The Four Horses of your Mental Apocalypse.
"You know Sophie, I really don't know what else to say - you have a lot of real insight and self awareness about this - I don't think there is anything I can tell you that you don't seem to know already...'
He looked at me a little dejected. He seemed like a nice man and I could see he genuinely wanted to help.
"I know, it doesn't really make sense does it? I mean I know its not the end of the world. I means no-ones died have they? So why do I feel like I want to throw myself under a bus? Why don't I want to go on? Why do I feel this way?'
"Please don't throw yourself under a bus."
There was a pause.
"But like I feel this way and but yet I know that..?'
We both sat there for a second in silence. I had my favourite leopard print coat on, my hair and make up was done and you probably wouldn't have guessed in a million years I was depressed (when the insides a mess make sure the outside looks alright etc etc..) This man was a highly qualified medical physician with some serious experience behind him. He was also a professor and previously in this conversation had revealed failings in his own career in empathy of mine. I could tell he really wanted to help - but in that moment we were both at a complete loss.
"Would you like to go on anti-depressants?'
"Not really..I mean I know they're supposed to work but do they really solve the problem...? I feel like I need something....I just don't know what.."
"I can put you on the waiting list for CBT?'
"It wouldn't hurt. How long would I have to wait?"
"The current wait-list is 18 months."
"really? - whats the point in that? Haven't most people already topped themselves before they even make it to the first session?"
"i'm sorry. People do drop out though so it may end up being sooner."
"ah. I see. Well fingers crossed someone tops themselves and I get bumped up the list!"
He didn't laugh.
"I'm sorry Sophie... there is a lot we don't know about depression and we're still trying to understand it. But you have such great insight that I think you'll be Ok - and you'll figure it out. Everyone fails - in fact all the best people do I think.'
It was a grey April afternoon in 2013 and I figured it was time to get some help. I had begun to think about ending my own life in way that was more than just a 'what if I..?' - it had started to feel like an avenue of relief. Some days I could zoom out, get a bit of perspective and realise I had 'a lot going for me', - because I did - on the outside I knew I was very lucky, but the feelings of sadness and fear, coupled with a deep weird lethargy, would always creep back in. I was incredibly ashamed of feeling so sad when I could see I had so much, but no matter how much rationalisation I threw at them, my feelings just Would. Not. Shift. Laughter was forced, smiles were simply a movement of facial muscles and I wasn't connecting with anyone.
The doctor handed me a prescription (in case I changed my mind) and I agreed to join the 34934933 year waiting list for some NHS-standard-procedure Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
'And one more thing - Sophie, please don't throw yourself under a bus...'
Again, he was a lovely doctor.
"Don't worry, I wont...do you think I would really want to ruin this coat?!'
Fortunately, nearly 7 years later, if a little worn around the edges, my coat and I are still in tact. The above story isn't a dig at doctors or the NHS in any way, its just that my experience of mental health, along with the growing media attention it is now receiving only serves to confirm my suspicions that this is a conversation happeing all too often within our current healthcare system. Doctors deeply care about their patients - but they are not therapists, there are time budgets, and its simply not physically possible for them to help you pick through the nuances of life that led you to the pain you are feeling today.
Mental Health is having a real moment in the media, which is great, but back in 2012, and indeed when I started studying Psychotherapy, it was barely on the brink of making secondary news. When I said I was studying therapy, people would assume I meant Physiotherapy and it was often much easier to say I was just studying general Psychology.
That doctors appointment was a moment of humorous relief from feeling constantly mortified by my struggles. For many, mental health was a term still synonymous with being 'damaged', 'unstable' or 'crazy' and the thing that kept me (and continues to keep) so many people silent, is the unspoken fear of 'if I admit this, who will I lose?'.
In a study conducted in 2012, suicide was concluded as the biggest cause of death in the modern world for men aged between 20-49. It's not road traffic accidents, not obesity, not diabetes; not crashing a motorbike in Vietnam, not taking a dodgy pill on a night out or driving too fast on a country lane; the thing most likely to kill young men in the most affluent and advanced society human beings have ever enjoyed - is their own minds. I don't think keeping quiet about that or allowing it to remain shameful is working for anyone anymore.
