Taming the black dog….

This is not a sad post about depression. It is a post of how, with the most amazing support of work colleagues and my family, I brought an end to the years of moodiness, the cycles of up and down and stepped away from the almost certainly disastrous resignation from teaching that would have had huge implications for my family. Instead, one year on, I really am a calmer, more determined, more sociable, more effective and happier person determined to do more to raise awareness, and money, for mental health issues that affect us all.

So, it has been a year to remember. You might it is odd, to begin with such a statement in the middle of November, but my previous 12 months is worthy of an anniversary all of its own – and to be honest, will warrant a celebration each year on in the future. 18 months ago I resigned my role as a Vice Principal – so convinced that the reason for my mood and state of mind was the responsibility I had at school – in the hope that a reduced role would make such a difference in my working and personal life. It didn’t.

6 months later things were much worse. I’d steadily annoyed many of my peers, I’d become so disinterested with my work that I was belligerently refusing to work in the evenings and weekends, which is fine to a degree but I wasn’t getting the work done at other times either, and I was getting more and more moody at home. I HATED Sunday evenings. I’d be annoyed on Sunday morning because it would soon be time to think about work the next morning. I HATED the stupid red flashing light on my work phone that greeted me EVERY morning (one of my roles is to manage staff absence and the light signified that a member of staff might be off work) and I just wanted to shut my door and not get involved with school business….no good for a “senior leader”.

This time last year I had grown a beard, been very confrontational in a leadership team meeting, not my style at all, and then reacted so badly to a half marathon race one November weekend that I was convinced I had the flu…….G.P. signed me off work for a week.

I really didn’t understand why I felt ill – and I did feel ill. I was really fit, running 2 or 3 times a week and really feeling the benefit of losing 5 stone in weight. I should have a superhuman immune system I protested to the GP…..why do I feel like crap? It just happens, they said, take some time off.

One week later I returned to work, none the better for the time off and got an almighty dressing down from my Principal. Turns out that in my absence – the threads of my role that I had loosely pulled together had completely unraveled and I was summoned to account for myself.

I don’t understand it, he said, what has gone wrong – you used to be so much more on top of this…..it triggered a complete breakdown in emotions and I was in tears for close to the next two hours. He was great – he canceled a meeting to just sit with me in silence whilst I tried to make sense of why I felt so terrible and when he urged me to go back to the GP I realised I had to explore if there was another reason for my situation. I very nearly resigned that evening……I came so close to walking away from teaching at that moment despite the terrible implications it would have had on my family.

A few days later I had secured an appointment with a mental health specialist at my GP surgery and explained as much as made sense to me. I had reflected on my mood and how it was worse during the winter but also fluctuated over the year so I knew it was not a seasonal thing. The GP listened and then sat back and said, “Yes, there is a lot wrong and there is a lot we can do to support you”. I’d never thought of myself as being depressed but how he set out the symptoms I’d been experiencing it all started to make sense….what didn’t was why I’d missed it in the first place.

It’s one thing to say you have a problem and need help – getting that help is quite another thing altogether. I was told I needed counselling, not CBT, but really explorative counselling, great I said….but I was told it is a 6-month referral 😦 . No good, you tell me something is wrong and I want it fixed….yesterday.

I was referred to the big white wall – an online service for counselling. Great in principle but I “approached” 6 counsellors and was told they were either busy or not taking new referrals for a few months. So, I discussed it with my wife and found a counsellor of my own at £40 a session…..

The GP raised the idea of medication. I’d never thought of anti-depressants and didn’t even have a view on them, I certainly did not feel anxious about how I would be perceived if I took them. So I agreed to take some medication. Even then, I was told it would take 3 weeks until I noticed a difference…..why does everything take so much time???

The counseling was great – I had 7 sessions in all but the thing that made the biggest difference was the medication – WOW. It did take a few weeks, although I got the nausea side effects pretty much straight away, when it did kick in I felt amazing, I felt happy. No more grumpy in the morning, no more really short temper, I felt relaxed, switched on, enthusiastic. My children noticed a massive difference, as did my wife. I didn’t know until a few months later that my wife had emailed my Principal to thank him for his support and encouragement for me to seek help – hearing this made me sad about how my mood had impacted on her over the years but really pleased that he got this feedback as he was fundamental in my reversal.

I don’t think I should go through all the details here about the next 10 months – it will be a huge post 🙂 but one year on a lot has changed……

I still have a job, in teaching. I am really enjoying my role at work, my time in the classroom and am enjoying being able to support others at work. I am leading the college’s well-being programme for staff and it is having a tremendous impact on them – it is easily the best thing I have worked on. I am really enjoying being viewed as an asset to the leadership team once more and knowing that others feel confident in counting on me to do a good job.

I’m still happy at home and enjoying time with my family – I used to want “cave-time”, a euphemism for time out but not anymore and whilst I used to actively avoid groups and gatherings I now really enjoy social events. I turn 43 this weekend and yet I feel as though I am only now starting to get the point of what i can do and the difference i can make to others.

Hence the reason for this post. It is unacceptable that I had to wait 6 months or more for treatment. I had the means to pay, although I certainly did not have the money sitting around, for my own treatment but there will be many more who do not. There is a well-circulated statistic that 1:4 of us will suffer from mental health issues this year – that is misleading. Mental health affects all of us. I clearly have a mental health that needs careful management but that impacts on EVERYONE around me so the 1:4 is nothing like it….the other 3 will be friends, spouses, children and parents of the one who is stricken with mental health issues so we all are affected.

Two years ago I took up running in a bid to lose weight. This year I ran my first marathon in Manchester and next April I will run the London Marathon. I am running for MIND – the mental health charity because we are all affected by mental health and not everyone can resort to paying for their own treatment. If I think back to the nightmare of having to wait 6 months or longer for support when I needed it most I can’t bear to think how much more I would have suffered, how my family would have suffered – so if I can raise money to ensure that others get the support they most need then I will truly be helping others escape the nightmare of depression and mental ill health.

As I said in the introduction – this is not a sad story – I am genuinely thrilled with my the turnaround in my health and well-being. I want others to realise that help can be found and you must not feel as though there is no solution or no prospect of ever feeling happy or unburdened again. Please help me by donating whatever you can afford to back me in my run, it will help when I am training in the cold and wet winter months and, much more importantly, you might be helping someone else realise a turnaround in their life experiences such as my past year.

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