A large percentage of my friends and family suffer (or have done in the past) from some sort of mental health issue. Some minor, some severe, some are sudden and unexpected, others have been present for many years.
I’ve always considered myself extremely lucky for not experiencing any of the kind of problems I’ve known others to endure. I mean, let’s face it, the NHS is seriously lacking when it comes to mental health care. People are being let down catastrophically and it is literally costing lives.
The services just aren’t there and even where they are, there seems to be a serious lack of understanding and compassion in many cases. I say this from experience.
Several years ago I was sat in a hospital with someone who had slit their wrists. We were waiting to talk with someone, after having had the injuries seen to by a doctor. Eventually, the man we were waiting for (a psychiatrist, I think but I’m not sure) called us in. The man, let’s call him Dr D*ck, showed absolutely zero interest in ‘the patient’. No compassion given. No kindness offered. Instead Dr D*ck asked a grand total of about three questions, one of which was ‘do you think you need to see a psychiatrist?’. My jaw hit the floor. ‘The patient’ sat there, covered in blood and unresponsive, as they had been since the incident occurred. I couldn’t believe the patient was almost being made responsible for the decision. Of course help was needed. You don’t slit your wrists if you aren’t in need of some kind of help, whatever the circumstances.
It took all my strength not to scream at Dr D*ck, instead managing a very tense ‘don’t you think so?’, to which he replied something along the lines of there being about a three month wait.
Perfect! What could go wrong in three months?
‘What do we do in the meantime?’, I asked feeling the responsibility of the silence that followed, creating a void between us. A deep black hole absorbing everything around it, tangible and filled with dread.
And that is how I feel about mental health. It can be like that black hole and I’m ever so grateful to have side-stepped it.
But have I?
Well, let’s look at the evidence. I’m a pretty happy person. Never particularly angry or stressed and I almost never lose my temper.
However I do suffer with nightmares, sometimes two or three a night. And that’s on a good night when I’ve actually managed to get enough sleep to enable nightmares.
I’ve always found sleep difficult. The Bearded Manc says ‘just shut your eyes’, as though it’s that simple. I wish it was. I have restless legs. I worry over trivial things that happened years ago. I toss & turn and fret.
I go through periods, like the one I’m stuck in right now, where sleep evades me entirely. It usually lasts no more than a couple of weeks, by which time I’ll be exhausted and run down, before returning to relatively normal.
Normal for me is approximately 6 hours of very broken and disturbed sleep filled with nightmares, waking two or three times and finding it difficult to drift back off.
One night this week, still wide awake at 3am, growing more and more anxious about how much ‘night’ was left in which I could feasibly sleep, it dawned on me that this is a mental health issue. It is an anxiety of sorts. Sleep anxiety.
I lay down and the anxiety kicks in, slowly but surely. My brain starts racing. My heart rate speeds up. My body reacts negatively and ridiculous thoughts engulf me. It’s fascinating really.
Now I’m not trying to compare it to the anxiety of those who struggle to leave the house or communicate with others (for example), but it is enough to stop me from sleeping night after night and we all know how crap it feels to not get a decent night sleep.
Imagine being ‘stuck awake’ until 5am, night after night, knowing your children will be up at 7am and they will require your energy, patience and love which isn’t always easy to give when you are beyond tired.
My epiphany led me to the conclusion that if it is my brain keeping me awake, there are things I can do to help myself. So this is my plan:-
• I’ve downloaded the Calm app. I find a soft background noise helpful. It quiets me.
• I’m going to do a short burst of exercise early evening to wear out my legs and hopefully alleviate their restlessness.
• I’m going to create a ‘worry list’. I’m aware this sounds pretentious but I think writing things down may take some weight off of my brain, trying to process the problems at night. I will write problems down and tackle them practically, changing my focus to proactive rather than reactive.
• Maintain the temple – eat more veggies, less bread and drink more water. Any idiot knows a good diet is key to everything.
• Breathe. Yes, I know it’s automatic but sometimes I think we need to do it intentionally and with awareness, in order to feel the benefits of it emotionally. So I am going to make a practice of ‘intentional breathing’, for a period of about two minutes when I get into bed.
This is my plan. It might be utter b*llocks but it sounds right so I’m going with it. I don’t expect it to change me overnight or cure me completely but it feels good to have some tools in my bag and they certainly can’t hurt. They are good practices for anyone to adopt.
I’ll let you know how I get on in a few weeks. In the meantime, look after yourselves, speak up, drink lots of water, get help and don’t forget to breathe.