Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Getting From A to B

The Distance From Should To is…. It’s an idea that fascinated me for a long time. Usually it's a way of comparing policy, theory and announcements to reality. This time it’s about me.

It’s been a while since my last post, and some might think that this gap is a little curious given the recent select committee report on the Draft Social Care Bill. I’ll write about the draft bill shortly but first I’ll talk about the gap.

I’ve just returned  to work following sick leave. Late last year I reluctantly accepted that:

a)   I was suffering from depression
b)   It was stopping me working properly

It took me a long time to get from a to b.

I don’t intend to speculate on the reasons for depression or to spell out the effects. There are other bloggers out there that can do that far better than I. But other people’s openness about their own mental health issues is something I’ve always admired. It was really useful to me when I was finding my own way through. It seems only fair to add my own small contribution.

I also want to publicly acknowledge that there was a problem, particularly for anyone who may have been wondering why I’ve been so bad at communicating with them recently. It wasn’t you, it was me…., back to me.

I should have taken time off earlier. One of the things that stopped me was the belief that I would be able to turn things round. Even when I accepted that I had depression I didn’t accept that it meant that I would be affected by it. Other people? Yes. Me? No.  

I should have been able to sort things out. I was able to seem ok to most people, surely that meant I was almost ok. I was convinced of this, so I piled more and more pressure on myself.

I always felt that I just needed to sort out one more thing. I’d take some time off in a bit, but not just now. The problem was that I was dealing with what should be, not with what was really happening. As a result I worked longer hours, achieved less, and got worse.

If I had broken my leg I wouldn’t have expected myself to keep running. However, despite a lifetime working in and around mental health, I couldn’t accept that depression would reduce my ability to get things done, so I kept going. In retrospect, this was a special kind of idiocy.  It was harder to sort things out, many things didn’t get sorted. I got worse.

Recently I’ve been asking myself why I was so reluctant to accept the impact of my depression. I've came to the uncomfortable realisation that despite many years trying to reduce the stigma and prejudice that people with mental health problems face, despite being a fan of the Time To Change campaign and the Black Dog Tribe, when it came to me I was somehow ashamed. Other people would be affected by mental health problems. Somehow I thought that shouldn’t apply to me.

Well, it did apply to me.

Taking time off was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. As the eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed from my profile, although I’ve returned to Action for Advocacy, I’m not coming back as Chief Executive. I need to make sure I’m able to put some things into that wonderful pile marked “someone else’s problem”, but believe me, I have enough to get my teeth into.  So let me finish by saying a few things both you and I should already know.

Depression is as real as physical illnesses. It has as great an impact as physical illnesses or injuries. I expect that our society should treat mental and physical health problems with a parity of respect and understanding. Mental health problems no more define a person than does a fractured rib. I have spent years of my life challenging fears, assumptions and prejudice about mental health. It’s strange to realise that one of the most ingrained problems was sitting in my own head.