You may have seen the Time to Talk adverts on television here in the UK, raising awareness of mental health discrimination and, as the name suggests, encouraging people to talk about it. For a long time a stigma has been attached to mental health problems and those who are affected by them. At the end of last year I pledged, on the Time to Change website, to talk about mental health problems and this post is the start of this.
Around 2 years ago I was signed off work with anxiety and work related stress. At this time, I didn't consider myself to be anxious at all and the people around me always commented on how I never got stressed. The truth is, as I know now, that I was very good at hiding it. The outside me did not reflect the inside me at all - they were 2 completley different people, for a long time. The job I loved now made me anxious. I didn't want to go to work, I would sit in the carpark dreading having to go inside, I used to hope that I would be ill and not have to go and even wanted to have an accident on the way to avoid going in. I was anxious about everything, even the things I enjoyed, and started to avoid them. Seeing people made me feel sick and I just wanted to stay at home and not see anyone. One Sunday night I became hysterical - I couldn't do it any more. I went to see the doctor, who was wonderful, and reffered me for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and gave me anti-depressants. The CBT really helped, it was here that I realised I was a really anxious person and I began to identify areas of my thinking I needed to change. After about 6 weeks I had improved and returned to work, still on the anti-depressants.
After 6 months I came off the anti-depressants and continued on, putting what I had learnt from my CBT sessions into practice. I was OK for around a year - in all honesty I had kidded myself that I was completley fine and that some miraculous cure had taken place. I started to feel the way I had done before, I recognised the symptoms, and went back to my doctor who dropped a pretty big bombshell on me - I had depression. I didn't feel unhappy, I didn't feel anything - I felt empty and had done for a long time. I didn't want to do anything, times I knew I should have been happy or excited didn't make me feel that way and I spent a lot of time crying and not knowing why. He put me back on the anti-depressants and, through work, I got a referral to occupational health who reffered me for counselling. I found this really helpful and, under the advice of the doctor and counsellor, took some time off work (although I was reluctant to do this). It helped and gave me time to think about what was going on with me - I found it hard to accept that I had depression. I spent time reading books and blogs on the internet and recognised myself in what I read. I made some big decisions about my life - the biggest being to leave my full time job as this was the major cause of stress in my life. Things have not been easy - I became hysterical in work one day and hid in the toilets having a full blown panic attack - they had to send for my mum to take me home! I never returned to work after this and the doctor put me on beta blockers to help with my anxiety and panic attacks.
Many people think that being a teacher is easy - I've even heard people call it 'babysitting'. The children are amazing. What makes the job difficult is the constant pressure to reach unachievable targets, to 'perform' for OfSTED, the mountains of paperwork, not being allowed to do my job becuase of a new government initiative and the expectation to work in excess of 50 hour weeks - I was getting to school when it opened at 7:30am, leaving at 4:30pm (often only taking 15 minutes for lunch), taking 2 or 3 hours work home each night and then taking at least a days worth of work home at the weeked. The holidays (those really long ones we get) were filled with planning, assessments, preparing resources, visiting places to carry out risk assessments for trips and, in the summer holidays, weeks of tidying and reorganising my classroom ready for the new year. This kind of workload finally takes its toll.
I am lucky in that I have a good support network around me. Mr Bunny, my Mum, my friends and even people I met through Twitter, have been amazingly supportive and I never once feel alone. I was lucky that at work I had some extremley supportive colleagues and friends who looked after me and understood and supported me when others didn't quite have the knowledge and understanding to (the 'she's not depressed' 'what's she got to be depressed about' and 'there's nothing up with her' group!)
I am now working as a supply teacher and a private tutor. I love teaching (and am pretty good at it!) and don't want to leave it completley. I feel more like the old me (who I'd forgotten about) every day. I am taking each day as it comes and remaining positive. I know that it is a long journey but the good stretches are starting to outnumber the bad ones.
I'm asking you to check out the Time to Change website, to make your pledge to talk about mental health problems and to end the stigma attached to them.