John blogs about discovering Elefriends and what this safe, supportive online community means to people dealing with a mental health problem.
I have experienced severe stress and anxiety for almost 40 years. Many high achievers state that being stressed enables them to achieve great things, I struggle to achieve anything. I can't sleep, I don't eat, I have headaches that last for days and I withdraw socially. Periods of feeling stressed often lead to bouts of depression.
The first time I told anyone about feeling stressed was when questioned by my chemistry teacher in front of the whole class about my failure to complete my homework in a satisfactory way. I was on the threshold of adolescence, attending a new school and my parents were in the process of separating and was therefore in a state of emotional upheaval.
I don't recall expressing myself quite as eloquently as that, but I do remember bursting into tears. I clearly remember being on the receiving end of science masters lecture on the importance of maintaining a stiff upper-lip and not expressing emotions in public and became the target of the school bullies for crying in public.
For a long time, I would respond to the question ”How are you feeling?”, by lying in saying that I was fine and that I was coping. If you add to that the fact that I was aware massive stigma attached to mental health, I believed that it was safer to remain silent.
I did eventually seek out professional support. In the context of professional relationships with my GP and counsellors over time, I was able to unlearn the lesson that I had learnt 35 years earlier during a chemistry lesson. I was offered medication and I was introduced to CBT.
I did learn to manage my condition making an appointment to consult my doctor when I'm feeling anxious and by implementing one of the strategies I learnt during CBT.
I recently experienced a relapse and experienced debilitating stress that lasted for almost weeks and stood at the threshold of a bout of depression. I made the necessary appointments with professionals and sought out friends for emotional support. My friends were either out at work, away on holiday or I didn't get beyond their answer machine.
I clicked on the Mind site and was introduced to a puzzling abstract elephant that spoke like Stephen Fry and wanted to hug me.
I read the threads that other people had started and the responses of their peers. Individuals had openly posted details about their condition and had at times expressed their innermost thinking. Feelings of hurt were acknowledged and accepted by others and the responses avoided being inane or clichéd and were often positive. Those responding often seemed to understand. I know the site is well moderated because my first posting contained a word that some may find offensive and I was asked to change it.
I felt it was a safe place to post my story.
I later received a message from The Elephant that presented me with factual information about my situation. After reading them I took a step back and reflected on my situation and took action that changed my thinking. Much of my stress was alleviated and I cancelled my doctors appointment.
The other side to this coin is that I have been able to support others. A first year student posted that they were struggling to make friends and the difficulty in fitting in. I responded by outlining my son's negative experiences in an attempt to identify similarities. There were similarities and a short conversation developed.
I later received a message thanking me for my input and “It's been a while since I've heard such positive things about myself, and perhaps i should be thinking good things about myself. Might write those things down somewhere”.
At the moment I'm smiling because I have found a very useful tool that helps me to manage my condition.
Some conversations save lives. if you give to Mind via the Big Give starting on 5 December your donation can go twice as far. This year, donations will go towards funding Elefriends.