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I’m not ok, but that’s alright

I wrote this post a long time ago and never published it, I didn’t feel comfortable publishing it and I don’t know why. It was originally meant for Mental Health awareness week but it felt a lot of me too, poor me. This week for our Mental Health month at WordPress Leeds I gave a talk based around this post and now is the time to publish it.

This post covers my coping with depression, you do not have to read this, and do not feel bad if you have to close it and stop reading. After reading find something that will make you happy today. Be it a walk in park, a hug from a loved one, a cup of your favourite hot chocolate.

My story with depression

Over the last few years I have been ill, it started after a bought of flu. I found both my hands were inflamed so swollen I couldn’t close them. It was accompanied by quite a lot of pain, the doctors decided I had viral arthritis. While not common nor is it uncommon after a bad cold or flu. It will pass…

Over the next couple of years, I would get bouts of inflammation in joints. My energy levels have been nearly nill. My mood shifted, I was quicker to anger. I had a constant cold something was wrong. It took some time (years) but finally, I convinced a doctor something was actually wrong. while it felt like it took a really long time they must get hundreds of cases just like me who have a bunch of symptoms but really ultimately could just be tired and under the weather.

After ruling out various things I was given a diagnosis of palindromic arthritis. The good news was I’m not going to die and normally a treatment of steroids has a good chance of kicking my body back into normal behaviour and I will be back to normal.

I was mid dose of steroids at WordCamp Edinburgh (2017), I wasn’t very well. It was a great WordCamp but most of it was a blur for a lot of it I was manic and bouncing off the wall. I felt great, in that I didn’t feel ill, for the first time in years I had energy and I was going to enjoy that freedom.

But when you become manic there is only one place you go.

The crash happened in Waverly train station, my colleagues were trying to work out where our trains were. I found myself drifting away, a fear inside me was trying to get out I was starting to panic. During a panic attack my arms and hands stop working I was leaning against the wall and I was drifting away, I had some idea of what was happening around me but it was a blur and far away. I was screaming, but no one could hear me. From my colleagues perspective who now were very concerned I was sweating, not communicating and was rigid.

I can only imagine it was a very scary moment, but they did the right thing and I came around to a very nice police lady helping to bring me back.

So steroids not such a good idea it turns out, for me they are however the right treatment for most people. You shouldn’t say no to such treatment because of my very rare reaction.

While on the steroids I was “better” but unfortunately they didn’t have the long term effects the docs were hoping for. There were now also concerns I had Chushings Syndrome because of the reaction, this was deemed unlikely. Anyway no more steroids, unfortunately even if there is no chemical reason for it, the effect of the steroid had a profound effect on my mental state.

Fast forward a little bit and after some amusing moments such as trying to explain to a doctor if they give me two lots of medications at once, we won’t know which one was successful and we finally got me on a course of Methoxtrate which is an immune suppresent. It basically tells my immune system to shut up, this means for the first time in years I don’t regularly get colds, the flu and my fatigue has lifted. The downside, if I get ill well I’ve told the thing to fight it to not to so I will suffer those consequences.

It also has some less nice side effects nausea and it’s not 100% I still have bad days and joint inflammation but it’s 100 times better than where I was.

Whats not ok is my mental health, pain makes you depressed, its as simple as that. Even with my new found energy I have bad days and I struggle. I force myself to have company but I feel I have to apologise to those whos company I keep. Folks say you are not yourself, they are wrong the happy cheerful person is less me then the self loathing depressed me who would rather just hide then do anything. Filled with self doubt and lacking in confidence to even choose between tea and coffee let alone being a Dad, a good employee and a friend.

When depression hits there are signs and warnings and over time I have started to spot them. It’s a spiral at the start things are not so bad, towards the darkest points I’m waking from nightmares where I’m at my daughters funeral or in a burning building if I’m sleeping at all.

Lies and deceptions, they start off as little white lies, I’m fine
They start to grow, the need to pretend things are normal because otherwise, people will pry. No better than normal great life is amazing. Are you convincing yourself or others? I have honed the skill of hiding pain, to walk so the limp is not pronounced, to smile through grimaces. People can’t know when you are hiding things even from yourself its never going to end well. The truth will set you free, what a ridiculous statement yet it’s true. But of all the things, the lies and deception is the thing that will hurt the most. It will sting you but it will hurt all those around you. However well-intentioned the original lie was they compound and digging yourself out of them is possibly the hardest step of all. For many, it will be the deception that will prevent them from seeking help. There is no happy answer you have to come to terms with actions, depression is hard but your choices still are your own a product of your choosing, depression doesn’t resolve you but you are not alone.

