Follow Jessica

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

It's the Economist's Crisis of Depression Summit, Stupid. Let's talk; Then Let's Act.

Yesterday I appeared on television and spoke on the radio about my experiences with depression; two television pieces were broadcast, one on BBC One (Breakfast) and the other on Al Jazeera. Luckily the two for TV were recorded last week and on Monday. I say luckily because a spot which I reckon was about the size of Mars and just as red appeared out of nowhere on Monday night. By Tuesday morning had I gone out into traffic cars may have been confused on my high street and would have stopped at will - my own personal temporary traffic light right there on my forehead. Thank goodness a face for radio was all that was required. And today when I ventured out I made liberal use of the concealer options in my makeup bag. I wouldn't want to scare children. Halloween's over after all, and it's almost time to put up Christmas trees and all things sparkly. Not time to see massive zits on people who are really FAR TOO OLD to be getting them!

The pieces covered the Economist's Global Crisis of Depression Summit, which was held yesterday to discuss the £77 billion cost of depression to the work place. My contribution was one of a patient - someone who can speak to her own experiences and talk about the support measures I'm aware of. Many others gave expert opinions, from an economic, political, and medical / scientific standpoint. I truly believe this is such an important topic to discuss.

Depression in the Spotlight

This issue is personally linked to me and I'm personal invested in it as a sufferer, but when I think of the difference between my first understanding of mental illness, developed in my early twenties when I first suffered with depression, and now, I'm glad for the progress that has been made, but very much not content with the extent of the progress made.

I'm not a scientist but know a few, and know that where the brain is concerned complexity takes on an entirely new meaning. Research to cure depression and develop drugs with better effects and fewer side effects will continue to take many years. I've been on five different kinds of anti-depressants, and am only able to survive and sleep properly helped by my fantastic GP and a cocktail of other drugs which counteract the crippling side effects.

However, I also know what it's like to deal with change, because change is something I've experienced - we all have - and managing change is what I do for a living. This is where I feel angry. Work place stress is massively high, and yet there is still no parity of esteem. It's great that we're talking about it, but that's just a start.

02:13:00 - 02:19:00

Why has it taken us so long even to get to this point? And I think that we're at breaking point with these figures. A good friend from school I haven't spoken to for nearly two decades messaged me yesterday to say she had felt a similar feeling of dread waking up at four in the morning. She said, "writing the above made me cry on the train." I've been there. I've not wanted to go into work and have had to make up an excuse to delay my arrival while I try to stop the tears that are ruining my makeup and my perfectly applied facade of healthiness.

Me unmasked and masked. Because you would never see anything on the lower tier.

I now do feel supported at work, but that doesn't mean that I won't get ill, and doesn't mean that everyone at work will understand (or everyone outside of work, for that matter). I hope that doing a good job at work will supersede any depressive episodes which may or may not come in the future. But I am lucky. I've read too many messages and statements by others saying, "Don't tell your work that you have depression / mental illness. Ever." "I told my work about my condition and my boss understood, but my colleagues didn't and eventually I had to leave."

Talking about the 4am dread of depression.

Today I'm really tired and a bit low. It comes and goes, and I have tried to rest to get through it. Not interesting, but true. Therefore this angry blog post is also going to be a shorter one than usual. I will defer to my televised and radio-recorded self to say what I feel about my own experiences. And when I go to sleep tonight, ahead of the American festival Thanksgiving,

Preparing for Al Jazeera Interview, Monday Night. Pre-spot!

I wish buying tolerance for depression was a special black Friday deal. I wish that were true. I will be thankful that 99% of people around me support me and what I am doing, and pray that we can all become a bit more forgiving and tolerant of this ubiquitous illness, so that next year we can be thankful for improvements for those people I know and those I don't who are living with mental illness in secret for fear that they will be stigmatised. I want to see that change so that people can speak out just to say that something is wrong - even if they can't articulate it as clearly as they would like. Secrecy and shame are poison, and have to stop.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Auntie Comes Round for Tea and Conversation...about My Experiences with Stress and Depression

Almost certain to be true in my case.

It's Friday night as I write this and I have to say it's been a strange day. I've made my second trip into the office since my accident - by taxi as I cannot use public transport.  This time, though, required me to be in the office for 9 am rather than sauntering casually into the place at 12, so I had rather a rude awakening for me, the worker-at-home and walking wounded.

