Some Thoughts on Mental Health

Yesterday (October 10th) was world mental health day. I wasn't going to post anything, but this morning I woke up feeling like there were things I wanted to say.

To me, having periods during your life where you need some extra support with your mental health is absolutely normal, mostly because nearly everyone close to me, including me, has had some experience of struggling with theirs.

My first experience of this was seeing my Dad suffering with depression when my sister and I were young. Of course at the the time we didn't really know what was going on - Dad lost lots of weight, wasn't going to work and the smallest little thing would make him snappy. My Mum then went through a similar thing a few years later, and was diagnosed with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder and continues to feel like doing nothing but sleeping every time winter rolls around.

When we got married two years ago, all three of my bridesmaids were taking some form of medication to support their mental health. In fact, I've just done a quick count and I can think of 11 people in my life who have sought medical help at some point. Some have had a short course of medication, some have been referred for CBT or other forms of talking therapy, some will take medication forever and others have chosen not to take medication at all.

The person who's mental health has the biggest impact on my life (apart from my own obviously) is my husband's, and its because of him that I've decided to write this. He's bipolar, and is quite clear that it's something he is, not something he has...

When I first met D, he was 15. He had always been ahead of his peers academically, but he approached his GCSE years, that thing that happens to many of us happened and people started to catch up with him so he wasn't the clear high flyer that he had been. His ability hadn't lessened of course but the pressure of achieving to the level he felt people expected started piling on top of him, and he started punishing himself for not doing well enough. He started to fear failing, to fear letting people down and adopted a self-sabotaging mentality that if he didn't try his hardest, he couldn't fail. He's pretty sure now that this was the trigger for it all, and many of the feelings and behaviours he experienced during this time still affect him 15 years later. We got together when he was 16, and when I found out he had been self harming I made him promise he would never do it again - I realise this probably wasn't the most sensible thing to say, but it scared me and I just wanted him to stop. Self punishment and self sabotage is something he still struggles with, and he's since found new, less obvious ways to self harm.

So, what's it like to live with someone who is bipolar? Sometimes it's the best fun ever. Part of D's experience with it is periods of 'mania' where he is effectively stuck in a super excited state. He'll play silly games, come up with elaborate stories about characters he's invented, he'll be really spontaneous and fun and confident and get loads of things done. He'll invent elaborate theories and problems to solve, get really stuck into things and try to make everyone laugh. But he'll also be unable to switch off and sleep, absolutely useless with money and get frustrated when I remind him that we really can't afford to go out for dinner again, or buy something elaborate that we don't really need (a fire pit being the most recent example of this.) He can't sit still, has a really short attention span, and relies on games on his phone to keep his brain moving. So it's not that much fun really.

On the other hand, there are the down periods, and they're really no fun at all. If I could sum up in a sentence what it's like during these times, I would say he feels absolutely worthless and subconsciously sabotages everything he does. He forgets to eat, he could sleep for 20 hours a day, and everything that is of any benefit to him, including self care becomes a struggle. He feels like the 16 year old who purposely didn't try his hardest so that he wouldn't fail. I've come home from work to find him laying on the floor in the kitchen because he was supposed to be having an interview the following day and didn't want the job, but had got himself in such a state about having to tell people he wasn't going because he didn't want to let them down. Food is a huge issue for him, especially when he's in one of these down periods. Since I told him not to self harm in the way he used to as a teenager, he's used binge eating instead. I didn't know the full extent of it until I found the wrappers and packets hidden in his car one day. Obviously, he knows about a lot about food and what he should and shouldn't be eating, and food is a massive passion for both of us, but this is something completely separate. Sometimes he's bought and eaten things before he's even realised what he's doing, and the worse for him it is, the more punished he feels.

It's a pretty exhausting thing to live with. Sometimes I'm able to be completely supportive and after 15 years I've learned when he needs me to lay on the floor with him, and when he needs me to be firmer with him, and be the person that pulls him out of it. Sometimes though, and especially when my own mental health is a bit wonky (thanks to my friend Dave for that analogy) I'll admit I can't deal with it. Sometimes, when I'm met out of work by a person who hasn't had a shower and hasn't eaten all day or considered what we're having for dinner that evening I just can't do it and I want it to go away. I've been known to get really cross with him, and to tell him I don't get why making a sandwich or booking a haircut is such an impossible task, but that's neither helpful or true.