I’m not ok, but that’s all right

It’s sort of normal, we live a life filled with positive feedback from friends, our social feed is filled with success and we spend our lives portraying a life that is often very artificial. I’m ok with saying I’m not ok, I don’t expect pity or folks to worry but honestly saying everything is fine when it’s not, does no one any good.

Plus I’m through the worst for now, I blame illness for a lot of my mental health issues, but the reality I have always gone through bouts and I am terrible at shoving my head in the sand. As such I have been making some changes subtle changes but they are helping.

I still have bad days [indeed as recently as this weekend ] but they are becoming fewer and with mechanisms to identify and cope I can in part mitigate.

Work is work, not life. I love my job I have great colleagues who are my friends and I get to go round the country talking. I have supportive bosses who have been really fantastic given the hassle I sometimes cause. But it is just a part of my life (important it pays the bills) but it can’t consume me. I have started turning off things like Slack at the weekend, I no longer do a final nightly check in late in the evening and I don’t check for messages first thing in the morning. My evenings, weekends (except for conferences) and my early early morning are my own.

The WordPress community is a source of strength but also a real drain on my mental health. I love the local UK WordPress scene but at times I want to strangle everyone. Its normally about then I realise I need a break and like work I try to limit when I’m available, I also have muted folks who I just think of as toxic.

I’m not everyone champion, but I’m always here to help

I like this quote and something I want to live to, I might not be able to champion every person and cause but I always want to help. I don’t always want the spotlight and really do want folks to succeed. I try to push my colleagues and friends in front of me not as a shield but because damn they deserve respect and to be known for how great they are.

I’m a dad and a family man. My family are my greatest support and at times I’m a grumpy old man who doesn’t treat people as well as I should. My love has been through hell over and over and it’s my fault yet we are still here even if we snap at each other occasionally. My daughter is my world, anyone who has met me will tell you she will be the thing I’m most happy to chat about and the smile across my face I think says everything. Yes, I’m one of those fathers.

I can’t say yes to everyone, and this has been one of the biggest lessons (and one I need to keep practicing) I don’t say no enough. Instead I try to encourage others to find the answers with the occasional prod in the right direction.

With that it mind, here is my little prods to what have helped me, who knows they might help you or someone you knwo.

What has helped?

Seeking Help

So if you are suffering mental health issues first and foremost seek help. I can’t express how hard this step is, but once done so many burdens are lifted.

GPs have a terrible reputation for Mental Health but over a third of Sicknotes issued are for mental health reasons. They can also signpost you to other resources. Other options are available, for example, Samaritans. You don’t have to suicidal to ring and talk to the Samaritans and there is always someone there (UK/Ireland) on 116 123

For those outside the UK Befrienders Worldwide has a directory of local charities that operate similar to the UK Samartitans

For many your first person to ask for help will be your friends and family, you don’t want to be a burden, you don’t want to add to their burden. You don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.

They are your friends, they are your friends that is what friends are. Would you listen if your friend came to you and said they needed to talk? Of course you would. Would you worry about the burden? Probably not (maybe you should). Even if you felt uncomfortable about the topic would you not listen?

The problem is depression twists your mind into only accepting the worst, I have no friends, they won’t help, they can’t help. The later becoming a logical argument, there is nothing they can do.

That is simply not true, they can be there and they can listen and they can pick you up of the floor when you finished pouring it all out. That single act of kindness and friendship will help you stand up on your own. For me I need a trigger to fight the spiral, my family and friends are that trigger and without them and especially my other half I don’t know where I would be.

Todos and Routines

  • Get up
  • Shower
  • Brush Teeth
  • Get Dressed
  • Take medication

Each task is a goal, and each micro goal is a success, when I’m spiraling I need successes but they need to be real. For most the idea that brushing your teeth or taking the medication that keeps you healthy is a success is laughable. For me they might be the only things I achieve that day.