Champagne soaked floozie? Never. Well, not a floozie. I have (some) dignity.

Today I have been filmed by the BBC - twice - for their BBC Breakfast show on BBC One. Once, to be in my office (and office garb), and a second time at home in my usual attire. [I asked them if a reindeer onesie was okay but apparently that's been done before. Darn it.]. This I was told by the producer I spoke to yesterday. The funny thing about TV (news) is that you have to believe it's not really going to happen. I can't remember how or where I picked up this notion, but it is absolutely true. If you ever wonder what a PR does for his / her company, look no further than spending hours on the phone trying to convince this or that paper, TV show or website to feature their cause, their celebrity, their largest cabbage in the Cotswolds. Whatever. As I said I don't know how I got to know this - I can hardly believe it to have come from my brief flirtation with student journalism, but I have now an innate sense of disbelief that any programme or feature I'm involved with will actually, well, happen.


Still, after a 'possibly but probably not' email from Mind on Wednesday, that turned into a 'definitely' on Thursday afternoon with filming to take place the next day: the other thing to note is how fast these things are arranged. As you know I've been fairly vocal here and on TV / with Mind about my commitment to supporting mental illness advocacy, so now Mind has me on its books, as it were, as a case study they can roll out. "Jessica, yes, she's mad as a bag of snakes," is something that they are extremely unlikely to say when asked if they have someone to feature on this or that show, or in an article on whatever. On the other hand, I do have a string of mental illness symptoms to my name. Stress, tick, depression, yes, anxiety, oh definitely, loneliness (causing one or more of the former) for sure. On these grounds it does make me rather easy to ping to mind when wanting a willing spokesperson. And after all, I haven't invested in Botox stocks for nothing, you know.

Lovely Leah. I made her a cup of tea and she drank it. Win.

The beautiful and petite (ugh, I must remember this is a blog, not a personal ad) Leah Boleto is my interviewer. And fabulous, super nice Pete is our camera man. A compact but great team for the interview. We do a couple of shots at the office. One is of me typing with an incredibly close shot of my fingers as I submit the exciting message that is my weekly time sheet. I probably did it wrong because all I could think about was the fact that I hadn't painted my nails and in the words of Arsenio Hall in Coming to America, "I am badly in need of a manicure." You said it Arsenio.

"I am badly in need of a manicure."

At home, we do straight conversation style interview, with me talking to Leah and Pete filming, with just me in shot. We seem to talk for a long time so I certainly hope they got something to go on!

(Incidentally, friends and close blog reading amigos, let me be clear about what is required if someone comes to film at your house: cleaning and tidying. Neither of these are daily on my to do list, so it was with something reminiscent of a spinally injured, broken elbowed whirling dervish that I swept around the front room with help from the lovely Mat to make sure that we had vacuumed the rug and arranged the cushions properly. At the very least. And taken the recycling out. Let's just say that I felt I really deserved my dinner and glass of wine last night after whipping round. But I did my exercise for the day, sponsored by co-dydramol and Gabapentin. Why thank you.)

Leah and me, after filming. Jessica = relief

Leah was sensitive in asking whether it was difficult to talk about my past experiences. Reflecting on this, it gets easier the more that I do it, and honestly, it's not like a therapy session, so I don't end up crying all over her (I'm delighted to say, and I'm sure she's pretty pleased about that too!). I was saying to Mat this week that I don't want to become a broken record where depression is concerned. I do have other stuff going on. I'm most of the way through watching Lie To Me and contemplating The Good Wife and Scandal as the next box set-cum-Netflix-must-watch.

Bed bound and Netflix-addict. Thank you Tim Roth.

The difference in talking this time was that this was a recorded interview, rather than live. It was also a lot longer, so that my words can be chopped up into bite-sized segments describing my life experiences. I wonder how it will come out. I'm guessing about 20-30 seconds of content, so will be amazed if anything more is featured. That's TV, folks. They also took some footage of me 'doing something normal' for potential use in the segment.

Pete - awesome. Me - trying to look relaxed = not really relaxed!

Luckily the suggestion of me making tea was ditched in favour of me reading a book. I did make them tea - the poor two had travelled all the way from east London to Teddington and it took them nearly three hours. Perhaps a neat Scotch would have been more appropriate! But I don't drink it, or coffee. (I know, English, you're ENGLISH. Must drink tea...but I'm sorry to say that I'm letting the nation down, one de-caffeinated diet coke and orange squash, or glass of Veuve, at a time.)

