Day-By-Day Diary Of A Heart Attack Survivor: Part 1 It All Started With Indigestion

[My Electrocardiogram - ECG]

My Electrocardiogram – ECG

The last couple of weeks have been rather eventful, even life-changing.  I have been writing short updates on Facebook to keep people updated in real-time & have had so many private requests to write a blog, that I have succumbed.

Enjoy & please give me your feedback.  If this series helps one person, it will have been worth the physical & emotional effort.  Thank you for taking the time to drop by & read.

I am still on the journey, facing further surgery & things may change, for the better or worse.  What I will do is document my journey as openly & honestly as possible, including the dirty stuff like emotions & struggles.

I have lost several close friends through heart attacks.  Why I should survive & they not I cannot answer, but I can lead you by the hand through my challenges, struggles, victories & life-changing decisions.

So, here goes …

*********************************

Saturday 13th August 2017:  I am out in a pet department in Wolverhampton near Birmingham UK, working with Geoff, my boa constrictor, introducing him to customers; enthusiastic & not so enthusiastic.

12:00:  Indigestion rears its ugly head. A bit sweaty with this bout but after a minute or two, everything subsides & I continue with my discussions.  All is going well for another hour.

13:00: This indigestion is not going away.  The pain increases rapidly again, peaking after about one minute.  The pain is tucked right under my ribs, up into my chest & this time I feel very ‘clammy’ & sweat more profusely.  My arm pits really ache with this event but everything subsides over the next 5 minutes until it is suddenly gone; completely & I feel almost a new person.  At last! Indigestion has taken the hint & departed.

14:30: This is no longer funny.  Here comes another bout of pain, right in the middle of an interesting conversation with a visitor. Spontaneously, I say, “Just let me sit down for a minute,” whilst continuing the conversation.  The pain is unpleasant, though no more than before but I am really wet & clammy now & my arm pits hurt.  My left wrist feels a bit strange, probably because I have been stood holding Geoff for the past few hours.  Then, as before, it is gone.

16:30: Conversation is interrupted once again with pain & sweating.  By now I am really wishing I had some Rennies!!  Pain; sweating; gone.  All in 5 minutes.

17:30:   Time to pack away.  Load the car & drive home without a problem.

21:30:  I have to be in Bracknell, 125 miles away, by 09:30 on Sunday morning to do another session in a store so it’s time for an early night.  Everything is prepared for tomorrow. Just a sleep & I’ll be off.

 

But my evening didn’t go according to plan …

23:45: Wake up with a pain in my chest & armpits again, plus profuse sweating.  This is so damn inconvenient. I need it to pass so that I can get back to sleep before an early start.  But the intensity of pain drives me to distraction.  I start to go downstairs for the Gaviscon, get half-way & then decide upstairs is best.  I get upstairs & decide that I really need to be downstairs.  But after setting off, that doesn’t feel right either.  To be honest, I don’t know what the hell I should be doing.

Then the thought dawns on me: what if this isn’t indigestion? What if this is a heart attack?  But I need to get to sleep in time for tomorrow! Why not call the emergency number & see what others think.  Reluctantly I pick up my ‘phone & make the call.  After less than 5 minutes of discussion & the lady on the other end say, “I want you to get yourself to the nearest hospital, as quickly as you can.

Okay! So this may be wind masquerading as something else I thought.

My wife appears & I relay the conversation I have just had.  She & my son take me in to our nearest hospital, Leicester Royal Infirmary & drop me off at Accident & Emergency.

Sunday 14th August 2017 — 01:30:  They are expecting me.  I pass through to triage within 5 or 10 minutes & then again through to ‘Majors’ … the sign at the entrance leaves little doubt that I am being taken seriously.

[Majors -- So This Is Escalating Rather Quickly]

Majors — So This Is Escalating Rather Quickly

In what seems to be just a few minutes I am wheeled through to Emergency & Resuscitation.  Things are escalating quickly.

For the next hour or so I am prodded, tested, pricked, listened to & eventually a young doctor appears with a reassuring smile on her face.  Thank goodness! It is nothing serious.

03:15:Mr Wood? We are pretty certain you have had one (or perhaps more from your account of today’s events) heart attack.Your heart trace shows no evidence but your blood tests tell a very different story”  There it is: cool; calm; gentle; like a battering ram whose impact is so hard I don’t take it in.  My brain hears; my emotions don’t.

We have arranged for you to be looked after by Glenfield Hospital.

Excellent! Out-patient then.

The ambulance will take you across in the morning after 7am when the crews are back on.

So there we have it! But surely this dream will end & I will be back home, safely in bed.  I pinch myself again, but the pain seems real.

Perhaps this is a bit more than indigestion after all.  We will see.

04:15: I am cannulated & an infusion set up. We still have 3 hours until 7am. I try to rest but the sound of a dislocated elbow being put back on place & a rather drunk man stabbed in the face who is pleading with his girlfriend (who he recently jilted) to have pity on him & take him back keep me awake.

This will be a long night … but not as long as the rest of the day.

