My shift had finished and I was due to meet an acquaintance for a coffee, catch up and maybe (probably, no definitely) a cake too. Usually when I finish work I like to spend a wee while shaking the retail monkey off my back and sit myself down for five or ten minutes to remind my knees that they can bend to an approximate ninety degree angle. Walking past the office I’d noticed a colleague and a manager just chatting and after popping my head around the door I somehow ended up joining in this conversation.

This passing conversation, which made me rudely late for the post-work coffee and cake session, came around to stress and negative thinking, and later on, depression. Of course I somehow got involved… Be it major or minor, I’m a stringent believer in talking about mental illness as, in my view, it is still one hell of taboo subject, and yet it touches so many lives, if not all.

Whilst it’s reasonably common knowledge in my workplace that I suffer from depression (nowadays I’d consider this at the milder end of the spectrum) there are things that I’ve consciously kept hidden. Even though I’m quite willing to chat openly about matters a lot of people consider ‘secret’ or ‘personal’ I realised that up until that day even I’d kept certain notions under wraps.

“I used to have to get Nicholas to drive me around for hours” I explained, “to stop me from killing myself.”

Holy feck. I’d never told anyone that, not face to face. And there I was relaying this as if I was telling them what I was having for my dinner that night.

“And on a daily basis when travelling to and from work I’d consider going into Glasgow Central and getting a train anywhere, and just disappearing. For months, no, years, I had an urge to just ‘disappear’ for good.”

Did I come across as totally bonkers to the two people in front of me? In retrospect I’m questioning that.
Did I have an issue with my unexpected honesty? Well, no, not really. And in fact, neither did they.

“I’d let myself get completely carried away with negative thoughts. After I went on a ‘depression  management’ course (or something named to that effect) I realised that, to a degree, I have some control over my ‘negative thinking’.”

“Oh, and a year on pills sort of helped me break my habits in relation to self-harming and constant negativity.” (Citalopram if you didn’t know already…)

“There’s very few instances in life that hit you as a pivotal moment.” I went on to explain.

“My mother has suffered from severe depression coupled with the complexities of Borderline Personality Disorder as far back as I could remember. When Nicholas and myself were down in London and looking after her a couple of years ago, amidst many heated and aggressive exchanges stemming from something as simple as trying to get my mum to eat, get out of bed or bathe, she would tell us how much she wanted to die…”

“And suddenly it hit me, just how deeply it hurt having someone you loved and cared for telling you that. It stuck in like a knife to know that is exactly what I had been doing to Nicholas. Being shown the most ineffective ways of how to cope with these feelings was a greater lesson than being told how to deal with them.”

I remember that moment well.

This is a complicated matter, and I’m not advocating silence in the face of such thoughts and emotions, this conversation wasn’t about ‘silence’ and if you ever feel that way you should tell someone you trust. What it did and still does advocate is talking productively about what is going (or not going) through your mind BEFORE you get to that stage. Don’t bottle (or hit the bottle and it’s many equivalents). It’s all avoidance, and avoidance is the danger here.

“I’m not fixed, I have good days and weeks as well as bad days and weeks, but it’s better now that I know I have ‘some’ control over this, be able to identify that I can cause an avalanche from one minor hiccup, from one bad moment or interaction. And talk! Talking really helps. Oh fuck I’m late to meet my friend!”

And then I ran off.

Quirkily, later that night I saw an advert on the television referring to Time To Change, an initiative to end mental health discrimination, and the key message was talking about mental health, not particularly with medical professionals, but in conversation. Visit the website, have a read…  Talking DOES help.

The next day the colleague that was involved in yesterday’s conversation came up to me and hugged me. They said that my accidental but non-fussed honesty had planted the seeds to try and talk when they’re down or stressed, and most importantly to try and change how negatively they think about things, even if they’re without the label that is ‘depression’.

But I have touched upon a world of things I could talk about further. After a lengthy phone conversation I had with my sister the other day it’s dawned on me that perhaps I should pen some pieces about my mother and the mental health problems which have crippled her to the point that she is now in a care home.

In the eyes of society it’s easier for me to tell you that dementia, a condition that can come with a almost stamped diagnosis, is why she is now in a care home, and at such a relatively young age too. But the lines blur, even amongst professionals, when it comes to accepting that the real reason behind her getting to this stage is actually the lifelong mental health decay with which she has suffered. Perhaps you can’t imagine the looks you’d get for suggesting ‘that’ and believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of them. Having lived with these issues for forty eight years at the longest and thirty one at the shortest, my siblings and I have a greater knowledge than any social worker who will tell you otherwise and yet has only been involved in the case for barely two years.

But that’s for another day.

And once I’ve renamed this is webspace to ‘My Big Depressing Blog’…