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Last year it was swifts, this year swallows have just arrived to nest in the barns for the rest of summer before heading further south. I watch them from the collapsing garden fence, swooping over the field rich in bites of midges. It is serene and tranquil, yet I am feeling down. I have just read the news of Anthony Bourdain.

For the media, 2016 became the year of the celebrity death as towering figures of the entertainment industry fell seemingly daily. For me, 2018 is becoming famous for a different type of celebrity death. Every time I see through a Breaking News story or a Twitter trend that somebody has died I can anticipate the cause before reading it. From Avicii to Scott Hutchison, to the other depression sufferers whose cause of death hasn’t been officially released but seems all but assured, it has been a sad year.

I don’t profess to have known much of Anthony Bourdain, passed watching him on shows every now and then when channel flicking. I cannot relate with the fans whose words I have read but it is the cause of death that hurts me; as it does each time I hear of it. This is due to my own illnesses and the suicidal thoughts that plagued me for over eighteen months, leading very near to the act.

As people become more aware of the problems with some forms of depression leading to such actions, I see many messages and tweets offering advice to sufferers. “My DMs are open,"  “here is a number for the Samaritans” or “There is always somebody to talk to” are frequent and familiar lines. They are lovely and clear acknowledgement to sufferers of mental health illnesses that there is increased understanding at present.

But I also know that they wouldn’t have saved me in that period; that I would have ignored all of the advice.

Reading those messages in the last week or so led me to consider what I have learnt during the last five years, what I wish I had known previously. I know now that it came as a shock to many close to me that I had felt that way. You will often hear, when broaching this topic, people saying there were no signs or clues that somebody was feeling that way.  

I've decided to share some advice for both sufferers of certain mental health illnesses and for people that are part of somebody else’s support team. These are just general words that have helped me that nobody else could tell me. It took me going through it myself to understand. Whilst these days my problems with anxiety are worse than the depression, both are still around me. But the suicidal thoughts are not. My main aim is to keep those thoughts away whilst learning to cope with however the illness manifests itself. As somebody who has suffered but also been through the attempted recovery and medicinal process I have some experience. Hopefully, if you are suffering from depression or anxiety or know somebody that is these words can help.

The Symptoms - Taking Ownership of Them. 

Depression is more than feeling sad. Anxiety is more than feeling a little nervous. But we all know these things, right? Even those that have never suffered from either have a rough idea of the main symptoms of both. 

But what troubled me for years is the little oddities and malfunctions that your mind undertakes when you are suffering from these problems. When you can't quite comprehend yourself why you are acting or feeling a certain way, it can build rapidly and overwhelm you. 

The little signs of depression and/or anxiety issues manifest themselves in strange ways and are constantly changing. They can feel incomprehensible and debilitating. They are the side symptoms not addressed enough.

For example, in the last couple of months I have developed a couple of new "malfunctions." One is not replying to messages. One is an abstruse fear of playing football. Both are particularly frustrating as the former is one of my number one pet peeves in other people and the latter is something that brings me joy. 

These little quirks are tough to explain but a few years ago I would have allowed them to frustrate me to the point they would add heavily to the burden. Now I just own them. Okay, I might ignore your text and okay that will annoy the hell out of you. I'm sorry. It is what it is. I'd also like to play football next week and might tell you that I'll be there. An hour before though my body is going to let me know that it isn't happening. For my own health I have to own that. I have to accept it or the problems mount. They will change soon anyway. I'll be back playing football in good time but probably develop a fear of the local corner shop or something equally odd. 

If you are an outsider looking in then perhaps these are the little signs you may pick up on. Odd changes in behaviour can be indications of a developing mental illness. Do you have a friend that used to often come out socially who has suddenly become more reclusive? You may have blamed that new partner of theirs as being controlling. You may have called them boring countless times. It could be those things. But it could also... 

There's no shame in not picking up on the little things but if you do know somebody who seems to have developed a "malfunction" it might be worth stopping the slander and asking them the question. Rather than berating their inability to respond or turn up to events or whatever else it might be, it is worth a conversation. 

Family and Friends; The Illness Reveal.

The stigma is changing and talking about certain mental health issues is becoming slightly easier. Yet, as with all modern societal improvements, there is a long way to go. There are still many who scorn and deride the existence of illnesses such as depression. I’ve even a co-worker who didn’t see the irony in his statement “It’s all in people’s heads.” Telling people about your problems is not easy. For this reason it is entirely in your hands who you open up to about it.

Talking. It is important. It is key. It may be when it starts. It may be before it ends. But it is beneficial. It is just difficult choosing who hears those words.

My immediate family are not good at this stuff. I love them but I've been around them long enough to hear the way they refer to people who dare interfere their commuter route by having the audacity to take their own lives. I've heard them speak about some of their own close friends suffering from depression in words close to "she just wants attention." I know my family. I can't choose them. I love them. But they are not the correct people to be opening up to.

