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My Mental Healthy Year In Review
Posted by dirkgently1066
31st Dec 2014

The end of 2014 gives me pause to think back on the key events of the last 12 months and how each has impacted on my mental health.

* The single biggest incident was undoubtedly the death of my dad. In large part, I said everything I wanted to say here (http://1066allstars.webs.com/apps/blog/show/41914232-eulogy) and here (http://1066allstars.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42616164-why-the-ice-bucket-challenge-is-so-important). Perhaps all that is left to be said is this; there are many ways in which I am like my dad. I continue to work on the ways in which I am not.


* Returning to work was always going to be a defining event but I did not appreciate to what extent. The process started in late 2013 with temp work but my return to full time work was sealed in January as I returned to the financial sector four months after being made redundant. Perhaps the most difficult aspect was the sense I had that I must hide my illness. Had I been granted the opportunity to return to my previous employment, as I had expected to do, my colleagues would have been aware of the circumstances, I could potentially have a more open dialogue. Moving to a new environment, I felt a pressure to perform, to justify my place. After my last experience, I was reluctant to share for fear that it would hinder my progress.

This approach came with its own drawbacks of course. By hiding who I was, my anxiety was internalised. I was denying myself the opportunity to apply the lessons learned in therapy. Those around me likely would have no idea but I was continually battling a conflict between outward professionalism and inward turmoil.

As time has gone on, I have begun to open up to selected colleagues. But my guard remains up.


* Having a baby is a stress all of its own. But having a new baby when already having 3 year old twins and trying to recover from mental illness presents a whole new level of challenge. When he was born, I found myself looking after the girls. It was difficult to bond and it built a level of guilt and resentment which manifested in anger and sadness. As the months have passed, I have found it easier in some ways. As a baby becomes more responsive, it becomes naturally easier to interact with them. But the stresses remain.

Having children is the most enriching experience that one could hope for. They bring joy, laughter and love. They inspire me to see the world in new ways. They make me want to be a better person. But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that they are also a contributor to my stress levels. Part of this is a reluctance to move on from the life I had before and accept the life I have now. I still want to play my video games. I still want to read. I still want to watch films and stay up late. But within reason, these things are on hold. The single most important thing in my life are now my children. Mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment, to accept what is without judgement. Sometimes I get it wrong. And I accept that.


* One of the aspects of my mental illness that became apparent to me in therapy was a sense of inferiority. Dreams and aspirations were things that other people got to live out but not me. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't talented enough. I didn't work hard enough.

One of my dreams has always been to write my own book and be paid as a published writer. I fell away from writing some years ago, in hindsight some early signals of mental illness sapping my desire. But my time in therapy helped me to reconnect and this year saw the self publication of three collections. And people actually bought them and everything!

Beyond the books, I looked for avenues to write. My website has continued to expand with new blogs. I started a thread on the Sports Interactive forums, charting my mental health issues as they manifested in Football Manager, which has been well received. I have been published in literary journals, online papers and websites. I have written a number of stories for my children that I am incredibly proud of.

Yet even now my mind wants to take this achievement away from me. The books are self published, a genuine publisher has not seen my work and paid me to write. The occasions when I have seen my books in print make me feel awkward that someone actually paid their money to buy my drivel. I feel guilty for making them waste their money.

But these are aspects of my illness speaking. Self publishing is a valid tool for would be authors in the age of the internet. The fact that people have bought it is a compliment. Could the books be better? Sure, but so could anything. They represent a point in my life, not the culmination of it. I continue to write because I like it. I will continue to publish because I can. And hey, maybe one day the right person will read it and like what they see.


* I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. Part of me accepted that I was simply fat. But therapy has shown me the fundamental importance of change. We are not a fixed state. What we are or what we feel in any one moment does not define us for eternity. We can change.

This year I set about a healthy eating plan and, inspired by a family member, decided to chart my experience in blog form, exploring how a healthy eating regime affected my mental health. Four months down the line, I have lost 18 pounds and am still following the core tenets of the regime I set down for myself. To my surprise, I have embraced a change in diet and actively look for opportunities to exercise. It is a very practical reminder to myself that we can change and I look forward to continuing the plan into the new year.


* Christmas brings its own unique pressure. I wrote about my feelings here (http://1066allstars.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42845870-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year). The reality was a combination of both joy and stress, a microcosm of my year perhaps. On the one hand, there is nothing better than living vicariously through your children as they revel in the joy and wonder of opening presents, seeing flashing lights and dreaming of what Father Christmas might bring. On the other, there is a nagging doubt about whether we spent enough, why I can't simply relax, whether I am ruining my family's memories.

I recognise the thinking errors. Black and white thinking, catastrophising, the negative bias filtering out the good and focusing on the bad.


* And so where do I find myself at the end of the year? It is 15 months since I left therapy. Is anything different, has anything changed? It is a fair question to ask. In some ways, my anxiety has never been higher. I remain quick to anger. My mood can swing from high to low in the blink of an eye. There are times when I feel I can't cope, that the simplest decision is crippling.

And yet I am aware, which is an achievement in itself. But awareness by itself is a dangerous animal. Awareness of our triggers can leave us susceptible to them, walking a path whereby we accept a limitation, define ourselves by what we are not. Yet awareness can also give enlightenment. For awareness brings recognition and the opportunity to change.

I am not where I want to be. In some ways, I am not where I expected to be. But perhaps I must also acknowledge that I am ill. The completion of therapy does not represent a cure. I did not suffer a broken leg that can simply be healed and rehabilitated. My mind has spent years practising unhealthy behaviours to the point that my natural reactions are almost to sabotage myself, to see the worst. Everyday I must choose to change, to undo the knots of depression and anxiety, to plough a new furrow in my mind of balance and acceptance.

And so I do not approach the new year with a misguided expectation of positivity. Life owes me nothing, it is up to me to become the change I want to see.

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