(To be continued) …

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The Great Power of Valuing Others

[Building Relationships Can Feel Like Driving Into a Tunnel]

Building Relationships Can Feel Like Driving Into a Tunnel

Probably one of the most destructive mantras of the 21st Century is ‘Do What You Want.’

This notion that we are islands in a big sea & that somehow just following our own path will make us more significant or happier is quite absurd.  If we do what we want, when we want & how we want we remain an island in that big sea & from personal experience the island builders are amongst the most discontent groups of people I know.

Now before you flip open your laptops & write a long list of objections, please let me explain what I am trying to get at.

We human beings are like the junctions in a spider’s web; what we do & how we do it affects the other parts of the web. Think of the newsworthy instances where individuals or groups do what they want without regard for others: London; Manchester; Paris; New York; Florida & a host of other cities have hit the headlines for exactly those reasons. People have decided on their own aims & executed their plans with devastating effects on the rest of us.

Okay, so our lives & our actions may not hit the international headlines but the effects of what we do & how we act will impact far beyond ourself.

Think back to the image of lots of islands in a big ocean, each island desperate to make itself bigger, more significant, more important, more [insert your own outcome here]. The tragedy is that in trying to be a significant island we remain isolated & largely insignificant in the bigger picture.

But Stuart, these are two totally different scenarios

Ae they really?

If we want to do what we want, when we want & how we want, we have no option but to involve others in some way in order to achieve our goals.

If we buy something, we involve others.

If we sell something to make money, we involve others.

If we make a career decision, a business decision, a friendship or relationship decision, plan a holiday, go on holiday, travel, read, write … we involve (& need) others.

Sure, we may be carving out a path for ourselves but we need others in order to do that.

We may like to be hermits or independent but we live in an interdependent society. We need others to survive, to a larger or smaller degree, whether we like it or not. We are indeed like the joints in a spider’s web: our joint (we) will affect the rest of the web (through the connections & relationships we have) … & vice-versa.

So, rather than thinking of ourself as (or acting like) an island in an ocean of resources, isn’t it better to look at those islands as a network or web where building bridges & communication links allows us to not only enjoy the fruits of the ocean, but also do it more effectively & efficiently.

If I need to buy something from you & you have the product or resource but won’t sell it to me, we both lose out: I don’t gain the resources I need & you don’t create wealth from the sale.

The big problem for many is that when we start talking about interdependency we must also talk about relationships, which in our technologically-driven world (economic & social) are easy to overlook.  We are a species that increasingly hides behind our doors & keyboard.  It is safer & less threatening.  We send a text or e-mail rather than picking up the ‘phone or calling round to see people.  We air our grievances in the rocky, nuance- (& potentially emotion-) free medium of text rather than sorting it out face-to-face.

Technology may change, communication methods may change but the same basic driving principle still underpins every transaction we complete: the better the relationship, the smoother the transaction & greater the mutual benefit.

Another 21st Century tendency is the avoidance of pain points: we don’t like dis-ease, discomfort or fear & yet the only real way to grow & overcome those issues we struggle with is to face them.  We actually need these things to grow.  If you never make a mistake you never learn.  If you never make mistakes then perhaps you are not trying often or hard enough?

So, if we take up the challenge of working & living interdependently & we take on the challenge of learning how to use the mistakes we make to overcome obstacles & avoid future problems, I believe not only will we achieve so much more but we will also be more content & fulfilled. We can’t expect to get on with everyone, but neither can we expect to live & operate independently & be truly successful. Even if it can feel a bit like driving into a tunnel, the tunnel does end in the light again (& often helps us to avoid other obstacles or dangers along the way).

When we realise the great power & mutual benefit in operating as communities & webs, rather than islands, we will begin to reap the benefits of the relationships we have & build new ones, confident that we are building a better future; for ourselves & for those around us.

And that is why I believe that there is great value in valuing others.

Take care until next time …

Posted in building relationships, journey to the top, personal success, relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Depression: 7 More ‘Insider Secrets’ – Why It Isn’t What It Looks Like!

[Please Handle With Care]

Please Handle With Care

Following on from my last post, Depression:  7 ‘Insider Secrets’ – Why It Isn’t What It Looks Like! I continue my insights into why people struggling with depression may display certain behaviours & how ‘what you see‘ is NOT ‘what is really going on unseen.’

Although there are many common traits with depression & its manifestations, this is my personal experience & other people may react differently.  I hope that some of what I share may help those of you who suffer to recognise that you are not alone & help those of you who know someone suffering to appreciate just how complicated seemingly simple things can become & why we don’t always say or do what you expect.