 So we opted for me reading a book. I couldn't undertake this exercise in our personal gargantuan library without choosing my very favourite book, Possession, by A.S. Byatt. This is worth a blog in itself, or a book, or more, but suffice to say that I felt almost relaxed (almost) with a camera being poked in my face as I turned the page on cue and made sure I quickly moved on from a page where the (surely pre-watershed embargoed) word 'penis' appeared!

Time for a relaxing read. Just me and my camera crew.

 After all that time to get over here it was all worth it in terms of the tidying and cleaning. Everyone who sent me a get well card - look out for your cards in the background, and thanks again! You know what my favourite book is now, you can tell I need a manicure (possibly, if they use that shot) and I got to meet two great professionals - presenter and film expert - in the process. It just goes to say that depression can lead you to new and positive things. I really hope that the end product - to be broadcast on Tuesday 25th November to coincide with the Economist's "Global Crisis of Depression" conference. I believe we have to keep talking about this. But for now, I'll take a rest and wish you all a very healthy weekend. Get some rest and get out there if it's not raining...take care, most of all.

Camera lighting is very cool. Just saying.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Nothing Munch To Worry About: The Serious Cost of Mental illness

Whether he's hearing a scream, or screaming, there's definitely something to scream about

I feel bad about my own worrying. I mean, what do I have to worry about compared to most? Not only do I not have Ebola, but I'm not involved with the Band Aid umpteenth revival.

This week, in creative writing class, we had to write about something which interested us (no prizes for guessing what I chose), and then write a piece about it, using facts we found through research. Below is my offering. I think it's more Comment is Free than me, in terms of style, but I do believe that worrying too much is dangerous. Even if I am a first class worrier. And I'm going to try hard not to worry about that.

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Worries are something few of us can say we’ve never experienced from time to time. In the past few years, worries have come easily to us Brits more than ever before as uncertainty abounds: the economic situation is insecure; we have – at best – a shaky government. 

At work, redundancies have been common and the future seems less sure than ever, which leads to money worries with little or no job security or secure future for ourselves and our families.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew! - Sing it, Hamlet

Those retired from work are, for the first time in many cases, seeing their children in a worse economic situation than they were in themselves as young adults. Things are tough whether you’re eighteen or eighty, but no less so than for the working population, who are juggling national and personal challenges with one very full pair of hands. Knowing this, it can’t be a surprise that this might have affected how many worries the average person experiences, and only a step farther to understand that ongoing worries might lead to illness and absence from work.

In the UK, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illnesses, myself one of those “ones in four”. Recently, the World Health Organisation has reported that four of the ten leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders, and estimate that, by 2020, major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children[i]. 

Before this year, I had never taken time off work related to depression, despite having suffered from it at different points of my life during the last twenty or so years; when I did take time off work, I sometimes related my illness to other causes or sometimes I worked through my illness despite the debilitating nature of the condition on my sense of well-being. In this I exemplify another statistic: that university-educated professionals are less likely to take time off work when depressed, and, if they do, are reluctant to tell their employer the reason why[ii].

Talking to my friends and family members, it is amazing that the statistic is only one in four. Almost everyone I have spoken to has experienced some period of their life where worry has turned to stress or worse. But I never knew about their illnesses / worries before; and they never knew about mine. We were all keeping one big secret from one another.

Employers are required to support any employee returning to work after a period of illness, and to make what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ during this time. In the light of our secrecy this is hard to fathom. Personally I just don’t know what a reasonable adjustment should be – maybe don’t mark me down as a failure at my job if my eyes tear up in the office one day? Treat me as totally normal is probably the best thing I can think of.

These reasonable adjustments, though, and more direct action to help workers suffering with some kind of mental illness, are imperative for employers to take action on. In Europe, depression is said to cost workplaces £77 billion annually, with the greatest economic loss coming through absenteeism and lost productivity, according to a recent report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and King’s College London[iii]

Many employers have publicly taken steps to pledge their commitment to addressing mental health, through signing the Time to Change pledge to end the mental health stigma and by founding the City of London Mental Health Alliance. This is a start – and only a start – to helping employees know that the companies for whom they work want to support them (and this makes sense. It's not as if doctors have an instant cure; partly why there's so much mystery around mental health).

