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A Lie To Save Face Put Me On My Backside
29 Aug 2019
My partner couldn't find a job, my daughter was struggling and my son was off to uni in Kent. Canterbury seemed a world away from Leeds.
It all happened at once. Moods were low and money was tight as the household became dependent on me and my income. We wound up having to put the weekly food shop on a credit card.
Financially and emotionally I was stretched too thin for too long and it came to a head in March 2015.
I was suffering stomach pains which were a physical manifestation of my stress. Doubled up, I wasn't able to do my job. I had to take time off.
A month went by and things hadn't improved. I had tried here and there to return to work but I just couldn't. My stress physically hurt, but more than that I was anxious all the time. My small town tendencies kicked in and I started to fear the pulse of the city; the commute; the office. It was all much too much.
It wasn’t a hugely conscious thing, but whenever I’d visit the doctor, I had my guard up. I didn’t want the stigma - what I thought was the stigma, I know better now - of that ‘d’ word.
I was sore and sick and anxious. I was depressed. But I downplayed it all to the doctor. It sounds odd in the clear light of day but I simply didn’t want that word anywhere near me.
The reality is that the doctor could have helped me: perhaps sent me to talk to someone in the know or open me up to things like mindfulness - things that would later help me. But when you’re knee-deep in it you don’t think about that.
So when I was diagnosed, simply, as having low mood, it felt like a victory. I’d avoided that word … but then what had I gained? I was no better off. What’s more, I now had to get back to work.
Back to work
It was a tough spot. I had downplayed it all to my doctor, but I felt the same. I was also at a crossroads - do I quit my job, take time off and risk the ground beneath my family’s feet? Or do I go back to work and try to keep it all together (as I’d been unable to do previously)?
Looking back, perhaps stubbornness landed me here: too proud for a real diagnosis.
Thankfully, after a lot of pride-swallowing, soul-searching and the realisation that I was trapped, I confided in a wonderful colleague at LifeSearch, the place I work.
I relinquished control, and invited someone else, finally, to help. Gradually, more and more people were brought into the loop and I got nothing but love and help, practical as well as emotional. The more open and honest I was, the more help was provided. I attended counselling, and arrangements were made for me to work from home in a bid to sidestep my social anxieties.
Thanks to some great, supportive people (I can't thank them enough) who knew what was good for me more than I did, I was able to get better at my own pace, while keeping some much-needed structure and, frankly, some much-needed cash coming in.
I wanted to avoid the stigma. But what I went through isn't anything to be ashamed of. Depression hits one in four of us. It's normal and human, yet my instincts were to save face and that didn’t help a jot.
I’ve given just an outline of my journey, and sometimes words on a screen just don’t convey the impact and the hopelessness of what really went on. It might sound hypocritical but I would urge anyone else to just tell the truth – it's so much better for you in the long run.
I know from my job that people don't always tell the truth about mental health. We lie to doctors, families and ourselves for all kinds of reasons. They’re not malicious reasons, but those lies - white or otherwise - don’t help a situation. I know that now, four years on.
To sign off on a happier note, alongside counselling my fellow LifeSearchers advised I try yoga and meditation to counter my anxiety and depression. It has been a revolutionary change, helping me stay positive and feel generally more upbeat than ever before.
Now that the benefits of yoga and meditation (I also went vegan!) are underpinned by science (not just hearsay), LifeSearch is massively encouraging us all to try it. By grabbing time to get some headspace, you can better appreciate what you have and move the ego into the passenger seat.
I've managed to steer clear of the doctor's surgery since my dark time, and the gift of a more positive outlook – which is reinforced by my new daily practice – has been instrumental in that.
I used to say that you have to go there to come back, but by telling the truth the journey back can be quicker, better and much more peaceful than hiding behind a lie, however white you think it is.
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