  1. What we say isn’t always what we mean:  Depression is not selective in its choice of victim & it sucks on our mental energy like a leech!  Although it may suppress our interest in communication, we do still talk & when we do, we use the same language that we would normally.  I have held in-depth conversations on neuroscience, music, arts & more, only to go home & collapse in a heap, either through mental exhaustion or emotional overload. The problem is that we try our hardest to help others feel comfortable in our presence, whilst shielding them from what is going on inside our head & in so doing, we burn up huge amounts of energy.  We may string words together in a sentence yet, at the same time, be struggling to understand basics like who we are. Whilst we ‘hold it all together‘ externally, internally we retreat to a world where our thoughts move faster than Formula 1 racing cars, but all in different directions.  It can be a strange & scary place.  Despite our best efforts to carefully construct what we say, this energy deficit can (& often does) lead to a momentary lapse of concentration, at which point we could say almost anything (& usually do).  Unfortunately, when this happens we also fail to notice what we have said.  It certainly does not engage or alert us emotionally.  So, whilst we happily continue our conversation we can  leave the listener confused, angry, hurt, offended etc without realising it. We only find out after the event, at which time the damage has been done. If we do discover that we have caused a problem, we are often gripped with icy fear, desperately trying to remember context, sentence construction, timing, setting, what was said before, what was said after & by whom. But rarely can we make any sense of it, so we lose sleep, withdraw from contact & are gripped in the claws of over-powering guilt & anger against our self  which can dominate our life for days or even weeks.
  2. If we are asked to explain our words or actions we will probably get it wrong:  Expending lots of energy is not good for what we say.  But neither is it good for our memory, especially short-term.  It also makes understanding of the context almost impossible.   So offering an explanation for our words or actions can be incredibly difficult.  As a result, it is usually easier to simply conclude that we have blown it again & retreat into our world of self-condemnation.  In short: we try to remember but can’t, so we either don’t offer anything or we get things horribly wrong which can make things worse.  If we are silent when we have screwed-up royally, please understand that it isn’t arrogance or pride or failure to acknowledge our mistake (we are intimately aware of all of these things), it is simply that by staying silent we feel that we can cause no further problems, pain or offence … & therein lies the problem: the other party is often waiting for an explanation & get none.  The result is that both parties end up badly hurt.
  3. Fear of loss is a powerful driver:  In the world of commerce, fear in the workplace kills motivation, breeds suspicion & arouses anger.  In the world of the depressed person, fear is a powerful master that paralyses action & convinces us that there is no way out. We are afraid of many & most things: our job (if we have one); our friendships; our family; our decisions; our future; our now. The most powerful fear in my experience is that we may lose any of the these, very quickly, because of how we act or through what we say or don’t say.   By losing these we lose our anchor, our reference point, our reasons & our direction.  Fear can be a brutal master in the mind of a depressed person: if we do something good it will go wrong, usually when we least expect it; if we have friendships, we will lose them because of what we may do or say; if we have a family they will desert us because they can no longer cope with us as we are; if we make a decision, it will all go wrong eventually; there is no point in looking to any future because we either won’t make it there or it will all go belly up & life will be more difficult than it is now.  ‘What ifs‘ can also lead to poor (or non-existent) decision-making.  The result is that we do not always make for easy company even though we may try very hard to be exactly that!
  4. We are not always good at showing what & how we feel:  Probably the most common emotion we express is none at all! This isn’t some act of being devious. It is usually because we cannot access our emotions & if we can access them, we cannot or are too afraid to express them.  It is all part of the protective mechanisms that we put in place for others & for our self.  Sometimes, when we are particularly ill, we can become ‘dissociated’ which is where we are looking in from the outside at our situation, our actions & what we are saying & we are unable to engage with it: we are our own spectator.  This can be a scary place as we really don’t feel anything or know how to react.  Life can be monochrome or monotonous. Emotions can be extinct.  It is often the hardest time to handle, both as a sufferer & for the outsider.  It is also very hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it.
  5. Depressed people are vulnerably human & humanly vulnerable:  Our malfunctioning mind & distorted thinking set us up for pain. We make mistakes-a-plenty in both word & deed, yet we have neither the energy or mental capacity to handle the consequences of our shortfall.  Just occasionally we allow people close enough to really know how we feel, but that can be rare because it is such a risk.  Nearly everyone I have spoken to who has struggled with depression has an experience (or several) where they have been badly burned by trusting the wrong people.  In my case, I shared some sensitive personal information with a friend as I was looking for ways forward & thought they could provide some insight. It was only when another friend absent-mindedly mentioned elements of the conversation to me a few weeks later that I realised my mistake & by that time it was too late.  Sure; I should have been more discerning with my choices, but the reality for a lot sufferers is that, as mentioned above, we lack the mental resources to make wise decisions & in some cases, having a person who is willing to listen is such a luxury that our mouth opens before our brain engages.
  6. Depressed people really do care about others, often too much:  It is probably clear by now that when we are depressed, we can think too much about others & not enough about our self.  We focus with great detail on what we can’t change (situations, others, what we have done) & not enough on what we can change (especially our responses to our failures). We will expend a huge amount of energy protecting others but invest little in our own health.  When we make mistakes they can be quite momentous, in our own mind at least.  We obsess about them; we try to resolve them; we look for answers: yet we fail.  From the outside, our actions can seem like we don’t care about others but that is rarely the case (although those who have suffered physical or mental abuse can find relationships very challenging for obvious reasons).  Any punishment we may wish to mete out is usually focussed at ourselves.  Please believe us; we really do care, a great deal, about you our friends, it’s just that all this other stuff can make that difficult to see.
  7. We live to get through the day rather than to enjoy the moment:  Survival is a major focus & just getting through a day, unscathed, is often a luxury.  My counsellor once described depression as being like a car running out of fuel but keeping running on the fumes until they dry up.  Getting the engine running again (especially if it is a diesel) can be very hard work: it sometimes takes dismantling, repairing, refilling & persistence to get the engine started again … & this is a great analogy for a person suffering from depression.  Recovery (being able to function normally day-to-day & appreciate enjoyment) can be long & require a lot of input from different places & people.