I try to track every activity, if you ask me to do something, it gets put in Todoist an online task manager. One of the side effects of the last few years I don’t trust my own memory of events, or indeed memory to often have I been completely sure an event happened only to have it proven otherwise. Now I write things down, notes go in a notebook and our transcribed into Google Keep. My life works of a calendar, which my family have access to.

To keep me focused I use a productivity timer called Productivity Challenge Tracker. Its dystopian design and emphasis on continual work might seem a strange choice for someone who needs to be careful with work life balance. But the irony of how I use the app brings me a bit of joy and it does the job of regulating my breaks and works focus. It’s running now, I have 7 minutes before the chime.

I don’t think I’m a control freak, but I do like to be in control, I crave structure and organisation and I often justify my super heavy use of structures and tools like the above as being above all put in place by me, for me to protect me. In theory I can disregard the tools but when that happens I know something is very wrong.

Journaling and Mood Tracking

I found keeping a Journal stupid and silly and very nambie pambie, yet I have found I have been writing more and more to it. My journal is a local WordPress site but modified, it has no front end, and I write as a contributor but the posts are published by a different user. When I hit publish I won’t see them again. Sure they are there if I wanted I could have sent them to /dev/null instead my thoughts are put in their place accessible if I want them but for now I’m content to leave them.

In addition to journaling which I try to do as often as I can, I track my mood. I use an app called Pacifica it’s not perfect but it works. Since then I have been working on a much better solution, that not only asks me how I feel, but also my other half how she thinks I’m doing. The goal is to warn the person who thinks things are ok, if there is a consistent difference.

General advice

This might sound silly avoid confrontation and triggers. Obviously, it’s not always possible but sometimes I will simply walk away, or adjust my schedule to avoid things. I don’t need to fix everything, I don’t need to intervene. There will always be someone wrong on the internet. A sign for me is when I hunt out and seek confrontation or thrills, when I start gambling (not actual gambling at a casino, just making choices that are a gamble) when a rational option is available something is wrong.

Tiredness can kill, and not just on the roads. Sleep deprivation, insomnia and tiredness are my enemies. Fixing a sleeping pattern is never easy, break it for even a day and you have to start all over again. You can’t again do this overnight, but working until your tired and never breaking or staying in bed too long in the morning really effects my energy levels. Low energy tends to start a spiral at least for me. So set an alarm, I have to get up, same time every day and I go to bed when my body says it’s time, this means for me its normally around 9.30PM.

My daughter told me recently she was scared of the dark and had a bad dream, so I taught her how to splat. When you have a bad dream and you think things are going badly blow a raspberry and imagine big colourful blogs of paint splatting everywhere. Very rarely are we actually lucid dreamers capable of changing direction of dreams and nightmare but I do find that if as I wake I’m thinking splat that I wake aware it was a dream therefore it takes some of the pain aware and the panic. My daughter proudly told me she is a good splatter.

Crazy splatting apart, avoiding caffeine in the evenings, going to bed when tired and winding down have all helped with nightmares. They are not gone but when not spiralling they are not all consuming.

Finally making time for things I love doing, for me this is being with my family but if its a hobby something to look forward to that’s not a long term goal. I find I don’t like being cooped up in the house, so I want to be out and about be it a picnic in a park or going to visit people I want to be moving and doing things. The caution here is that often this drive can mask the reason I don’t want to stop and think or worse I’m avoiding things.

I want to finish on a positive note, and thank you so much for reading this far. Did I mention you’re amazing. Well you are.

I am not perfect, and life is not perfect, that’s ok I’m getting there slowly and steadily. With the help of my friends and family, I live a really good life, I’m not to be pitied or treat with kid gloves I have more then most people can ask for. I have the safety net to help deal with a problem. I’m so lucky.

Others are not, which is why I’m a huge supporter of the charity Mind and am helping the charity WP & Up which is a new charity focusing on mental health in the WordPress and remote worker space.

If you have never heard of WP&UP I strongly encourage you to visit their site, but also to watch and join in with the #Pressforward campaign.

Because sometimes we all need help, I’m not fine but that’s alright.

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Thank you for reading. It has taken a lot to write this and I would appreciate if you felt you were able, you would share it with those who you think may benefit from reading it.