My partner, on the other hand, is my choice.  I am in a happy relationship but that would have been scuppered if I didn’t sit down and explain my odd behaviour honestly. There is only so long you can pass problems off as epilepsy or insomnia and inevitably you are lying to your partner. They know that I felt suicidal so we breach the subject enough just to make sure that mindset isn't there at present; always knowing that it could be tomorrow. We now work with and around my problems with understanding which, most importantly, led me to be able to manage them better. I’ve been in relationships where people didn’t want to know after the conversation. Don’t be around those people.

Only you will know who else you need to tell. For me it was just two or three of my closest friends; the sort that I share everything with. Aside from that, everybody else found out through reading blog posts, regardless of how much time I spent with them. I know some were mortified, almost offended, at the prospect of me taking my own life. The truth is most family and friends would drive a thousand miles to stop you going through with it and wish that you would just give them that chance to. Of course, that is exactly the reason why most don’t say anything.

If you are telling people that you love, it is best to prepare yourself for the simple fact that the vast majority have absolutely no idea what to say or how to deal. So many will inadvertently begin to sound like the voice in the top cartoon: accidentally patronising. It is an attempt to help and you have to remind yourself of that. It is often exactly as the cartoon suggests because people struggle with the mentality. If you tell your friend you can’t make an event because you have broken your leg then everything is acceptable. If you tell them you can’t make it because your mind won’t allow you to they may try and be understanding but truthfully they cannot comprehend it. Don’t be mad at them. Just maybe don’t use them as counsellors.

The Medical Options

I’ve seen a couple of people concerned about the age of Anthony Bourdain. If somebody could still be fighting and losing at 61 then is there any hope for getting better? Is the help out there?

There are medical options but they are problematic. They are rarely tailored to individuals and they need to be. “Getting you into the system” is a favoured phrase of GPs and the system is… systematic. Reliance on the health service to suddenly cure everything isn’t an option to most; it wasn't for me.

I do recommend to anybody who thinks they are suffering that they are diagnosed at GP level first, if for nothing else but administrative reasons. The brief discussion will give you an idea of what you are dealing with and discuss some of the options.

Medication is horrible but sometimes necessary. There are a couple of anti-depressants that successfully numb you to the point where you wouldn’t have the energy or interest in taking your own life anyway. As an immediate deterrent it can be efficient. It is a horrible attempt at a cure though, leaving you devoid of feelings or personality. I know friends who say medication for both anxiety and depression have only heightened the problems. There are some long term pills that help control anxiety, but I haven't found the same with depression.

From here you will likely be referred to your local hospital who will manage your mental health illness, again to varying degrees of success. The backwards system that uses postal letters and single slot phone call opportunities is rubbish. The help from that point depends on the quality of your hospital and your issues.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an oddity that will work for some but not for all. It does seem the standard recommendation from the NHS, regardless of the severity of your illness. Suicidal thoughts and depression require counselling though, even if it from an outside source. Talking is important. Talking about yourself is important. CBT felt an attempt to deflect the thoughts rather than confronting them. Outside therapists and counsellors are relatively inexpensive and definitely more beneficial. From experience I'd recommend their use but give the NHS options a chance as well. 

Working it out with Work

This is another element that is different to each individual so tough to give advice on. Work is such an enormous element of the British way of life though that some changes will have to be made.

The consequence of your job and its effect on your mental health are elements you will have to reflect on as an individual. Does your job add to a depressed feeling? Does going to work increase anxiety? Does the distraction help? Do you enjoy seeing your colleagues? Do you leave work feeling a little closer to the edge?

On a personal level, work is an important benefit. I can't pretend to get as much fulfilment from my job as I would like but when it comes to controlling my mental health it does not have an adverse effect. My doctor has offered to sign me off from work on a couple of occasions and I've always refused. Having somewhere to go and having people to interact with was much safer for myself than being alone at home. Time away from work may sound appealing but having somewhere to be away from those cataclysmic thoughts can be beneficial.

If you are employed by another then having the conversation with them and maybe a colleague you feel close to is helpful. Again, only you will know how this will play out. I've been lucky in that my boss has allowed me the time for medical treatment whenever it has been needed. Others may require doctor's notes and hospital appointment cards and that is where the medical administrative side mentioned above becomes useful.

For the outsiders, it isn't helpful to tell people to quit their jobs or move on for the sake of their mental health, not least because sufferers who have reached the stage of feeling entirely worthless do not have the energy to change something so huge. Dropping the line "well if you are unhappy do something about it" is not good advice or helpful. It is loaded and dangerous. When thoughts of taking your own life are already prevalent hearing this line can finalise the decision. Rather than find mental energy to make a change, the option of ending everything instead looks more appealing. Listen to people rather than throw out useless phrases.

Talking to Strangers

Talking is important. It can't be said enough. But the right sort of talking is key. The pressure from all the above conversations can be devastating. When acts such as going home at night can cause anxiety attacks then revealing that you are unwell to parents, friends, colleagues or even doctors can be daunting. Their reactions, or at least perceived ones, can be terrifying.