Further, employers are starting to focus on mental health as a priority topic among the other ‘inclusion and diversity’ focuses, and many like my own employer, have set targets to address mental health awareness and support within their own organisations.

None of this stops me worrying – well – a little, but no more, nor enables me to ditch the medication and the therapy for depression in one fell swoop. However, knowing the statistics tells me my employer has as much to be worried about as I do. It must act to resolve its own, similar worries about an insecure future and potential financial loss. It makes economic sense to do so. Organisations and their employees have to work together to keep going amid the uncertainties that we all continue to face. It remains to be seen which organisations (and employees) will embrace the challenge and come through it stronger.

Seriously, though, we need to worry less!

[i] National Alliance for Mental illness

Friday, 14 November 2014

Alice Threw The Looking Glass: Misconceptions of Mental illness and Depression - My Five Cents

“I'm not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”-- Cheshire Cat

I joined a creative writing group last week, which is ever so conveniently located only moments from my front door, so even a broken soldier like me can shuffle along with my massive extra large Tesco hessian bag filled with pillows and cushions of various sizes to see me through the session. One for my arm, which is a pain (literally and figuratively) and aches in the cold, when I move it, when I don't move get the picture; another two for my derriere and my back. It's held in a church hall where we have to choose between the heat provided by a tiny, robot-shaped electric heater in the corner - but no ability to hear what anyone is saying or reading aloud - and my usual experience of church halls which is: chilling to the bone, no matter how many layers you're wearing.

Heater on. Alive. Heater off. Dead but trying to listen anyway.

The course focuses on non-fiction and this week our home work is to research something 'we're interested in' and write a 'short' piece about it. We did receive feedback on our chosen pieces. I - predictably - opted for mental health in the work place to enable me to bang my apocryphal drum a little louder to a new audience. This provoked feedback from the teacher that I could of course choose several aspects of this - mental health in general, stress, depression, different eras of work. After three minutes or so of this feedback he considered himself satisfied and moved on.

I neglected to say that Mat is doing this course with me, and it was to him the focus of attention now turned. He explained, "There have been many popular science books addressing the figures and ideas from the scientific revolution of the 17th century aimed at mixing biographical details with scientific facts in a way that is both educational and entertaining. A similar project would envisage taking the ideas of figures at the time more usually considered as philosophers - Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, etc. - and looking at them and how their thinking was revolutionary...". To this the teacher said, "Yes, that sounds very interesting," and moved on. (Translation: "I've no idea what you just said but it sounds erudite and complex so I'll let you get on with it and I'm too afraid to ask for more details.)

(And don't be afraid to talk to Mat about philosophy. He'll keep explaining till you get it. I promise.)

This week mental health has once again featured quite prominently in the news. There have been several articles about depictions of the mentally ill on television - both in dramas (like Homeland and Eastenders) and in Broadmoor, a new documentary on the most severely mentally ill people in the UK, some so severe that they have committed terrible crimes and will never be able to be released, such is the gravity of his illness (it's a male institute). The latter programme was only made after five years of waiting and negotiating to be granted permission for cameras to enter the grounds. I watched the documentary and was afraid it was going to make people afraid of mental health again - thinking that everyone with some sort of illness related to mental health was the same as those depicted (though they varied in the degree of severity / type of illness). Let me clear this up right now. No - we're not all like that.

Carrie in Homeland has bi-polar disorder.

All of the above prompted much commenting in the UK online press, which led me to consider how I perceive myself in society, how I think society perceives me, and what I think the misconceptions are that I struggle with as a result of having (and now recovering from) a mental illness.

Here is a lovely cartoon of misconceptions of mental health, challenged. Then you can read mine.


My top five pet peeves about conceptions of mental illness, from personal experience.

1. "Just get over it." Depression is a real thing, not something in my head whereby I can just 'Pull myself together' and instantly bounce back to my well self from. It also can't be cured in twenty minutes with the right medication. For me - and this is my opinion, not that of any medically qualified person - I need some help from medication at times combined with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help me to recover. Most of the time I'm fine. And I am trying to be better - all the time. I am not giving up and sometimes it's really bloody hard, thanks, even though you can't see the blood, I promise you, it is!

2. "Your can't possibly be any good at your job if you've got a mental problem." I can still do my job / function perfectly well when I am well (even though I've had depression in the past / still have it as a condition). I'm doing it now. I'm doing it part time, admittedly, because it just so happens that I fell, not down into the rabbit hole but down two stairs and have damaged myself severely so that I need to recover and rest.