In light of this fact, it gives me great relief that 7 years later you can no longer open a newspaper or, indeed your laptop browser, without a story about mental health popping up in your face. It has become the poster-illness of the affluent world and it turns out on some level, many of us are suffering away in circumstances we once believed were non-negotiable.
And its great - for even the concept of mental health to be weaving its way into our daily scroll and growing media consumption is an absolute step in the right direction for the whole of humanity in general.
Recognising the importance of looking after our brains is a concept long overdue, and an understanding that early emotional lacerations can have far reaching effects to our internal adult lives is something I've come to believe is absolutely necessary. Your head is literally the origin of every decision you ever make; If you're car wont start, do you spend time obsessing over the tyres rather than making sure you've taken a proper look at the engine? Probably not - so if you need any more convincing of the importance of mental health, then please read that again.
The current problem I find now is that talking about something on a nice printed poster in a clinic, using the celebrity mouthpiece or creating a hashtag on a social media post is a great starting point, but it doesn't mean you're actually fixing the problem. That takes practical action and I think this is our current stumbling block. Therapy is still expensive, hard to find and there is still huge waiting lists on the NHS. To attend a regular appointment requires regular time off work which isn't always possible, either for logistical reasons or due to an unsympathetic employer. We are also still deeply in the dark on the path to a 'cure'. Bureaucracy and a lack of financial investment still present roadblocks to the most vulnerable people receiving treatment and I'd be willing to bet that big pharma wouldn't be too keen on research that promotes the benefits of psychotherapy over drug treatment. There is still a lot of work to be done that simply creating awareness cannot do.
Since that visit to the doctors back in 2012, me, myself and my mind have worked very hard to unpick why we are the way we are. Instead of immediately judging my thoughts and reactions, I came to learn how to observe and study them; 'Why did I do that?' 'Why did I feel like that?' 'What did I want/need to happen/hear then?' To some, this may seem like incessant, self-involved navel gazing - and if that's you're opinion than you're entitled to that. I can only say that it worked for me and I moved through a lot of my own unhappiness because of it. Like everything in life, too much is never good and its a pendulum swing you have to learn to manage; sometimes its time to look outwards and focus on others, and others times you need to go in - but its absolutely not selfish to focus on understanding and bettering yourself.
Learning to use my brain to study my brain not only saved my life, but it has given me insight into everyone else's brains as well. With this in mind...(yes, pun intended), I haven't conducted any large scale fancy research and I can only offer you the following as speculation - but I read a lot, I've worked through a lot of my own stuff and I'm paying attention even if sometimes it looks like I'm not.
Poor mental health arises due to whole alchemy of things, both physical, environmental and psychological. In each of us, happiness comes with its own specific DNA, which means the idea of their ever being a silver bullet is completely flawed.
Ways or habits of thinking about our emotions, ourselves and the world around us, can reap havoc on our minds and our happiness if they go unchecked and in the modern world, much of what looks good in the first instance is actually becoming detrimental to long-term happiness and emotional stability.
In the following posts (I'll try and keep on top of them!), I want to introduce you to some of the toxic behaviours, thought patterns and social norms that are often created and perpetuated by technology, work and generational differences.
I like the internet, I like social media, I LOVE shopping and I won't be constantly telling you to love yourself, but a lot of the way we live now, what we prioritise, what we believe about ourselves and who's lead we follow can sometimes be at a hidden detriment to our emotional stability.
There are four horses, four ways of thinking (or lack of) that I think are a good place to start in developing an awareness of your emotional make up and how to protect and promote it;
1) Shame and 'otherness'.
2) Unmet Needs.
3) Lack of Boundaries.
4) The belief that everyone else knows better.
Like I said, i'm not an expert - just very curious - so take from it what you like. This list is very limited and its by no means a cure. Professional face-to-face help will always offer more than any book, blog post or lifestyle app ever can.
However, if I can set you on a new path of thinking then maybe that's a start...