Depressed people need support & understanding. We are broken & need fixing.

When I spent 3 years on crutches & over 2 years in various leg casts (left, right & both) I had no problem with people holding doors open for me, offering lifts & generally being helpful.  My problems were highly visible & prompted action.

When I was seriously depressed, much of my pain & incapacity was hidden. People told me there was no reason to be depressed, to brighten-up, to smile more: the assumption was either that I could do something about it or because it wasn’t visible it was less significant.  Some friends denied any problem existed, usually because I was the ‘last person they had expected to go under‘ & therefore, they too were vulnerable if they accepted it was real!

I am not trying to make excuses for our behaviour & I am not saying that our mistakes don’t cause pain. These thoughts are always at the front of our thinking & often drive our behaviour.  The thought of failure, letting people down or hurting others can cripple our thinking & prevent us from taking any action.  When we take action we usually wait for ‘the catch‘ or ‘for it all to go horribly wrong‘ which is one reason we take a lot of convincing to believe differently: that is a risk & in order to handle risk we need some sort of security as an anchor.  If we don’t believe or expect too much then it isn’t such a big shock when disaster finally comes.  If we believe too much, hope too much or expect too much & it all goes wrong, we take several steps backwards & realise that we were stupid for daring to believe that things could be different.  Such is the deception of depressive illness.

Patience with depressed people is essential, but often lacking, not through anything malicious but simply because people see how they would react or deal with a situation, rather than appreciating the impotence of the depressed person to put together & offer any kind of meaningful explanation or solution to a problem.

Things can be very different.  We can recover. We can change.  With your help, patience & love, we can begin to see that change is possible.  That road is often winding, mountainous & full of traps & potholes, but when we do see progress we are able to gradually change the way we think & move towards wholeness again.  We can put fuel back in the tank, get it flowing to the places it needs too be & hopefully, just hopefully when we press the ignition button the engine will start again.

Thanks as always for reading & I hope you have found my further meanderings helpful.  I welcome your comments, experiences & feedback.

Take care until next time …

Posted in bringing hope, broken people, coping with depression, depression, personal experience, perspective on life, the bigger picture, Uncategorized, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Depression: 7 ‘Insider Secrets’ – Why It Isn’t What It Looks Like!

[What You See Is Not Always What You Get]

What You See Is Not Always What You Get

Here is a brief insight into my personal world of the battle with depression.  We are all different but I hope this will help you get inside our sometimes scary & seemingly out-of-control world & realise that you can, through very simple actions, make a huge contribution to our recovery & survival.

I remember some years ago that I was in hospital for investigations on an ‘unknown‘ illness, which turned out to be glandular fever. During my week on the ward for various test there were two patients who stood out.  Both were admitted late at night having tried to end their own life with a medicines overdose.  However, the next day after their admission, they were both up & about, helping the nursing staff & other patients; eloquently spoken, courteous & apparently full of life.  It was a real shock to me as they were the opposite of what I had been taught & expected.

Zoom forward a few years & I was in the grip of serious depressive illness myself. It seemed to come from nowhere, struck like a cobra & floored me for nearly 2 years.  My recovery was slow & painful, something that could not have happened without the help of a skilled counsellor & a lot of determination on my part.

Thankfully, since that time I have only had a few temporary trips back the edge of & occasionally into the abyss, one of those being just the last couple of days.  Looking at my behaviour, just like the two patients on my hospital ward, it would probably have been difficult to tell how frightening life & my own thoughts were.

And that set me thinking about what others see vs what I see.

Here are a few personal insights which I hope, if you struggle with depressive illness you will recognise & realise that you are not alone & if you don’t suffer from depression, will be able to recognise why the happy, smiling person in front of you may be going through their own personal Hell.

As you will see, many of these are inter-related but I hope you get the picture.