Would I really change it though? Obviously I'd rather he didn't struggle so much with day to day things sometimes, but for the most part, no, I really wouldn't. Something D is adamant about, and which I totally agree with is that being bipolar is something he is, not something he has. He doesn't know who he would be without it, and as much as he struggles sometimes it's definitely made him more determined to beat the things he finds hard. So much of what he's achieved wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been in one of his super motivated manic phases, and I would never ever want him to stop telling me stories and playing daft games in the middle of the night. As for the days when he doesn't want to get out of bed, it's best explained by an analogy borrowed from Stephen Fry: without the demons in life, he wouldn't know the angels.

He hasn't always been open about his struggle, but for the first time in his working life his current employers are fully aware of it (and are amazing which is something to hope for for everyone!) Yesterday he shared a little on Instagram so I wanted to elaborate a bit further. D's particular flavour of mental health has a name, but I really don't think that you have to have a diagnosis to need some support with it. I've never been diagnosed with depression, or anxiety or anything with a word that defines it, but I have definitely had times during my life where I've struggled. Before we went to uni for instance I lost an awful lot of weight because I was so anxious about it all, I've had some time off work in recent years when everything going on became too much and I just needed to remove something from my life for a few weeks in order to get things back to a more balanced state and I've written at length about my suspected orthorexia. I also had some time off school when I was around 11, and at the time the doctor suggested medication to my Mum. I vividly remember her saying 'No, it's ok, she can do it on her own'. Now Mum, if you're reading this, I am not in any way blaming you, and I know you don't even remember saying it...but what a daft thing to say!! For years I felt like I wasn't allowed to feel down for no reason because D was the one with the diagnosis, like I couldn't talk about things because people were struggling more than me, and I could do it on my own.  

I suppose what I'm saying is that actually, while the much bandied about phrase of "it's ok to not be ok" is perfectly true - there must come a point when it's really not ok, to not be ok.  If you're struggling, talk about it. If you feel like you can't deal with something, or your mental health is negatively affecting your life, talk about it. Nobody is happy all the time and being sad and upset is totally ok, but once it starts affecting your sleep, your eating, your energy levels or your job - talk to someone about it! If you choose to go to the doctors, you're not wasting their time. Your friends and family won't think you've 'gone mental' or that you're making it up or looking for attention.

Unfortunately not everyone finds it as completely normal as me and my family, but the more we talk about it, and the more people who are honest with their employers about why they need time off, the more accepted it will become and the more supportive we will end up being as a society. People will still have complete meltdowns because they can't bring themselves to take down the Christmas tree and they've got to go to a family party later on (I'm looking at you, husbundo) but hopefully with the right information we'll all be more able to support each other when these meltdowns do happen.

Here are some links to places I think you'll find interesting if you've made it to the end of this post:

Kat at Blue Jay of Happiness writes extensively about mental heath. The first post of hers I read is about the language we use when discussing mental health, and it's definitely worth a read.

My beautiful friend Ria was featured in a short BBC documentary recently  'A Tattoo to Change your Life about getting a tattoo to cover up her self harm scars - I can't watch it and not cry.

This CEO who's response to a colleague being honest about the reason for taking a day off is perfect!

And a couple books we've both loved, not specifically about mental health, but definitely useful:

Ice Cream for Breakfast by Laura Jane Williams
Instrumental by James Rhodes

And of course, if you're struggling and don't feel you have anyone you can reach out to, The Samaritans are fantastic, and you can call them free 24/7 if you need someone to talk to.

Mind can also help you get urgent help, and have a plethora of information about mental health issues and how to help other people who may need your support.


  1. Replies
    1. I don’t always feel it, but thank you ❤️ Love you xxx

  2. A beautifully eloquent blog post. You and your husband sound like an amazing team who just totally ‘get’ each other. Thank you for sharing this.

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  5. It caused me to re-evaluate and examine all of my experience since my diagnosis. It made me wonder: All the time we are told that mental illness is on the rise, more are depressed, stressed, anxious, more self-medicate, self-harm.

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