3. "Medication doesn't work" OR "Medication is all you need." I need both medication and CBT as part of my recovery process. When I take medication because I need it to be well, I can also do my job perfectly well. And sometimes, yes, I do need medication. I need it to help me to rebalance my brain's chemicals somehow, in the same way someone with a cold needs Sudafed to help a congested nose feel better. It works for me. So I do it. and I trust my psychiatrist. Incidentally, there was some horrible psychiatrist trolling this week. "Psychiatrists aren't real doctors...BLAHBLAH". Really? Mine has several other previous medical qualifications and I can assure he is probably the most qualified doctor I've ever met. Finally, when I see a psychotherapist to talk through various topics that is part of the recovery process and does not mean I cannot do my job well.

4. "Depression is just like glandular fever, ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome." I do not have M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I do have a symptom of depression which means that I become extremely tired by things that I find hard. I am a classic overachieving under-confident person, perfectly formed for the world of consulting, banking etc. As if hatched from a perfect consulting bird egg, here I am, ready to over perform but oh so unsure at times, and the need to over-perform - to have what is called 'unrelenting standards' of myself, makes me sometimes absolutely knackered before I've even begun. It's a bit like having to go and have a lie down at the thought of doing a little washing up, because you want to do the washing up the best, better than anyone has ever done it before, ever. Yawwwwn. Still, if you look at previous blogs you can see that I've gone running when I've been depressed, and delivered on some massive pieces of work while ill, so I really feel this is not the appropriate way to think of me.

Unpredictable emotions, and sometimes no emotions. 

5. "You're always smiling and laughing, you can't possibly be depressed." I can still enjoy things while being depressed. (Or I might be pretending to, true.) But this is a really odd one. I don't understand myself why sometimes I'm crying uncontrollably (well, except while watching 'Up' at Christmas, but then EVERYBODY is crying when they watch that movie) or why I'm laughing. I'm always laughing when Mat makes me laugh because he does silly things like balancing spoons on his head or pulling funny faces. Or I put Mat's copy of Locke's 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding' in the bin, again (hate, HATE Locke) and find this endlessly amusing. But the next minute I can feel the empty feeling inside, the tiredness, the stupor and feel stunned by it again, like a deer struck with a dart.

I laughed and laughed this week when a lunch with friends went from disastrous to hysterical. My friends, two sisters, both thought they were meeting me this week, but then it turned out both had a different date in their diary. I was faced with lunch with each of them on consecutive days, or neither and a future date in January. I suggested Wednesday, which - miraculously - worked out, although I couldn't eat as I already had a work lunch to go to. The restaurant in Waterloo we went to shall remain nameless. Oh, alright then, no it won't. It was Topolski's and it had possibly the worst service and worst idea of menu / timings I've come across in a long while. (I did live in New York, yes, but I'm back now to the reality of British service, and I know that it still, well, sucks.)

Topolski - great artist. Shame about the service in his namesake's bar.

(Them) Yes, we had to come to the counter to order [There's no one else here.]
(Them) No, we couldn't just have bread [Bread clearly existed in the place as it was served with other dishes.]
(Them) No, we couldn't have fresh mixed juice as the juicer was broken. [Losers.]
(Them) No, that part of the menu's only available after 5 and before 5.05pm. [Points to 90% of menu]
(Them) Yes, I can reheat your cold soups for you. [More waiting.]
(Me) Yes, I can tip you nothing and smile directly into your eyes while doing it you dreadful example of waiting staff everywhere.

Luckily we hadn't seen each other in yonks so we were chattering away happily as all these foibles went on around us.

Unfortunately all this fun means I need to spend more time this weekend doing more research on mental health. I've opted for mental health in literature and drama so watch this space for that. In the meantime, think of me changing all the time. That's what I'm doing. That's what we're all doing. Ageing, growing (in whatever way). We're changing. And since I wrote that I've changed again, somehow.

“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” 

Friday, 7 November 2014

A Day in The Life: Depression - Me, Myself and I, Warts, Clutter and All

Today I participated in a project called 'A day in the Life, a project which intends to offer a snapshot of the lives, and wellbeing of people who experience mental health difficulties in England. I and - hopefully - 800 others - will post their 700 word account of their day living and coping with mental health, as it presented itself, today 7th November. (#adayinthelifemh)

“What day is it?"
"It's today," squeaked Piglet.
"My favourite day," said Pooh.” 

