Category Archives: Awareness

I Wish My Friends Knew…

Last week, Kyle Swartz – a primary school teacher from Colorado – set a fairly innocuous-seeming piece of homework for her class of eight and nine year-olds; to complete the sentence, ‘I wish my teacher knew…’. The responses were a heartbreaking window into the worries and struggles of childhood life and have proved a thought-provoking hit on social media around the world.

After reading the story, blogger @depressednotsad (AKA ‘Little Blue Fish’, interviewed here) wondered what she’d have written when she was child and – perhaps more pertinently – what she’d write now. The result was #IWishMyFriendsKnew, and her replies are a brave and desperately moving insight into the thoughts and worries of both an ordinary mum with depression and a survivor of child abuse.

Inspired by @depressednotsad‘s bravery and honesty, there have since been hundreds of tweets completing the same sentence, ‘I wish my friends knew…’. It’s a poignant account of the secret fears, thoughts and feelings of people with mental health problems, and I’ve collected just a few of them here. Tissues at the ready! [EDIT: I’ve had to type these out because embedding the tweets made the webpage load too slowly]

I wish my friends knew…That I am sorry for letting them down over and over again (@flathooves

I wish my friends knew…how worthless I feel all the time (@ActivistBlues)

I wish my friends knew…that I’m really lonely on the psychiatric ward and I’d love a visit- someone to make me laugh or listen to music with me (@mentalbattle)

I wish my friends knew…that I’m so grateful for the people who have stuck by me through the tough times. I love you. (@depressednotsad

I wish my friends knew…that it’s scarier for me to talk about feeling suicidal than it is for them to hear about it. (@TBad33

iWishMyFriends

I wish my friends knew…when I hide myself away it’s not because I don’t want to see them, it’s because I want to spare them from being with me. (@tweety123pie)

I wish my friends knew…that I blame myself for my #depression & every time I get ill, I feel like a failure #SelfStigma (@bdogrunner)

I wish my friends knew…i dont mean to be a constant let down its just the demons in my head are stronger than me (@lozmariegreen)

I wish my friends knew…that I envy them for being able to feel excited and challenged by things while I’m at home, low & exhausted again. (@drinksinthedark)

I wish my friends knew…just how much they mean to me 🙂 (@LifeOfAPanicPix)

I wish my friends knew…that’s it’s ok to feel awkward about asking about my mental health, but ask anyway, you may learn something (@jonnyward21)

I wish my friends knew…that even though I look ok at dinner with them I often spend the following night crying (@DepressedPhD)

I wish my friends knew…that is much easier to answer “I’m Fine” when you ask how I am, as the alternative is way too complicated. (@depressednotsad)

I wish my friends knew…sometimes shutting down and keeping everyone at arm’s length is the only way I can cope when I feel depression coming on (@ZodiacEclipse)

I wish my friends knew… just how thankful I am for their unwavering love and support; no matter much I want to give up, they remind to hold on x (@Justdreamingof)

I wish my friends knew…that I’m scared to go outside or do anything enjoyable when I’m off sick with #Depression in case they think I’m faking (@bdogrunner)

I wish my friends knew…that I’m jealous of their lives (@depressednotsad

I wish my friends knew…how much effort goes into getting out of bed in the mornings when #depressed let alone in getting to work (@Katcopley)

I wish my friends knew…that I feel so lonely all the time even when I’m surrounded by people (@run4yourMind)

I wish my friends knew…how grateful I am for everything they do; for staying up all night keeping me safe, for not giving up, for accepting me. (@laurahanc_)

I wish my friends knew…that #mentalillness is not contagious, and that they can come see me in the psych ward and not worry. (@IAmMichaelCrook)

(Trigger warning for suicide) I wish my friends knew…that I’ve been scared to go to the beach recently as I don’t trust myself not to drown myself (@depressednotsad)

I wish my friends knew…how much I appreciate all the things & kind words they do & say! (@mrspiglet07

I wish my friends knew…what it is like never to have a day off; never a moment without anxiety. #exhausting (@sherbetlemon1

I wish my friends knew…how bitter I feel that my abuser has a marriage, good job, big house and money, and my life is in a mess. (@depressednotsad