But talking is important. The best people to talk to are not always that same group of friends you are used to confiding in. The best people to talk about depression to are people who have suffered or are suffering to. This could be a friend that you know or a friend of a friend. It may be somebody you only know through social media. It could be a complete stranger but one whose contact details you have. These thoughts can be overwhelming at times and speaking to those who understand is more helpful than you know.

This goes for both sides too. If you are worried about a loved one and are seeing them suffer, or signs that they might be, then speak to somebody that has the experience in it to help you. If you are the sort to throw out damaging advice that you think will motivate somebody then please ask for help elsewhere.

Outside of this, the helplines are there for a reason and are available on this page. Just ignore the other basic advice on there. Talking is important.

Beer - and other drugs.

Since this is a beer blog and therefore you may have read this for that reason then we should talk about self medication.

You are going to hear from every medical professional you see that drinking is not helping. This is the limitations of our health professionals, trained to tell you never to touch alcohol. As soon as you reveal that you enjoy a drink then that will become the blame for everything after.

Of course, we use alcohol as an anti-depressant in this country. We have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol but this is brought on by a societal mindset and the government's increased focus on trying to see it banned entirely. Changing our mindset with alcohol would lead to far fewer alcohol problems in this country. If we allowed people to have a drink then fewer would abuse it but that is a topic for another post.

The three pint buzz can be an effective ailment. The pub environment can be a great tonic. Kalsarik├ínnit - the word of the moment - can help relieve some of those nastier thoughts for a time.

And, occasionally, getting drunk can be exactly what was required.

My most effective coping mechanism for a number of years was the "Night of Overwhelment" as I dubbed it. It was an evening, never pencilled in, where I'd find myself feeling overwhelmingly sad. So I'd own it. I'd allow myself to feel it. I'd be sat at my kitchen table or on my sofa or in bed with a lot of beer. I'd be drinking to feel drunk. I'd have my laptop in front of me and would vary from watching purposely sad videos that upset me to flicking through images and memories of people I've lost, alive or not. For a couple of hours it would overwhelm me. I'd usually wake the following morning - laptop still playing sad YouTube videos, glass still half full of an expensive Imperial Stout, still fully clothed, sometimes slumped over my kitchen table - and I would feel released and a little better.

If somebody who had never suffered from depression or similar were to picture the image of helplessness it may well be that picture of a drunk, young man slumped over himself at home alone. If it was to be how I awoke every morning then maybe I would have other problems to address. Every now and then though, it was the most necessary and beautiful release of the feelings that can easily pile up on you.

I've written about the effects of alcoholism before so that people can understand the incredible difference between a drink problem and an interest in beer. The government is convincing society that they are no different. I'd prefer a society that is similar to how Friends portrays it - people arriving at home or at another's pad and cracking a beer from the fridge. No judgement, no attempt to get drunk, no worried looks or suspicions. If we had that mentality then we'd have less alcohol abuse.

You can suffer from depression and enjoy beer. Don't let anybody tell you differently.

Finding your Happy Place.

The one piece of advice I give everybody that not one single person or health professional ever gave to me is that cliched four letter phrase: Find Your Happy Place.

That is where I went to stand when I heard about Anthony Bourdain, as my mind flickered back to the day I went to take my own life. I control those feelings in that happy place.

I am currently very fortunate that my happy place is in my garden but that has never previously been the case, nor have I ever referred to such spots so specifically. Inadvertently I've been creating a safe place for myself ever since my teen years. They have been varied. Growing up it was a specific spot by a local stream. When I lived near the coast, it was a spot on the sea front around twenty minutes from my flat. Even when I lived in a box alone, I used to clean my kitchen from top to bottom at the end of every evening and stare at it in silence for ten minutes realising it gave me a strange serenity. It was my Happy Place at the time.

If it sounds rather corny, then maybe they should be referred to as places of safety. When I feel the darkness within they are spaces that increase peacefulness and bring me calm. When I sense an attack coming it gives me a space to breathe. 

I am sure they can be found anywhere. I had the same feeling at Scott Monument, Edinburgh. I felt it at St Dunstan-in-the-East in the heart of London.

I believe in this because I can look back and say that when I have felt at my absolute lowest and nearly lost my fight with my problems it is at times when I have had no place of safety. I didn't realise at the time. I've only just thought of it now as I'm writing.  Find your happy place.

For some, Depression or severe Anxiety is a brief illness that they overcome. Many of these go on to write "inspirational" books about how "they overcame Mental Illness - and so can you." Many of these are patronising and unhelpful. For many of us, it isn't a short term illness, it is something we have been battling for years. It is something we may have to fight for years to come. It needn't always be a battle, sometimes it just needs to be managed. Sometimes it is about each day.

There is no advice I, or anybody else, can give that can cure it. If there was then I'd be fixed too. I do believe that better understanding brings us forward though and more conversations can help. Whilst it is good that there are more media discussions about these problems, the words and advice are not always the best. I hope that some small part of this can help somebody else. 

It hurts every time I hear of this being the cause of somebody's end. Learn from the cartoon at the top of this page. My love to everybody.  


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