On Getting Help

So, it’s mental health day again. I’ve seen a lot of great posts floating around on the internet – poems and blog posts about what it’s like to have a mental illness, ones intended to inspire and uplift those who are feeling down, and a lot of statuses advising people to reach out and get help if they need it. Which is all great.

Except, what does reaching out and getting help entail, exactly?

While I was at university, I had what I now describe as a breakdown. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or how to stop hurting. Needless to say, it was terrifying.

I had a decent sized social circle, so a lot of people knew I was having problems. Some knew more than others, of course. But no one really knew the full ins and outs of it – how could they, when I didn’t understand it myself?

In a lot of ways, I was crying out for help. And many of them tried to help, but only a few actually did.

Now, I’m not laying blame here. There were a million reasons why people didn’t and couldn’t help me – legit reasons. But that’s the simple truth of it: I needed help and, despite everything, couldn’t find it.

I phoned a helpline and, to be honest, found it unhelpful. They wanted to talk, but I wanted to stop drowning.

I asked them something along the lines of, ‘Can you get me an appointment to see someone, or have someone diagnose me, or do anything other than listen to me?’ and they said no, and I hung up.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone to listen to you is important. For some people, it’s all they want or need. And it was part of what I needed but, down in the dark where I was, I needed more.

I tried counselling to mixed success. I went to my GP, and googled ways to find help (and googled, and googled, until I could google no more).

Nothing was working. Nothing was enough.

For a long while, I would have actually been relieved to have been sectioned. Then people would realize how bad I was, and come to me with help rather than me having to be the one to go out and find it.

In the end, I can’t actually tell you what stopped the downward cycle. It probably was a mix of friends, counselling, GP appointments, Google, and helplines.

All I know is, one day I didn’t hurt quite so badly. I came out of a big period of depression and was able to see clearly enough to chart my way back to health. For the most part, anyway. (I still have bad days, of course, but nothing like my last year in Lincoln.)

Maybe that particular bout of depression shifted all on its own, the same way it had come of its own accord. Maybe if I hadn’t left Lincoln, I’d still be under it. I don’t know. Answers still aren’t easy.

Telling someone to ask for help is easy. What’s harder is the listening, and the searching for solutions on someone else’s behalf.

This is not a blog post for those who are drowning, but those on shore wondering whether they should phone the coast guard or not.

Here is my advice to you: regularly ask the people around you how they are – like, really ask them, and don’t accept simple answers. They may be great, having the time of their life. Talking to them might reveal that they actually have a lot of possitive things going on behind the scenes that you had no idea about. Talking to them might help you realize that, actually, you have stuff going on in your own background you weren’t even aware of.

You can’t (and shouldn’t!) ever force help on someone, but don’t assume that if your friends are hurting they will come to you. And don’t get upset if you hear, after the fact, that they were struggling and didn’t reach out. I can’t emphasize this point enough but, DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.

Don’t content yourself with passive pleasantries. Actively look out for people who need you, and try asking them what they need. Like me, they may not know what they need. That’s fine. Don’t pressure them for answers, for god’s sake. Reassure them you’ll search for answers together, staying beside them all the way. And then STAY BESIDE THEM.

A number of people who say, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ and then vanish away into the ether is insane (and, yeah, I use that word with all it’s stigma and implications).

In conclusion, realizing you need help and asking for it is monumental, but it’s only one side of the equation. Realize that people ask for help in thousands of different ways, and listen out for them.

Do not go alone.

I Miss My Husband

Just a couple of months after I met my partner, I went away for a week to do some voluntary work. 

During that week, I joked about being “halfless”, which is to say, missing my other half. The thing is, it wasn’t a joke. We both knew pretty much right away where our relationship was headed. We were just at the right stage in our lives and those lives slotted together naturally very well. 

Steve has changed my life and, in a lot of ways, I couldn’t be happier. In one way, though, we really struggle. 

For those who know us personally, you’ll know that Steve is sick and unable to work. I don’t think most people really understand just how sick that is, however. He spends most of his day asleep, exhausted from seizures, fluctuating blood levels, and mental health issues. The hours he is awake, he has no energy, no motivation, and now, very limited government help. 

Since moving in together, I have become Steve’s carer, making sure he eats and takes his numerous medications besides a ton of other seemingly insignificant things that add up to constitute a full-time job. 

To do this, I have cut back on my client work and am now only doing a couple of hours a week towards being self-employed. I do this gladly because I love Steve and I don’t resent a moment of it. I’ve had to get better at recognising when I’m becoming burnt out and finding a way around it. 

But back to the government help thing. Last week Steve had a tribunal in which he appealed a DLA decision that said he didn’t need care. We went together and explained in person to a room of six people his needs. 

And they upheld the decision. They consider him not in need of care or the financial help to provide it. 

It took a year for us to reach that point and to say we’re devastated is an understatement. 

Three days before our wedding, we heard that Steve was losing his ESA (a different kind of benefit that we use for all kinds of crazy things like food and electricity). So we then began a second round of the appeals process. 

It took them over a month to decide to pay us while that process is ongoing, meaning we had to use money we received as wedding gifts to allow us to live. 

The stress has been unbelievable, and it’s not over as we wait for the ESA tribunal date to be decided. Part of me doesn’t want it to come, because we have no backup plan for if it fails. There is no possible way we could have a backup plan, as the (reduced!) amount they are currently giving us doesn’t allow any spare money that could go into savings. 

Meanwhile, my awesome, lovely husband is forced by stress into ever increasingly bad health and I miss him. I love him to bits, and we spend a great deal of the day side by side, with me awake and him out of it. 

As things are, he isn’t able to focus on getting better. 

Not wanting to end on quite such a bleak note, I want to instil within you the importance of voting out the cruel, uncaring government who has put Steve and so many other thousands of people in this position. 

Further details here