I wish my friends knew…how exhausting it sometimes is to try to keep going (@learningtofloat

I wish my friends knew…that my emotions are so intense they physically hurt. Yet I’m expected to react in a way that seems ‘normal’ (@fortitude321

I wish my friends knew…Just how much I wish I could ask for their help, but I feel I would become an irritating burden. (@flathooves

I wish my friends knew…how much effort & energy is required for me to do ordinary things that they’d never need to think about (@bdogrunner

I wish my friends knew…how much a hug would me to me and how much I want them to give me one. (@DepressedPhD

I wish my friends knew…that I constantly worry about my friends abandoning me because I have no idea why they’d want to be friends with me. (@Violet_Emily_

I wish my friends knew…how much it hurts not to be able to help them when they are in pain and how much I wish I could change that so I could x (@g3reth

I wish my friends knew…that I can’t see them because I am scared that I’m boring and that I have nothing to say (@Lababup

I wish my friends knew…that I put off telling people when I have bad days in case they get fed up with me (@Katcopley

I wish my friends knew…that sometimes faking a smile is much easier to do than explaining why I feel depressed (@mksimpson92

I wish my friends knew…that I feel guilty for having depression & feel it’s the least I deserve in life! (@mrspiglet07

I wish my friends knew…that even a lovely day with people I love doesn’t take away my depression(@depressednotsad)

I wish my friends knew…that I can’t be honest about my mood, because I worry they’ll lose patience with the fact I’m *still* depressed (@bdogrunner

I wish my friends knew…that I’m ashamed of the mess my life is in. (@KarenKts11

I wish my friends knew…that I can’t believe a compliment, but every criticism is added to my mental folder of ‘proof’ that I’m an awful person (@bdogrunner)

I wish my friends knew…that I struggle every second of every day, and can’t remember what it’s like not to feel tired. (@ElspethVanDHole

I wish my friends knew…how scared I am that things will never get better and I will never be well enough to work (@fortitude321

I wish my friends knew…how special they are to me & thankyou to my virtual friends to BIG HUGS (@lesleylyness)

If you’d like to read more, head over to the Twitter hashtag #IWishMyFriendsKnew

It’s time to bring the black dog out of the shadows

There’s an old saying. Commeth the hour, commeth the man dressed as an eight foot black dog… Well, apparently… I myself am still in denial. Yet, believe it or not, this time tomorrow I’ll be running the Great North Run dressed as a giant black dog. What started as a somewhat eccentric idea – is now almost reality. Objectively, people tell me I’m 99% there. The training is finished, the dog suit is made. All that’s left to do stuff my face with pasta and trot around Tyneside for a couple of hours.

Except, that last 1% does make me nervous. For a start, this week hasn’t been as restful as I’d have liked. When I haven’t been at work, I’ve been either frantically finishing my costume, or desperately devising new ways to promote myself and raise more money for Mind. My final practice run also went disastrously wrong. An attack of IBS brought me to a halt after six miles in agonising pain. Not exactly the confidence boost I was hoping for. But it did remind me of an important lesson. Mental health problems, like physical illness, are not something we chose and rarely something we have much control over. In other words, all we can do is try our best, and be proud of our effort.

Man Behind BlackDogRunner
The man behind #BlackDogRunner – holding the costume. This picture was taken by a local newspaper (The Northern Echo), who wrote a very short piece about me. Beware: it shreds any last remnants of my anonymity!

And the truth is, I am proud. For me personally, #BlackDogRunner was about pushing myself. Giving myself a project that could help me engage with life. As my health has improved, I’ve been able to push myself more and more, which in turn has brought it’s own rewards. But I haven’t always got the balance right. Three months ago, I was crippled by fatigue. I could barely get out of bed, never mind run a half marathon. That’s when I was forced to remember the other side of the lesson. You can never push yourself too far. This can be intensely frustrating when there’s something you want to do, but like it or not, we don’t have a choice. You can’t ‘snap out’ of depression and run a half marathon any more than you’d be able to ‘snap out’ of having broken legs. So it’s about knowing your limits. And however small they may be, whether it’s going for a walk, or just getting out of bed, trying to be equally proud.