  1. We protect others before protecting our self:  Relationships are critical to us & we will often do anything to keep them open.  That often means that we will hide people from our true pain so we don’t crush them.  We hide certain facts from others, not because we are deceitful but because we fear rejection & isolation when they ‘discover the real me.’  Depressed people can be great at seeing how to make others happy because we are so intimately aware of what makes us sad.
  2. We may smile on the outside whilst we cry on the inside:  Depressed people are extremely vulnerable, especially when we are letting others into our inner world of turmoil. Few people can handle being around someone ‘who is miserable all of the time’ so the depressed person will often try to compensate (if they have the energy) by being friendly: partly because it gives us hope that people will listen & partly because we are scared stiff that we will lose yet another person who could have become a friend. We are excellent at smoke & mirrors but please realise that it is (in our mind at least) for your good.
  3. External confidence & crippling self-doubt can walk hand-in-hand:  People often look at what I have achieved & what I can do & ask, ‘What have you got to be depressed about?‘  My answer is, what I have achieved & what I can do are simply evidence of the drive & potential that is within me, but I am not my title, qualifications or abilities: I am a human being & as such, relationships, opinions & basic friendship are critical to me functioning properly. Like anyone else, my security is a complex mixture of factors but at its foundation is the knowledge that I matter: to someone. There are days when having ‘achieved so much‘ counts for nothing in my world & I just want to know that I am loved. So, as happened yesterday when two lovely friends independently sent me encouragement, my world began to turn the right way up & life began to feel good again.
  4. Little things matter:  The two friends who changed my world yesterday did NOT have to do anything. They could have assumed someone else would do something or say something, but they didn’t. They took action & somethings small as ‘It all changed when you arrived‘ & ‘Believe in yourself‘ were catalysts to change that was so quick it was quite overwhelming.  Depressed people rarely ask for anything; they are usually too afraid to do so. People around us can make a huge impact by actions that take less than a minute to do. Just as the tongue can be destructive, so it can bring life.
  5. We sometimes have to be alone yet live in fear of loneliness:  I was talking online to a friend struggling with depression this last week & was struck by her honesty when she said, ‘I think you’ll get it, but at the moment I just need to be alone.’ Therein lies the paradox: the most dangerous phase for most depressed people is when we are alone with or thoughts. That is the silent battle which can drive some to call time on their life (or situation). Yet, being with other people can be just too much to handle. If we ask you for a bit of space, please don’t take it personally: we love you but just now, need to be alone.
  6. We fear being listened to because we fear being judged:  The most devastating experience is when a depressed person take the risk & opens up to someone, only to have that person not be able to handle what we are saying & walk away. I think most of us who struggle with the illness have experienced that. Sometimes it is because we so want to trust people that we miss the signs that others may not be ready or able to handle what we share & sometimes it just happens.  17-Years ago, in the midst of my depression & other circumstances I destroyed three lives by my actions (no I didn’t kill anyone) but the guilt of that time still haunts me & still haunts others.  I am still judged today on what I did then & I can still judge myself for what I did then too, leading to another round of staring into the abyss.  Those of us struggling with the illness can be hard enough on ourselves; please be gentle but honest.
  7. We still have the capacity to love, just not always ourself:  Love, along with forgiveness, is probably the most important healing element for any situation.  Some depressed people can really struggle with showing love; others show it abundantly.  The hardest part is that we can rarely show love towards ourself when our mind is racing away with its thoughts & telling us the lies that we often believe.  Loving a depressed person can be very hard because we don’t always know how to receive it & yet we so desperately want it & need it.  Just like the first drops of rain falling in the desert are rapidly absorbed & disappear, it is only when the rain persists that the real fruit is seen & the barren desert is covered with new flowers & life.  Please don’t give up on us: it can be a long, sometimes seemingly fruitless haul, but please trust me, it can be the difference between pain & gladness, fear & joy, life & death to those of us who receive it.

 

So what can you do to help?

Please listen, listen & listen.  Sometimes all a depressed person needs is an ear that will hear & a mouth that will not open to give an opinion.  If someone takes the risk of opening-up to you, please take the time to respect that.  What you hear may shock you, perhaps even frighten you but the act of ‘getting stuff out of our head‘ is so important in starting healing & understanding.

Please be honest enough to say that you can’t help if you can’t.  This isn’t a get-out clause but it is important to acknowledge where you can & cannot help, upfront.  Know your boundaries & limits & operate within them. You will be so much happier & so will the other person.

Please don’t promise something you cannot deliver, even with the best intentions.  Many depressed people have a history of meeting others with good intentions who then can’t deliver.  That takes its toll, compounding pain & problems.

Please be prepared for the unexpected.  This is often the hardest one!  It is not uncommon for someone struggling with life to say things like ‘feeling like ending it all,’ ‘wanted to hurt myself or make myself pay,‘ ‘I felt so alone that I didn’t know what to do.’  These don’t mean that the person was actually serious about doing them (if they were, statistics tell us that they probably would have done it & not been there to tell you these things).  This is obviously a difficult area as one is potentially moving into the need for professional help.  If you are worried, being honest & telling the person they may need professional help can be your best response. At least you are clearly demonstrating that you care.

Thank you, as always for reading my meanderings. I am always happy to answer questions & respond to your comments, publicly & privately.

Take care until next time …

Posted in coping with depression, depression, friends, Friendship, hurting people, love, mental illness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Words Are Not Enough

[Words Without Action Are Meaningless]

Words Without Actions Are Meaningless

What if there are no simple solutions to the problems that have faced us for years?

What if part of the answer was us getting off our backside, becoming involved & making a difference rather than standing in crowds, waving our placards, shouting our slogans & then going home to our cosy world without having lifted a finger to change anything?

Simple answers are neat, clean & tidy. They make life easier to understand & if we understand things, we feel more secure.

Difficult problems with no simple solutions are threatening & make us feel insecure, helpless, guilty, overwhelmed or perhaps apathetic because they are so big that we can seemingly do nothing to change anything.