As I'm working from home at the moment on a phased basis, no one really gets to see what a day in the life, or rather, a day in my life, is like. I might exchange the odd pleasantry with a passing neighbour, with the woman who served me at the post office or (quite frequently these days) at the pharmacy, but then I go home to my flat while Mat is at work and lead what is a sort of hidden life.

Of course, none of us really knows what the other is up to. I have a friend who is a high powered communications professional (as she is so high powered I really feel it should be communications with a big 'C' but grammar forbids it!). When I imagine her at work I see a corner office, both sides floor to ceiling glass, looking out over the beautiful city of London. I see the latest Mac computer on her desk and expensive impenetrable modern art hanging on the other walls of her office as she takes phone calls from Dubai and Hong Kong whilst eating a Larabar for energy, with a coterie of secretaries taking minutes from her meetings and telling the CEO that she will be with him / her in "just a few moments". Carly Simon's "Let the River Run" is playing loudly as the camera pans out to the whole of London, which my friend will shortly be in charge of. That and the rest of the world.

Executive Barbie. Surely an oxymoron?
Anyway, my friend is super high-powered and would be unlikely to wear her hair like this.

Another friend is the CEO of a charity which helps African children. When she goes off to African I imagine her days as Diana-like footage of her in a series of villages where hundreds of children crowd around her, clinging to her legs and arms and screaming her name with joy on their faces (she's wearing a tasteful white shirt and pale khaki trouser outfit) as the music from LiveAid or the Soweto gospel choir (either, depends on the day) plays in the background.

From Working Girl. Still SUCH a good film.

In my case, I'm working from bed because there is no chair in the house that I can sit in for more than an hour without being in such discomfort that work becomes impossible - which doesn't sound like rehabilitation to me. Today I was just getting ready for a snooze mid afternoon after finishing my half day of work when suddenly my phone rang. I had totally forgotten that I was expecting an appointment from Posturite (a company which supplies ergonomic equipment for people like me who've chucked themselves down the stairs accidentally or have RSI etc.).

I think I need one of these home recliners. And the chair, too, obv.

I struggled out of bed to buzz them in and went down to greet them. It was really only when we were climbing the stairs (carefully, always so carefully) that I realised that the flat was (is) in a complete state. There are medication packets and pots and pans all over our kitchen table. There is clean washing in small piles over every visible surface in the rest of the front room and hall. And then there's the bedroom. This is a domestic bombsite. Clothes, unfolded, cover the desk, chairs, and end of bed. On my bed itself are about 6 pillows, several cushions, one double and one single duvet, my laptop, my iPad, two books, medication, water bottle, two phones and chargers, and possibly a plate which once held some biscuits. And the rest of the room was already in a state - bags all over the floor (the edges of the floor, so I can't trip over them, but still) a stepladder in the corner by the wardrobe. Oh dear me. I don't need a Posturite assessment I need the Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.

I'll spare you the picture of my bedroom. Shame prevents it I'm afraid. Tangerine face: yes. Lying under the duvet: yes. Complete carnage which would make my poor mother die of shame. (And my husband, friends, and even me): afraid not.

Here is what I posted for the #dayinthelifemh collective writing exercise today. This is my day, warts and all. I wish you all good days, and a wonderful weekend ahead, whatever you do and wherever you go.

“Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 
― A.A. Milne

Today: 7th July. Jessica Carmody for A Day in the Life - Mental Health
Subtitle (credit to Pooh): What I like doing best is Nothing.

At 7.04 I slowly rolled and cajoled my frail frame from its imprinted resting place in the bed and put on layer after layer: jumper, cardigan, scarf, woolly hat, woolly socks, Ugg boots. Then I shuffled slowly into the kitchen. Morning breakfast and pills are a routine I go through without much thought or emotion. Rice Krispies weighed, milk poured on, spoon from drawer, vitamin C & pain killers taken. I felt unemotional about the whole routine. Back to bed.

Today was a work day so I looked through my emails. I opened documents sent to me for review and started to make comments on each one. Once I get going I find it easier to do. Today wasn't one of my worst days so I only felt a medium level of fatigue perusing the documents line by line. This woke me up - or woke my mind up at least, and I started thinking about the document from more angles. I'm glad that this works. Work works on my by making me feel more capable of participating in it, of having a view and of contributing to my job. Today - or at that moment anyway - normal me won the depression versus normal me contest that is fought every day.