Except, of course, it’s not that easy. I’m one of the lucky ones. My health is good enough such that I’m about to run a half-marathon. For millions of people with crippling mental health problems, that would simply never be an option. Yet, I get lavished with praise and words like ‘inspirational’, and they get nothing but silence. Those heroic millions, struggling every day to survive, yet often simply ignored. That is what I want to change. To celebrate those invisible heroes. Like we do, so often, with sufferers of physical illnesses, like cancer. To recognise their strength and their bravery. As I struggle through my run tomorrow, I hope it can symbolise the struggle of every one of those brave souls. For their heroic battles, for when they push their limits, and for simply keeping going. I also hope that when they see me, they’ll realise they’re not alone. It’s time to bring the black dog out of the shadows, to break the silence, and break the stigma!

#BlackDogRunner

Appendix:

The Great North Run will be televised on BBC One from 9:30am onwards. I will probably be running from about 10:30am – 1pm (UK time), so if you’ve got nothing to do, switch it on and give me a cheer and a wave. It’s genuinely really motivating to think of people waving at me. I will try to wave back whenever I see a camera – provided my arms haven’t completely conked out.

All for one, and one for all!

With two weeks left, things are getting exciting. I’ve raised over a thousand pounds, I’ve got a newspaper interested in doing some publicity, and the costume is even starting to take shape (see picture)! In other words, everything is coming together nicely. Except… I’m going on holiday… For a week. With no internet, TV, or phone.

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The costume (or the head, at least) is starting to come together!

Until recently, I thought this was going to be disaster. With so little time left, surely my timing couldn’t have been worse? But then I had an idea. If #BlackDogRunner is supposed to be about speaking on behalf of those silenced by stigma, why not lend the mask to some others, and make #BlackDogRunner into a true ‘every(wo)man’!?

Which is exactly what’s happening. For each day next week, I’ve invited an anonymous friend with #MentalHealth problems to ‘guest tweet’ from my account. You might know them, they could be your friend, you sister, your colleague, your lover. I’ve given them a fairly wide remit, so I’m not sure exactly what they’re going do or say, but if you’re on Twitter, do please say hello, and make them feel welcome! Just one warning, these are real people with real conditions, some very severe. So things might get very honest. #MentalHealth problems are rarely talked about. And when they are, we often provide a quite sanitised perspective. Alas, for every famous comedian, there are probably 10,000 people in suffering, with very little to laugh about. But if you can cope with it that, I know all the guests will be interesting. And where stigma is involved, honesty and openness are a powerful tool.

Each day will start with a short interview, which I’ve asked each guest to complete as part of #PoundForTheHound. I’ve also filled one in for myself (see below). If you’re a #MentalHealth blogger, why not fill it in for yourself and post it on your blog!? Oh, and don’t forget to make a donation to #PoundForTheHound while you’re at it 😉

Break the silence, break the stigma: #BlackDogRunner’s interview for #PoundForTheHound

Twitter name: @bdogrunner

Nickname(s): Dog, doggy, dogster

Blog : Erm… You’re reading it now… This is awkward…!

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Dogster

Diagnoses: Major Depressive Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, ADHD

Favourite comfort food:  Texas BBQ pizza with meatballs instead of chicken on an extra thick, doughy, bready base!

Most irritating, but harmless, symptom/side effect: Antidepressant sweat-of-doom! Also, my IBS… But let’s not talk about that 😉

Most irritating response to ‘seeking help’: *no answer*. Also, being put on a waiting list for three months, then being automatically discharged because the preliminary appointment letter arrived when I was away on business, and I failed to respond within 48 hours…

Most stigmatising comment received: ‘You’re mad!

…from a health professional: ‘Now you know your symptoms have no physical cause, I think they’ll go away

Offer some useful advice: Be kind to yourself. #MentalHealth problems can be extremely difficult to live with. So stop giving yourself a hard time! You deserve kindness, patience, and compassion just as much as anyone who’s struggling 🙂

Offer some useless advice: Just snap out of it!

#PoundForTheHound tribute message:  For my mum, who’s been heroically struggling with depression for fifty years