I couldn’t pretend anymore
Posted Wednesday 28 March 2012
When Sandra was struggling with cancer and depression, it was her mental health problems that those around her found most difficult to deal with. Here, she blogs about the support she found through her local Mind and the difference it made to her life.
I try to keep smiling no matter how I feel on the inside but I have suffered with depression all my life. It’s usually triggered by an event, like someone close to me dying, a relationship breakdown or losing a job.
My latest bout of depression occurred after being diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer in January 2010. The only real memory I have from my diagnosis was my consultant saying “it is fully treatable” and that was the message I sent out to my wonderful support network of family and friends.
With that support network in place I could concentrate on beating cancer, with the knowledge that I had so many people behind me. I battled hard to beat the disease and underwent a lumpectomy and lymph node removal, followed by a gruelling course of radiotherapy. I received the all clear, but continue to be monitored annually and have to take medication for five years, with various side effects.
Despite overcoming the physical side of cancer, my mental health was greatly affected by the whole ordeal. My depression reached new depths and I found it impossible to cope. My GP helped where possible but things worsened. I had worked as an accountant for many years and throughout my career I hadn’t taken a single day off because of mental distress.
However this time things were different and I had to be signed off on long term sick leave. Unfortunately my employers at the time were unsympathetic and caused me more mental distress. They stopped my colleagues contacting me and my feelings of isolation worsened.
Their treatment of me continued to deteriorate and they dismissed me from the company as I was unable to give them a date I would return to work. This all impacted on my already fragile mental wellbeing.
During this time my family and friends were a great support to me, although I do feel some people dealt with my cancer better than my depression. It seemed to me people could deal with the cancer diagnosis quite easily because there was an examination, a diagnosis, surgery, radiotherapy and a definite end when I received the all clear.
With my depression there were none of these markers for other people to understand and follow, which resulted in me feeling very lonely. Again this affected my state of mind as I thought a lot of people either didn’t care or couldn’t deal with me being so down, but I didn’t have the energy to pretend I was happy when I quite clearly wasn’t. I did lose a couple of ‘friends’ at this time, due to me not being able to put my brave face on.
Drawing on my past experiences of therapy, I knew that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could really help and so started sessions with a self help coach. She helped me develop coping mechanisms and strengthen my mental health. My coach also recommended I visit Tyneside Mind. I had always been offered either antidepressants or counselling. I never refused the treatment offered because I didn’t know there was any other help available to me.
I had never heard of Mind before then, and my first thought was of absolute terror. My friends and family expressed exactly the same thoughts and I admit that we were all influenced by the stigma around mental health.
I was embarrassed and scared but felt there were few alternative options. I first walked through the doors of Tyneside Mind in October 2010 and I now look back laughing, saying – “I can’t believe how wrong I was – Mind is literally the friendliest place I have ever been.”
Whilst at Mind, I have been involved in several courses such as a stress-management programme and a back to work class. I have also taken huge pleasure from the gardening group, who have worked to transform and maintain the Tyneside Mind grounds. My physical fitness also improved from the health walks that they organise once a month.
Of course I have some days that are really tough, but I am able to use everything I have learnt at Mind to cope and now feel I am strong enough to take on anything. I have also become a Director/Trustee of Tyneside Mind. I am so passionate about the work Mind does and I can give the other board members the service user’s point of view. It is also a good opportunity for me to give a little bit back for all the help and support Mind gave me.
Most importantly I cannot stress enough how the friends I made through Mind have been a huge support. We often get together at weekends and evenings to watch films, go out for meals and so on. It is incredible to be a part of such a supportive group. I feel very, very lucky.
I am now well on the road to recovery and feel the best I have ever felt. In May 2011 I started a new full time job, as an administrator. Quite an achievement after the difficult 18 months I’d just been through.
I believe the help and support I received from Tyneside Mind played a major part in my recovery. The life lessons I have learnt will stay with me and help me if I ever suffer depression again. Mind has given me my life back – I just cannot say thank you enough.
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