, pressures and the small things that hit us.
People who know me often see me as a people person; someone who gets energy from being around others; from the craic; from the interactions with colleagues and friends. That is in part very true. But for me to enjoy those interactions, I need space for me; for downtime; to be with my own thoughts and needs; to be off duty. This week has pushed me to the limits and sadly, I have not had the resilience to make it through in one piece. I am not blaming anybody or anything – least of all the amazing 4500 students who have graduated this week or my brilliant LJMU colleagues – but I know that to learn for the future, I need to reflect on what has happened to me this week.
This has been an especially interesting episode as I’ve got my newly-started mental health diary to accompany me. Each day I track my mood – with a mark out of ten for the am and pm. I track the things I have done to stay well and how I felt and the factors that have led to my mod score. This week has not made for pretty reading. Scores of 4/10 and 5/10 have been the norm – a 3/10 today – but also telling is how much I have written this week about my feelings and how little I have written about what I’ve been doing for me. Every day is a school day and this week is another step on my ongoing journey of recovery and wellbeing. It is clear I still have much to learn.
On the plus side, I’ve learnt something this week. Although I’ve been in a lot of pain – I’ve got through it. I am pretty sure that my closest colleagues who have been alongside me this week will not have been aware of my troubles – I have made it through and keep going. My wife is the only person who really knows what’s been going on and – as ever – without her – this week would have been much, much worse.
I know the weekend will be a time of recovery – forced rest and recuperation. I know I will be back next week. I know that time with my girls will refresh me; build me up again to come back stronger. Today, I am just proud to still be standing, with my happy face in tact and the words of the song ringing in my ears:
Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that “full of doubt” look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!