But, think of the big movements that changed society, opinions, opportunities, equalities: most of those started with one person holding the conviction that they could change things, followed by the determination & commitment to make it happen.

They got involved with what they believed, not only in word but in action.

How often do we see protest groups that spring up, protest & then disappear without a trace?

How often do we see individuals who protest against these complex problems yet do nothing to help rectify it?

Why does this happen?

Perhaps because it easy to let people know what we don’t like & it is difficult to find a way of tackling it: perhaps it is because we can’t be bothered to get involved in solving the issue because it requires commitment in time & effort & money.

As someone who has suffered from attacks of depressive illness over the past 20 years or so, my life has been filled with the advice & good intentions of others which then melted away when help was needed, especially in the long-term.  How did that make me feel?  Angry; rejected; of little importance; invisible; hurt & more.  Offering help but then taking no action did more damage than offering no help in the first instance.

If we are going to protest, we must be prepared to be part of the solution we offer.

If we protest about homelessness, abortion, mental illness provision etc, would’t it be so much more effective if we looked to provide accommodation for those without accommodation, support for mothers whose babies we are telling them to keep, financial support to professionals & organisations that seek to provide help & healing to the those struggling with what goes on in their own head?

Seeing solutions can be easy. Telling others about the need to find solutions can be easy. But unless we combine those activities with personal action & involvement, we have no integrity & in my opinion, we are worse than those we criticise.

Social media makes it all-too-easy to be an armchair warrior; it also makes it all-too-easy to be seen as hypocrites & cause more problems than we solve.

There may be no simple solutions to complex problems or simple answers to complex moral & social problems, but there is opportunity for us to become involved & start to make a difference. An oak tree starts out life as an acorn; a mighty river starts out life as a raindrop from the sky.  Social change starts with a person who is committed & who, above all, demonstrates what they believe through what they do.

The dog in the photo above was abandoned.  It could have stayed that way except there were people prepared to set up a shelter, take in the strays, feed them, exercise them & rehouse them.  A conviction became an idea which became a reality.

Wouldn’t it be great if doing rather than just saying became the mark of society today & in the future?

But that in itself is a complex issue to which there are no simple solutions, just opportunities to bring about change one step at a time.

Take care until next time …

 

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When Did Relationship Become Personal Ambition?

[Friendships & Relationships Are More Than What Can I Get?]

Friendships & Relationships Are More Than What Can I Get?

Perhaps one of the biggest cancers of the 21st Century is nepotism: obsession with self.

There have always been selfish people who extracted every last drop of blood of those around them for personal gain.  They stand out in our memories & in world history.

But more recently the growth of the entrepreneur spirit (& its own brand of online marketing) seems to have hijacked the concept of friends & relationships, changing them from interactions in which we give & take, talk about the small things in life that matter, share our joys & concerns & actually just ‘be’ with others into strategic alliances & friendships which will boost our success, exposure & income & get us where we want to be.

You are only as good as the friends you keep

Don’t let those around you pull you down

Find people much better than yourself to pull you up to better performance

Help others & they will help you (& get you where you want to be)

Anyone notice one word that repeats ad-nauseum?   You (ie. me).

It’s all about us. It’s all about what we can gain from our relationships. It’s all about being with an in-crowd & casting off any members of the out-crowd.  In short, it is narcissism & nepotism at its worst: it is all about me!

I understand the need to be careful with who we choose as our friends.  I understand about the need to be inspired by & learn from others.  I understand about improvement.

But I reject that I am only as good as the friends I keep.  That is total bollocks!  I have my own intrinsic value despite the friends I keep, the grades I score in exams, the bank balance I have, the house or car I have or my signs of success.  I am who I am.  These other things are simply trimmings that I may (or may not) wish to show to others.

They do not define me: I define them.

Friendship & relationship is as much about what we give as what we receive & I am NOT talking about the entrepreneur definition of giving which is the ‘law of reciprocation’ i.e.. give to others so that they feel indebted to you & will give back. No! No! No!

I give because I want to, no questions asked, no repayment expected.

I give because another person is in need, not because they will have to pay me back later.

I give because it is the right thing to do.

In a world increasingly obsessed with self, increasingly telling us that we need to be hugely successful financially so that we can climb off the world & enjoy our own little nirvana & yet a world that is increasingly dissatisfied with itself, is it not time to ask some questions & think about reversing this obscene trend.

We all want some element of success in our lives & we all need a certain level of income to survive & perhaps have a few luxuries too, but I become ever more disillusioned with those who show us their multiple mansions & collection of unbelievably expensive cars AND STILL they go after more mansions, more cars & greater income.  In one word it is greed.

There is an upside to some of these people: they re-invest some of their money into social projects that help people at home & abroad.  But is it sacrificial giving? Does it really cost them anything? Is it spare change?  Why do they do it: to help or raise their own profile?  I don’t hear many of these super-rich entrepreneurs actually going down the league tables of wealth through their giving. Perhaps those who do just keep it quiet; out of the limelight; out of the media.

I was interested in a recent Forbes survey showing that the author J.K. Rowling actually slipped out of the top billionaires through the amount she gave away. When asked why, she stated that ‘Nobody needs that much money!

