It is so frustrating at times to site idle while others suffer. Knowing you have information which could help others, you have the ability and time to talk to people who need someone to speak to. Yet no way or means to get involved at the grass roots level.
Over the past few days I have been looking into jobs in mental health, what qualifications are needed, and how I can help with the basic skill set I have. Apparently there isn't a way. Which while understandable, is also frustrating. Sure you can teach people the basics of mental health, draw up a curriculum which covers all the bases, make sure people understand the fundamentals of depression and anxiety. But you can't teach experience.
Somewhere there should surely be a crossover point, where experience and education meet, and can be combined to provide the services which are needed most by those suffering. It is great seeing big names coming out and admitting they are affected by depression, and explain their struggles. Saying things others can relate to, and feel like someone understands them. But that is where it ends. When you come forward and look for help, the understanding ends, and the empathy of education presents itself for the first time.
Having someone tell you they understand, because they have read about it is NOT the same as having someone share stories, or finish your tale for you, showing they truly know what the moment can do to you. The lack of this actual understanding is crippling for some, I certainly lost all faith for quite some time. Luckily I had the guidance to keep pushing me to keep going to the meetings, and to try and see what I could inject into the meetings to try and make them a little more "real" for others so to speak.
The thing I found was, as soon as I started openly sharing how certain incidents and events had made me feel, the whole group seemed to engage, waiting to share their experience too. A few meetings later and it had become the norm for me to offer a story, a real life example of such a feeling, to get the ball rolling, and by the end of the session we were all much more open about yet another aspect of depression or anxiety.
The difference to the first few weeks, and the attempts by the course tutors you try and get people talking, asking complete strangers to interact was almost troubling rather than helpful. Only being able to teach and discuss what you have learned from a book or lectures, while on paper might sound great, really isn't. I reflect back to when my daughter was being born, and the midwife told her mum to relax and enjoy the beauty of birth. When asked how many children she had, she replied none. That didn't get a great response. How can you tell someone how to feel about an experience you have never had... Quite simple, you can't.
In very few walks of life would you take advice from someone who only has theoretical experience in something. So when it comes to something as personal and unique as depression, the textbooks just don't cut it.
I desperately want to be able to intervene. Play a role in getting people who are hidden away in their heads, suffering in silence, speaking out. Not to the world, but just to a human who can be compassionate and genuinely empathise with them. Someone who can give their thoughts the time of day, and allow them to vent all the negativity that is drowning them.
You see, for me, and in my experience, speaking out is the first and most important key to the whole experience. While I have always been open enough to speak to a lot of people about it, there is a time when you feel you have exhausted them with the same stories, and you need someone else to talk to, a blank canvas. Unbiased, non judgemental, and willing to listen.
For me on my last round of depression, that person was Dr Elizabeth Paul at Wells Park Surgery. As my original entry says, I walked in silent, sat and just gazed. There was no immediate prompt from her, just a simple smile which gave me the courage to start trying to explain myself.
The whole entry is here... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-trip-to-doctors.html
My point here is really, that there is no one right person or way for everyone, we each need to find our own. The person or situation we feel comfortable with, to finally take the first meaningful step. When I have spoken to others about their depression, the common thing I find is the almost relief shown by the person, when you can actually, first hand, appreciate the magnitude of what you are saying.
An example being, going to meet with a friend while I was mid way through my fight with depression most recently. I chose a place to have lunch, somewhere I knew would be quiet, no crowds. My anxiety at that stage was very bad, so people were not my favourite things.
All was fine to start with, however when we started eating, more people started coming in, sitting closer and closer to us. Paradise lost! Matt had no idea what was going on inside my head, but mad panic is the only thing I can describe it as.
When we left and were talking afterwards, in the nicest possible way, it was impossible for him to understand the difference 4-6 more people coming in had made. However speaking to other friends who have been through the same, they got it straight away.
The big issue here is, a lot of people just don't have "that person" around them, and most of the help on hand seems to be from people who are well educated in the field, but really can't fully grasp what you mean. This is a big stumbling block for people. Having finally spoken out about how you are feeling, to suddenly be faced with a stranger who wants to help you, but doesn't understand you, is crippling.
From my experience, things didn't go well from the start. From my first face to face with someone, it felt like I was doomed. The full blog of my first impressions is here.... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/touching-base.html
You may be able to tell from the words that it didn't really go too well, and I was left with a rather bitter taste in my mouth. If you read entries further into January, you will see things didn't exactly get much better, not for a while.
Had this interaction been with someone who could understand and properly empathise and assess what I was going through, I think I would have felt much better about the matter. Seeing the speed at which some people dropped out of the subsequent CBT course, I guess for some it didn't get better soon enough. When CBT was explained to me, it was a very rough and vague explanation, reading up on it wasn't much help either. It was only being there, and manipulating it to my own needs, that finally started to make a difference.
After the initial discussion about what CBT was, these were my thoughts.
But the thought I can't get out of my head right now, is the was CBT has been presented to me. My interpretation being that I am in control of my thoughts, and therefore if my thoughts are my problem, and I am in control, it is all my fault. That's how my brain takes it right now. Being told you simply CAN'T do or think something is not a cure. Breaking the cycle, which I know is what CBT is really about is the key. But how do do you that when there are so many triggers and issues to over come?
Here was a person of sound mind, with questionable experience with depression, certainly first hand, telling me in short that I was the issue, and I needed to just forget about the past, and look forwards. Not a great deal of help.
I would dearly love to be able to help people get through this first major step in the program. But it appears academics comes first. To me that feels like teaching someone who can already run, to walk again, because they didn't learn properly. Sometimes, certificates, diplomas and grades count for absolutely nothing at all. Sure, along the process they are without a doubt very important, but for some aspects, you just need to understand, properly. Especially when trying to convince someone to walk out of their door into daylight for the first time in a month.
So here I am, frustrated that due to my lack of qualifications, I am near helpless to play a role in this. Sure some will say, volunteer for Samaritans or similar, but that is just not it. Could I turn my hand to such a thing, probably, would it be as fulfilling as the feeling I felt helping my fellow sufferers through their battle with depression, probably not.
At the end of my CBT course I did consider asking to be the plant in the room, the one who has been through the course, but is there to go through the course again, and try and get things moving. Sure the tutors are doing their best, but from speaking to them, the drop out rate is high, and our group had a "good" retention rate compared to some. That left me thinking that there must be more that can be done.
In the end the course certainly played its part in my recovery, as did a network of friends, and carefully considered distractions. But I honestly feel that I was very close to not bothering with the course, as my blogs show. Had I had some understanding and encouragement from someone who got it, earlier in te process, I might have started feeling a bit more positive sooner.
I applaud anyone who trains to work in mental health. It is a huge problem for our nation, and one which is only getting better. Lack of funding, not enough genuine cases being recognised, but for me, the biggest issue is the lack of understanding in what really helps people in such crisis.
So I am off to scour the internet fr ways I can be more helpful to others. I will also be speaking to my favourite GP about the matter when we meet on Tuesday. I know she won't have the answers, but it is a start, and keeps my mind heading in the right direction.
Any thoughts on how I can get involved are welcomed, so please drop me an email or similar.
Thanks for reading, and here's to getting a better understanding for those suffering.