Saturday, May 15, 2021

It's Mental Health Awareness Week...

A quote from Matt Haig's book, Reasons to Stay Alive

Mental Health Awareness Week. What does that even mean? 'Mental health' is such a broad term and covers so many things that I'm not sure how helpful it is. Mental health is so more than depression but the focus of the week seems to centre on depression, so that's what I'll cover here. (I suppose calling something 'Depression Week' isn't very appealing!) If this post helps even one person, then it's worth it.

In my experience, depression is often a symptom or outward expression of something else that is the root cause or trigger for a depressive episode rather than a disease in and of itself.

The root cause of depression can be nothing at all, just the way your brain happens to be working right now. It could also be triggered by the situation or circumstances you're in; a hormone imbalance (PMT and its more serious sister, PMDD, perimenopause, menopause, post-menopause or postnatal depression where our hormones are just out of kilter), an underlying condition such as ASD or ADHD (which may or may not be diagnosed), financial worries, experience of trauma, bereavement, miscarriage, ill health, burnout, poor diet, vitamin deficiencies, pollution, allergies, relationship breakdown, substance or alcohol abuse, being bullied, work worries, stress, overwhelm, a chemical imbalance or even phobia. And I'm quite sure there are more. 

This means depression is often a complex picture and can be difficult to untangle. Our GPs, although well-meaning, are not always equipped with the right tools, knowledge or experience to fully support a depressed patient. GPs mostly offer basic CBT (cognitive-based therapy) or anti-depressants. The addition of social prescribing to the mix is a step forward, but it's only a small step forward. 

Where there is an underlying cause, you need to get to the bottom of it and treat the cause otherwise, the patient may relapse. CBT and anti-depressants may not be effective. Some depression lifts without intervention, it just needs time. Other bouts of depression need a different approach. 

This is why I'm not that keen on the perceived wisdom that you should 'reach out' and 'seek professional help'. It's not that straightforward. If you really are in the depths of despair, 'reaching out' is just about the last thing you're capable of doing. If you can do it, that's a fantastic achievement in itself. The onus is on others to reach out to you or to make it really, really easy for you to make that call or send that message to let someone know you're struggling. 

As for getting professional help... Hmmm. Waiting lists are long. Availability of treatment beyond anti-depressants and CBT is patchy. Counselling, CBT or coaching is not going to work if you have underlying undiagnosed ADHD and/or ASD. Hormone tests for women to check for imbalances during perimenopause are only possible if you're going for IVF treatment (well that's what I was told). And if you've been through the system before, then you know that the GP will likely offer you CBT or anti-depressants. And if that doesn't work for you, then what do you do and where do you go? Sure, you can go privately, but how do you know where best to spend your money? How do you know what kind of therapy or counselling you need? And you're trying to make these decisions in the midst of despair? Oof. It's hard and needs a lot of improvement. 

Even so, the GP is still the right starting point, particularly if you have a sympathetic GP. But you're probably going to have to do your own research to complement what your GP can offer. Everyone is different and you know your situation better than your GP. 

If you're reading this and you are feeling low, then keep it simple. Focus on the basics first: water, light, nutrition and fresh air. After that, maybe some gentle exercise. A walk to the end of the block and back is a good enough start. When you're up to it, I recommend reading Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive. He's been through all of this and written a book based on his experience that is an easy, thoughtful and uplifting read.

Do talk to your friends about how you feel too. They won't all be able to help, nor will they all understand but someone will and they do care. Keep trying. And put a reminder in your diary to call your GP the next morning at 8am, or whatever ungodly time you have to make that call to get an appointment. Start the journey. Get advice. And take it gently, step by step, hour by hour and day by day. The chances are your road into depression has been a long one so the journey to recovery may take some time. 

There's no doubt that a better understanding of depression and ways of tackling it will be helpful to all of us. I hope that by raising awareness of these things as well as sharing insights and experience will lead to better services and treatments. Time will tell. In the meantime, hang in there. Your future self will thank you for it.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Captain Tom 100 Challenge completed!

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the internet, I am delighted to tell you that I completed my Captain Tom 100 challenge over the bank holiday weekend of sewing 100 items. It was a bigger challenge than I was expecting. Speed sewing is not my natural way of sewing, neither is sewing to order, but I had to do both in order to finish in the 4 days allotted.  Also, I had to deal with daily life and a new medical challenge but I did it! 

I made 101 things in the end by hand and on my trusty vintage sewing machine, Elsie:

14 shopping bags from an old, clean but slightly damaged double duvet cover of my Mum's

20 washable and reusable makeup pads from an old, but clean towel and 100% cotton poplin from my stash

7 embroideries on denim from my stash

10 hair bows made from 100% cotton poplin

26 mug rugs (fabric coasters) using three different fabrics from my stash

24 lavender bags made from a remnant of pure cotton alphabet fabric and home-grown lavender from the garden.

Keeping on sewing was quite hard at times. And I'm unable to do very detailed sewing work as the daylight wanes. Electric light isn't particularly comfortable to work in for sewing. Or at least, not the electric lights I have available to me at the moment. So I had to manage my time effectively. And I was more reliant than I was expecting on friends and neighbours engaging with me by donating and offering moral support. Each donation and comment really did spur me on that little bit more and really lifted my spirits when I was flagging.

An image of a vintage, metal chassis, Jones electric sewing machinePlanning and cutting things out takes at least as long as sewing the item in question. It's hard to predict how long it takes for that so inevitably, it takes longer than you'd like. And my trusty sewing machine is certainly trusty, but it takes time to wind bobbins, get the tension right, thread and rethread it and coax the presser foot over thick layers of fabric and wadding. I certainly got to know her very well that weekend and she worked really hard and really consistently.

Raising money for charity is hard. There are constant demands for our hard-earned cash, and my campaign was yet another one. Getting my donations in relied heavily on my personal network chipping in and me taking the time to keep people up to date with my progress. As I shared my progress and results, more people engaged. I think all but one or two of the donations were from people I knew personally. To get bigger money, you need to get beyond that and I didn't manage that this time and you need to start earlier to build up the momentum and enthusiasm to get the donations in. 

It was also really good to get such positive support from the charity I was fundraising for - Magic Me. I got daily morning emails with words of support and PR support too. that was really helpful for me and a good way to start each day knowing that what I was doing was appreciated and that the money raised would be very useful. They also managed to get me in the local news which was a bonus.

I also learned things about myself during the challenge. It's a long time since I've done anything remotely like this. Committing to and completing the challenge gave me a big boost of self-confidence. My natural state in the past has been commitment-phobic and a starter-upper rather than a completer-finisher. (There's good reason for that which I may write about another time.) Regardless, this time, I was able to counter that tendency and that felt really good. 

At the time of writing, my campaign has just got over the £500 mark. That's £200 more than my goal so it's fantastic! My friends and neighbours have been very generous. The campaign is still open, so if you'd like to donate, you can do that here

So thank you Captain Tom for being you and inspiring me to take on this challenge! Rest in peace good Sir.