Hello again

Hello there. It’s been a while. A long while. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just take this site down and give up.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought about it. I’ve been dealing with a very full plate in terms of things claiming my time. Work. A new house (a new house that I actually *own*. No more calling the landlord. I *am* the landlord.) Writing and running what is probably more than my fair share of LARPs. Most awful of all, depression and anxiety- those roommates in my head who may never move out, who may go away but may always have a bunch of stuff stored inside me.  And most wonderful of all, planning a wedding.

There are a lot of reasons not to try again with writing about the things I love and trying to build this into something worth the building. There’s only one reason for carrying on. But it’s way more compelling than any of the reasons not to.

This is something I am doing for me. One of the very few things I’m doing only for me. Because I like writing. I like connecting with however few or many of you there are. I want to record at least part of my life in a way that’s more substantial than the empty calories of social media. I want to put something good out into the world- encouragement to try and make things. Because I know from experience that making things keeps the darkness at bay. And when there’s less darkness, it brings satisfaction, and joy.

For a long time, I let all the other things in my life stop me from showing up to the work of trying to create a better and more meaningful life for myself. Well, I’m done letting the resistance get me. Whether I have grand lessons to impart or whether I just found an interesting pattern. Whether I’ve made something cool or (equally likely) made something that isn’t Pinterest-worthy but is still satisfying. I’m going to show you the messy side of the room (to quote Heather B. Armstrong), because I think people need to see the thread, the scraps, the paint-covered newspapers, the burnt-sienna painted chux-mache props that kind of look like giant poos, drying on my dining-room table… whatever happens, I’m going to keep showing up. I hope you’ll join m

Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month in the States. As the Bloggess pointed out, wouldn’t it be nice to only have to be aware of mental illness for a month a year? Yes, it would. For many people, though, it’s not that simple. On her blog, the Bloggess put a call out to people to share their experiences, and what they’ve learned that’s helped them. I think it’s a great idea, and part of something very important: we need to start talking about mental health. We need to remove the stigma about people discussing their own experiences with it. It removes one of the obstacles to people getting help- actually feeling able to say “I have a problem and it’s not going away”. She posted two questions for people to answer. Here are my answers. I hope they help someone.

How has mental illness affected you personally?

I’ve suffered from depression for a long time. I’ve been on antidepressants for the past 2 years, and have had to take them previously. I also suffer from anxiety, which is situational in origin.  I’m one of the lucky ones. I know that compared to what others have to deal with, my own mental health issues aren’t nearly as bad. I once had to take- and by take I mean frogmarch- a severely, clinically depressed flatmate to A&E because they were planning to commit suicide, which I only found out about because I read their blog. I’ve been to therapy, read books.

I remember the first time I was prescribed antidepressants, it took me several weeks to start taking them. I sat looking at the packet of pills, and then at the dose sitting in my hand, for several minutes, knowing what it would mean if I started taking them. I didn’t come off them right the first time I took them, in part because the doctor I had at the time hadn’t given me any information about coming off them. He had, in fact, told me that I should take them for the rest of my life “to save my marriage” (they didn’t save it, thank goodness).

What did you learn from it that might help others?

The biggest thing I’ve learned is this: not all doctors are created equal. This is not to denigrate anyone who works in general practice, it’s a damned hard job. But some GPs are better than others. We all know this. With mental health issues, that goes triple. Some GPs are better at understanding and treating patients with mental health issues than others- just like some are better with kids, or with elderly relatives who don’t WANT to go into a home, or with minor surgical procedures. It’s just the way it is. But that does mean it’s worth it, if you’re looking for help, to try and find a doctor who’s good at helping people with depression, anxiety, addiction, or the illness you have.

The first doctor who prescribed me antidepressants was appalling. He had already made me feel guilty about physical illnesses (not kidding). He didn’t titrate my dose of antidepressants up. He prescribed me a sleeping pill to go with the antidepressants, and failed to tell me that the pill he prescribed me could be habit-forming. Ie, he didn’t tell me I risked becoming addicted to the pills he was giving me if I took them every day. He told me to take one every day. He showed no empathy, and little understanding of the situation.

The second doctor who prescribed me antidepressants was the complete opposite. She explained about titrating the dose of antidepressants up, told me I would need to take them for at least a year, and then there would be a slow process of coming off them. She made sure I felt comfortable about taking them, explaining that they were medicine to get me into the right headspace so that I could do the mental/therapy work I needed to do to get myself right. “Get yourself well so you can get yourself well”. She prescribed a sleeping pill but advised that I only take it when I had a sleep deficit to catch up on. She was practical and kind. She didn’t make me feel judged, or guilty.

Like I said, not all doctors are created equal. If you have the option to choose a doctor (which isn’t the case in the UK with the NHS, though you could try a different doctor in your surgery, or ask for a referral), then ask around, if you can. Maybe talk to a local mental health charity and see if they know of a good GP in your area. It really is worth it to go to someone who’s good with mental health.