I worked for 2 hours then went out. Despite the ache in my back today I wanted fresh air. I'd been so exhausted the past two days that I had avoided going out and this had taken its toll on my back which was stiff and uncooperative. So wrapped up in a further thick coat I made my way to the outside world.

Because I have physical injuries you can't see from the outside, I avoid people. That could also be an excuse. I don't much like running into people when I feel low, certain that they can tell I'm struggling and wondering what I will do if they ask me a question, fearing I might burst into tears because that conversation is a step too far. I don't feel too ill today, so when I meet a server from the nearby pub I say "Hello" without avoiding eye contact. It's a slight struggle but I do it, and this is good.

The foot bridge is the hardest part physically, but inside the park I am afraid of other people’s dogs and – complementing this – dog owners who don’t understand how terrified I feel if their dog rushes at me barking. Again, today is a good day and although I have three close shaves with rushing, barking dogs, they keep their distance from me and I kept going. Another fright came when a runner whipped past me too close for comfort. I felt like crying because I was afraid of being hit and upset by the thought of falling.

“Just breathe” I told myself. And I did. “The park is beautiful. Look at the leaves. Look at the deer.” And I saw them. And they were.

I made it to the shop to buy more Rice Krispies but felt extremely tired and weak. I had been out 1.5 hours and now craved secure, locked distance between me and the world outside.

I had lunch –more Rice Krispies, a slice of cold pizza, two biscuits. I can’t be bothered to prepare anything more complex. Food then rest. And I knew I had more work ahead.
I didn’t want to do more work, at this point. I was exhausted from the walk and “depression” was winning over “normal me”. I fought back. I took phone calls, made decisions, followed through with the actions required. “Keep going,” I told myself. Just a while longer and you can rest.

I checked Twitter and my blog to see if anyone knew had followed me or showed interest in my writing about depression / life. Then I relinquished all external communications and picked up my book, ate two chocolate biscuits, and buried myself down into the duvet for a rest. I had gone out, worked, eaten and spoken to people. Enough. I wanted time to rest and gave myself up to reading and then to sleep.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

National Stress Awareness Day: My Tango with TV

Imagine waking up to a stress-free week day. What would the first few minutes look like? Perhaps you roll over and cuddle up to your other half for a few more blissful minutes (or hours, hey, it's your imagination) of sleep with no alarm to wake you up; perhaps it's breakfast in bed made by your children (just watch out for any stray eggshell!). It might be opening the window to the sound of the sea and the salty brine smell undulating on the breeze into your room.

National Stress Awareness Day 2014. I was aware. I was very aware.

And now imagine the start to my day today, on #NationalStressAwarenessDay NSAD. It started at 4am, 30 minutes before my alarm was due to go off, but, I realised, probably a good thing, as I tried to haul my creaking back and arm out of bed. I thought somewhere their sleepy voices were murmuring at me: "Surely it can't be time to get up yet? We were having a nice dream about penguins hopping around. Can't you leave us to sleep?"
"No. I can't. It's 4am and I have to manage to get dressed with only an hour and a half to do it in because yesterday I agreed to go on morning television to talk about being stressed at work!" I'm definitely feeling some stress right now.

Live. Live at 4am, 5am, 6am, etc. You name it, they're live.

The programme I was to appear on is called London Live (never hear of it, apparently linked to the Evening Standard etc.) and asked me on in connection with Mind as a 'case study' of someone who has suffered stress at work, along with a representative from Mind who would talk about a new study that shows that 56% of people surveyed (and 64% in the UK) agree that work is very or fairly stressful.

Studies in America show similar results: it's clear that wherever we are (and yes, this is a first world problem in my case and in many of our cases) stress is a major problem. We can (mostly) afford to eat and (some of the time, most of the time) pay our bills, but work is stressful, family is stressful, and life is stressful.

I also asked my Twitter followers and friends for their experiences. This is what they told me. (Okay, so only eleven people responded to my survey, but still, that is better than none!)

Jessica's Twitter Stress Survey. 11 responses. Thanks to #MarianKeyes for the retweet!

As my more regular readers will know, I'm trying to be more open about speaking out on my mental health problems (in which I would include excessive stress) so I was delighted to be asked despite the early start to the day. I also wrote a blog for Mind themselves, published today, which you can read here.