If we believe in the power of small change to bring big change then shouldn’t we be looking to buck the trend.  Shouldn’t we be looking to apply social examples that fly in the face of self-interest, self-indulgence & personal success.  Shouldn’t we start focussing on those around us, building them up at personal cost to us, befriending them because they need friends who can help them & start being long-term friends because that is what we mutually want & need, looking away from ourselves rather than having disposable friends who are great whilst they serve our purpose but are just as quickly discarded when we spot someone else who can take us on the next step of where we want to be.

Financial success & personal contentment are not goals that we should reject outright: without wealthy people who are generous with their time, energy & money many of the essential social changes cannot gain momentum & thrive.  But to aim for financial success & happiness as ends in their own right is, in my opinion, missing the mark & selling others (& ourself) short.

Take care until next time …

 

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My Current Battle With The Dark Side: 7 Important Lessons I Am Learning Holding Hands With Depression

[A New Day Will Dawn - Holding Hands With Depression]

A New Day Will Dawn – Holding Hands With Depression

Statistics tell me that people don’t like reading negative things & yet our media thrives on negative news, almost to the extent that when positive news is reported we ask, “What’s the catch?

The subject of depression can so easily fall into that niche of negative news, after all, what can be said about depression that is positive?

Well, I have been courting the hand of depression once again for the past few months, particularly the last couple of weeks & there are a number of very positive lessons I am learning that I would like to share with you.  These are works-in-progress but still have started to provide me with a stronger foundation for crawling out of the pit once & for all & feeling myself again; possibly even feeling better than myself again.

 

1. Own Your Feelings

We all struggle with feelings & emotions. Our upbringing & external influences such as friends, family, education & the media will greatly influence how we see them, but for many feeling sad is bad, feeling low is a blow & we need to avoid feeling lost at any cost.

The problem is, if we can’t acknowledge where we are & how we feel we can never move on. Being someone we are not, saying something we don’t believe, denying what we are truly feeling only leads to further internal struggles & tensions.  People cannot really know who we are because it changes all the time based on our circumstances.  I’m sure many of us know people like that who don’t struggle with any kind of depression or mental illness, but it is more important with mental illness for us to be authentic people..

If we are not careful, our well practiced ability to play social chameleon becomes a habit that we slip into effortlessly & before long, even we don’t know who we really are.

Owning our feelings is about being authentic, that is, true to ourself & who we are.  Only at this point can we begin to reshape our life into something new.  All too often, who we are reflects who we think people think we should be.

If you feel bad, own it. It doesn’t mean you are bad. It is a feeling of where you are now, but like all feelings it can change, providing we acknowledge it as our starting point.

 

2. Say What You Think

This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood statements on all sides of the fence.

Say what you think is not a licence to just unleash our pent-up frustrations & venom onto others.  If that is how we are feeling then we need to find a safe space & safe method to do that (see below).

Each one of us has a responsibility to do what is decent & what is right. Sure, we can’t go around walking on eggshells to please everyone, but neither can we unleash a barrage onto those around us.

Saying what we think is, again, about being authentic; about being ourself.  If someone asks us for an opinion, give it.  But equally it means if someone asks how we are, then an answer of, “Good thanks” when we feel like shite is not going to help anyone.  The other person has no idea what is happening & very often we feel unheard, because the other person has no idea what is happening, because we have told them everything is okay.

Saying what we think can be costly if we are indiscriminate about who we tell.  There is a big tendency for people to feel obliged to rescue others who may not be feeling well, partly through a sense of concern but also in an attempt to deflect away the need to get into deeper conversation or involvement.  If one is in a depressed state, the need to help & rescue others can be heightened because we know how rubbish we feel & don’t want others to feel the same.  Rescuing in both cases, although from different roots, is still wrong.

It is much better to simply acknowledge how another person is feeling than to try & rescue them with a solution that may work for us but is totally inappropriate for them.

Unless what we say is in line with what we think & where we are, it will be difficult to move forward.  There is an old saying of ‘We are what we think!‘ Although often used to motivate people & improve performance, I think this is also key to finding a place where we can start recovery. If we think one thing & say something else we are potentially kicking ourselves in the crotch: we confuse ourself & create further internal tension where it isn’t needed.

 

3. Check In With Reality

One of the most common traps I fall into is seeing the world as my mind tells me it exists.

On a bad day, when it is a struggle to get out of bed, let alone be motivated, the chance of seeing anything positive is small.  I make people laugh when I say that a depressive will often look at a blue, sunny sky & still manage to see the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand as imminent rain.

Reality of the bigger picture rarely resides in our head at times like that, which is why we need to find one or two people we can trust to give us a reality check.  This in itself is a remarkably difficult step because it means that we must make ourselves vulnerable to someone at a time when our vulnerability is already stretched to a maximum.

I have no simple solution here as each one of us is different, but I do stress that it really helps if we can use someone we have have know for sufficient time to have a trusted track record when it comes to confidentiality, ability to listen & stickability: too many are keen at the start of the race but when they realise it is a marathon rather than a sprint they fall away, which is a disaster for the person needing their support.