Not all medicines are created equal either

And just like a particular antibiotic or painkiller may not work for you, and you need to take a different one, the same goes for antidepressants. I’ve had various friends struggle to get the right mix, or to find one that doesn’t have bad side effects. It can be a difficult process finding the right medicine to take- that’s why working with a doctor who’s good at this stuff is important. If the medication they prescribe isn’t working, go back and talk to them about it. They know their stuff. They can help.

Mental illness is just that- an illness

There’s no shame in seeking help. And there’s no shame in having a mental illness. It’s just a different organ- your brain- that has the issue. It took me a while to finally start taking antidepressants because I was ashamed of what it would mean. I know others who have suffered from depression who’ve got worse instead of better because they tried to think their way out of being sick. Yes, willpower has a role to play. But you can’t think your way out of being depressed or anxious (or out of any other mental health issue) any more than you can think your way out of having the flu, or a cold. It’s an illness. Get some kind of treatment.

If you have situational depression or anxiety, a therapist is really helpful

They can talk about what’s going on in your life and help you look at things in new ways. If your depression or anxiety is situational, a therapist can help you identify the triggers for it, and the reasons behind it. This is REALLY useful. Like doctors, not all therapists are the same. They also won’t be offended if you visit them and find they’re not the right person for you. If you don’t click with one therapist, keep looking. Finding the right one is worth the effort.

So that’s the main things I’ve learned. I hope they help someone out there.

The Dark Mark (in which Ellen finds she has more to say)

Sometimes it’s there for a reason.

Sometimes it just appears.

You didn’t choose it, but there it is. One day, you’re minding your own business when you notice the pain. Sometimes you don’t even notice the pain. Either way you look down at your forearm and there it is. 

The Dark Mark.

You’ve heard stories about it, of course. Maybe someone in your family had it. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe they survived. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, you have it now.

The Dark Mark.

Maybe you try to ignore it. Maybe you try to think your way out of it. Maybe you hide it, hoping it’ll go away all by itself. Maybe if you don’t press at it, it won’t show. Only you will know it’s there. 

None of these things will get rid of the Mark. You’ll keep looking at your forearm and there it’ll still be, even though others can’t see it. 

The sensible ones are the ones who talk about it. Who pull back their sleeve, push against their flesh, bring it into the light for others to see. Maybe they ask around online. Maybe they talk to friends or family. You know, the ones who had the Dark Mark. If they survived it. Maybe they go to the doctor and talk to them about it. 

And they find that they’re not alone. That they never were. When one person reveals their Mark, others start revealing theirs. The survivors, or the ones who are still trying to get rid of the Mark. Or the ones who know that it’s there to stay, who are living with it and doing their best to keep it at bay.

Maybe after some time, the Dark Mark fades. If you’re lucky. If you put the work in. But the thing about it is, it’s been there. That potential is always there. It could come back at any time. 

I’m sure by now you know what I’m talking about. 

I have depression. It’s fading. It’s taken over a year. When it first showed up it was one of the worst weekends of my life. It’s taken medicine, and help. I don’t want to hide my Mark. It’s there. It could come back. That terrifies me. 

But I know I’m not facing it alone. That’s how I know my depression isn’t as deep as what others have had to deal with (like the former flatmate I had to take to the ER because I knew that if I didn’t he was going to kill himself). I’m one of the lucky ones. 

I pray that one day, everyone will see depression for what it is. That there won’t be a stigma about it. That people who have the Dark Mark will be able to be open about it without fear, because right now, fear keeps a lot of people silent, hiding away when they most need to reach out to others. 

Please, if you have depression, talk to someone. Get help. I know there is a voice telling you you’re alone. That nothing will work. That there’s no point.

That voice is a lie. Together, we can beat it. 

Not. One. More.

Links of hope: Genie, you’re free

So unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll have seen the sad news that Robin Williams passed away yesterday, aged far too young, and sadly it seems he took his own life. 

Even a cursory look at the news will tell you the above, and mention his publicist’s saying he had been struggling with depression. 

There have been many tributes to him, as is only right. I thought Veronica Varlow’s was very beautiful but then I think that about so many of the things she writes. 

Thus in place of the usual curated silliness, I’d like to present some links about depression. I call this links of hope because my hope is that they’ll be useful, whichever group you fall into.

If you’ve never experienced depression:

Ali Brosh explains what it’s like to have depression at Hyperbole and a Half (a famous post).

Here is a friend of mine’s take on the subject

Know someone who is experiencing depression? Buzzfeed published this very helpful guide on things you shouldn’t say to someone with depression (with positive alternatives)

If you are experiencing depression, or think you might be:

There are many tests to help see whether you might have depression and help you access support (because it truly isn’t something you can deal with on your own). This is one of the New Zealand sites with a self-test

If it’s not something you’ve experienced before, it can be confusing and obviously difficult. Here is Buzzfeed again with things nobody tells you about depression.

Most of all, if you’re experiencing depression, I have this to say to you. You’re not alone. Please, reach out to someone.

Here is a list of numbers to call if you live in New Zealand.  

Here are a load of American helplines.

Here is the Samaritans website

Wishing you all good mental health.