As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week I thought I’d write something a bit different for my blog. A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. This didn’t come as a huge surprise as I’d been struggling for years and I’d finally reached a point where I felt like I really needed help. My GP offered me a course of anti-depressants which I didn’t take. I decided that I didn’t want the feeling of not knowing whether I was genuinely recovering or if it was the drugs. And I didn’t want to come off them and find that nothing had changed. I know that they work well for thousands of people but the thought of taking them was actually adding to my anxiety.
Instead, I opted for the talking therapies route. The first person I saw didn’t really encourage me to engage with the root of my depression and, after a couple of sessions, I decided that it wasn’t for me. The NHS wouldn’t give up on me though. They encouraged me to try a different route and I saw a CBT practitioner for about four months. This gave me some techniques to cope with both the depression and the anxiety but the therapist felt that I needed something ‘deeper’. The next stop was a psychologist.
Some of my sessions with him were gut-wrenching. I cried, I shouted, I got up to leave on numerous occasions but I stuck with it. I’m not cured though. I still have periods of darkness where I retreat into myself, I still sometimes avoid social situations and I still occasionally have mild anxiety attacks in the supermarket or in a restaurant. But I am much more able to cope. I have strategies and I use them to try and keep myself on a relatively even keel. I know that the negative feelings will pass, eventually. I also have a daily therapy session – with my four-legged therapist, Jess the terrier.
I’ve read many times about a possible link between creativity and mental illness and I know that, for me, a lot of my ideas come from the times when I’m deep inside my own head. Sometimes I seem to get bogged down in the past and I can’t shake off my memories – some bad, some not so bad. Alfie in Fracture is probably partly based on an invisible friend that I made up when I was about eight and still remember quite clearly at times. Events in Forgotten were very much sparked by anxiety during a bus journey and a lot of time pondering a series of negative ‘what if’s’. The opening of the book that I’m working on at the moment is based on one of those childhood memories that seem to come out of nowhere and almost literally stop me in my tracks.
As a teenager I wrote masses of angst-ridden ‘poetry’ (who doesn’t?) and the more miserable I felt the more I wrote. I used to think that I could only write when I was depressed. Now I can write through depression and continue when I’m feeling okay – in the same way that I can get out of bed and get dressed even when all I really want to do is curl up and hide – knowing that the bad feeling will pass, eventually. I’m glad that I found the help that I needed and I’m glad that I have many more good days than bad days. I know I’m lucky and I’m aware that many people struggle much more than I do. I was in denial for years, I didn’t want a diagnosis I just wanted to be left alone to get on with my ‘stuff’. Now, I realise that asking for help was so important and I would urge anybody in the same situation to take that first step. There is help out there and it’s important to find out what works for you.