Checking in with reality may be no more than the simple encouragement that we are where we are, but that is not where we’ll stay & the world is a place of colour rather than shades of black.  A few simple hooks that we can hold on to can work wonders as a boost to starting & continuing our recovery.

 

4. Create A Safe Space

I think that the pendulum on Big Ben would have been impressed with the size of my mood swings over the past few weeks. One minute I am fine & seemingly in control & then for no apparent reason, or for good reason, I jump off the emotional cliff into the abyss.

We need a safe space; for our benefit & for the benefit of others.

My safe space is to find something I enjoy doing alone, such as going for a walk along the local canal or sitting in a forest or park.  Our safe place is simply somewhere we can process our thoughts, or just allow the whirlpool to slow & calm a bit; safely.

It also takes us out of possible inappropriate or risky interactions with others who, let’s face it, could easily say something they think is helpful that could land then in A&E.

I also have a pad of paper & pencil handy as one of the valuable techniques I was taught by my wonderful counsellor, Lynne. When I need to vent I get it out on paper: write it down, as it comes, full of bile, anger & whatever else is there. Then, read it through, acknowledge the feelings but then ceremonially tear it up or burn it to signify that it is out & gone.  I have also found drawing pictures to be very helpful, but I am quite a visual person.

It’s about finding what works best for you to be cathartic, safely.  Sometimes our safe space can be nothing more elegant than sitting on the toilet in the bathroom with our paper & pencil.

 

5. Seek Wise Advice

I cannot encourage you enough to find a good counsellor. This isn’t one who charges most, or has the most letter after their name (although experience really does count), but it is about finding someone you can work with & who fits your personality.

Some of the issues we have & thoughts we struggle with can be sorted by sitting down with our trusted friends, but when life gets really scary & we are unable to process reality, having someone you can work with to shape reality & bring order to our chaos can be the difference between life & death.

 

6. Never Rule Yourself Out

One of our greatest personal struggles in the thick of panic & depression is giving ourself a chance.

If you are like me, many of the internal battles I have, when I get down to the real root, are not with others but with myself.  I am the world’s best at giving myself no chance!

We can be so focused on the task of keeping ourself together, coping with each minute or perhaps even giving ourself permission to be here at all, that we miss out on the key truth that others do not feel that way about us & we do still have a role that we can play.

Have you ever met up with a friend when you are feeling particularly shitty & not really wanting to hold any meaningful conversation only to answer something they say & you switch on the lightbulb in their own mind?  In short, you have provided them with a potential solution to their problem.

I find that somehow when I am in a bad place personally I am less inclined to have the energy to judge or hold strong opinions, I am less inclined to come up with great ideas, but I am more open to listen & share my own inner thoughts & experiences. At this point, I help.

When we struggle with our own thoughts & are in the midst of reminding ourself of all the negative things that people have said about us, or the times we have been left out or forgotten or … or … or … or … it can be really hard to hear anything positive about ourself.  But the reality is, there are lots of positive things about us that we never see & sometimes, just sometimes it takes someone else to show us these things.  Be warned, when this happens it can completely knock us off our feet & we can look for every reason we can to disagree with them, but in the end they are true & sometimes it is just easier to lie down & accept them rather than fight them.

As we learn to trust ourself we can learn to trust others & when we do, we can hear what they say & begin to recreate the image we have of ourself.  Perhaps we are not so bad after all.

 

7. Be Merciful To Yourself

This has to be the phrase my own counsellor uses most to me.

It’s about giving ourself a chance; cutting ourself some slack; allowing situations to be less than ideal (crap); allowing ourself to make a mistake; allowing ourself to be imperfect (just like everyone else).

It enables us to throw off the lies we have been told by ourself & others, to rewrite the impossibly high standards we set ourself in order to be ‘a success’ (whatever that is), to allow ourself to be human.  When we do that we can begin our journey to wholeness & recovery.

If I was to leave you with one sentence it would be the words, ‘Be Merciful To Yourself!

 

One of the hardest, yet most liberating facts I’ve learned is that in all of this we have a choice. We can choose how we let our past, present & potential future affect us. We can choose how we respond to things that have been said & done to us. We can choose how much we are going to say what we think, keep a check on reality, create a safe space, seek wise advice, agree never to rule ourself out & to cut ourselves some slack.

The choices we make will determine the progress we make. Some of that progress will be on our own & some is likely to require professional expertise & help.

But at the end of it all, the choice is ours.  We can choose to change, however long & hard that may be, or we can choose to stay where we are. Unfortunately, choosing to stay where we are is not passive; we will regress.

I hope that you, like me, can find the courage to make the decision to change & that we will be able to make ourselves vulnerable enough to receive the help we need whilst being wise enough to know the right help we need. Above all, I hope we will be wise enough to show ourselves mercy, to cut ourselves some slack & move forward one step at a time, despite our struggles & setbacks.

I can only share here what I have found to work & be true for me, but I hope these two final thoughts will help you in some way, now matter how deeply you are in the pit:

Though darkness is all around, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Though every door is closed & locked, there is a door somewhere with a key in the lock.

 

Take care until next time …

 

 

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