Last night I thought about what I might say, fully aware that TV breakfast segments tend to be at most 5-6 minutes long, and worrying (stressing?!) that I might go on a bit and cause time troubles...However, I thought through a few things and felt fairly relaxed. Until I received the email from the producer.

"Unfortunately we do not have a makeup artist and Jessica will have to do her own."

Now you might think that as someone who didn't exactly embrace the idea of a makeup-free selfie, that this wouldn't present a problem. But remember now, dear reader, that my skin tone is ivory. Not ivory, but alabaster. Not alabaster, but ghoul like in its paleness. And here's the rub: the TV lights just make one look paler still. Yikes.

This is me, except you don't need to paint the whiteness on. It's right there already.

YouTube came to the rescue as I remembered Lauren Luke's tips from some years ago, and imagined that if there was a video telling me how to get three stars on every. single. level. in Angry Birds, then surely there must be something on TV makeup. And I was right. So, folks, the next time you're asked to go on camera (whether male or female...hey, we can all learn something) this is a good video for you.

Of course, the beautiful star of this video seemed to me not to have the whiter-that-white bleached skin effect, so I had to adjust her tips just a little. And what I did was this: Get Tangoed. In the bathroom at 4.55 with three massive bags of makeup emptied out on to the bathroom floor and my laptop blaring at me how to do HD TV face, I gradually applied product after product to perfect my skin to extreme levels of orange. This was the after effect. I'm sure you'll agree it is a charming look.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Luckily, the satsuma skin didn't show on camera, and hopefully my nerves didn't either. Alex Beard, the presenter, was just lovely - warm, friendly and beautiful, and I truly felt that it was just us and no one else was watching. [Jessica, no one else WAS watching. This was 6.40am. Reality check. Even your mum wasn't watching because she doesn't live in London.] I was co-interviewed for the first segment of three with Tom from Mind, who then had to leave for other radio interviews.

Lovely London Live presenter Alex Beard.

Left alone for the last two segments at 7.30 and 8.20, It was actually easier doing the interview one on one - I worried less about not saying enough or hogging the slot, because I was the only one in the chair anyway. And thank goodness for the brevity of the slots: sitting on stools is not a comfortable idea for a spinal fusion patient. Hopefully I wasn't grimacing too much!

Me on TV! (Not looking orange at all - see!)
Watch my Interview Here (only available for a week but will try to get a copy!)

On a serious note, though, I was able to share the mental and physical impact on me of being under tremendous stress at work in the past, which led in part to my increasing depression - particularly not being able to talk about it, as I've said in an earlier blog. feeling sick, afraid, not sleeping, having appetite problems and more are all medical symptoms commonly linked to stress, although Mind's survey reported that some people would either often be too afraid to take a day off, or would pretend there was something else - physical - wrong, rather than name their reason as 'stress'.

I experienced many of the physical and all of the psychological effects above.

On the way home I decided to stop into Marks and Spencer for a bottle of milk. That's a pretty stress-free activity, and hopefully no one will notice that your face currently resembles an overripe pumpkin in a Sainsbury's carrier bag. In I went, and managed to move balletic-ally (or as near as I could manage with a wired arm and screwed back) to the dairy section, narrowly avoiding a collision with an M&S store worker who was carefully navigating her buns to the bakery section. Phew. Milk in hand, I headed for the checkouts.

This being mid-morning on a Wednesday, the full coterie of checkouts are not in service: too early for the lunch time rush; too late for the On-the-way-to-work crowd. An elderly woman with a threatening-looking Zimmer frame was unloading items from her trolley at a speed which challenged theories of forward-moving time; a father in the next aisle grappled with Percy Pig requests being howled at him by three small children. Another no. Hence, to the self-checkout queue, which I prefer as long as people know how to use the machines PROPERLY. That is: get in, scan, get out. Done.
Unfortunately here too lay disaster. The woman ahead of me wiped her snotty toddler's nose with a combination of her sleeve and her hand before selecting "Pay with card" on the screen. The outlook looked mucussy..

However, my luck turned! Another self-checkout machine opened up. I was just about to press "Finish and pay" when a sales assistant appeared from nowhere and asked politely: "Would you like any satsumas today madam, they're on special offer?"

"No, thank you," I replied slowly, with all the dignity I could muster on my clemetine-coloured complexion. "No."

From tangerine to squeaky clean.