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My depression looks like…

I used to think depression looked like someone crying all the time, someone with a sad face who is weeping and wailing. And sometimes depression does look like that! But not always.

Last year I had a really bad time with my mental health, I hit a big wall and I couldn’t shake it. I struggled to exist, it was a really dark and terrible time. Through talking therapy and antidepressants, I came through that valley of sadness to a place where I could see the light again.

Im still on antidepressants and for me they have been a life saver. But last week I found out that my surgeries haven’t worked and I have another hernia. My stomach is a map of scars and underneath I have adhesions and mesh and pig skin and all sorts of pain and discomfort and it’s hit me hard.

I feel low and I’m struggling, I can’t come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never be better, that I may always struggle with pain and I won’t be physically fit and healthy for the rest of my life.

And it got me thinking about how my depression looks and just how different it is from person to person.

My depression looks like a smile, a forced cheery “I’m fine!”, it looks like me sleeping a lot, it looks like me avoiding friends. My depression looks like me wearing a hat because I can’t bring Myself to shower and my hair is dirty. My depression looks like me pushing through and managing to work and be cheerful to the outside world.

My depression looks like me crying because I missed the blackberries in my allotment. It looks like my stiff upper lip as I excuse myself to sit with my head between my knees in the loo because I can’t breathe and it’s all too much. It looks like me smiling too big and laughing too forced because I don’t want you to see my sadness because if you’re nice to me it will all spill out and I don’t want to scare you.

It looks like brief moments of honesty when I can bring myself to write things like this.

Depression takes many forms, don’t be mistaken into thinking the person smiling in front of you is a-ok.

If you’re reading this and have depression, could you do me a favour and share what your depression looks like using #mydepressionlookslike – because I honestly believe that by talking and sharing we can create a more nurturing, understanding and caring environment where depression stops being a taboo,where people stop suffering in silence, where people stop dying.

#mydepressionlookslike

 

✌🏽& ❤️

Sam xx

It’s #TimeToTalk

Today is #TimeeToTalk day, a day of awareness of mental health challenges.

It’s a day that brings the nation together to get talking and break the silence around mental health problems.

“Too often, people who experience a mental health problem are also expected to take the lead on talking about mental health in the wider sense. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to talk about mental health.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us yet people are still afraid to talk about it. For people with mental health problems not being able to talk about it can be one of the worst parts of the illness.

So by getting people talking about mental health we can break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all.”

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

Ive been quite open and honest about my struggles with mental health, though at times it was really hard to find the words.

After years of chronic illness and surgeries, my mental health took a real battering. I knew it and I tried seeking help through some talking therapy, this did help me sort out a lot of things from my childhood and past and I thought I was getting better.

Then in August last year, I fell into a pit. It snuck up on me until I realised that I was not well.  I am in two minds whether to admit this but I felt so low that I considered ways to kill myself.

I felt worthless. Worse than worthless, I felt like a burden to everyone around me, I felt that my very being made life worse for all the people I love. I felt like ending it all was the wisest decision.

What is scary now is that at that time, this felt like a totally rational and sensible decision. I remember googling ‘can you be suicidal and not depressed?’ as I really couldn’t see that these weren’t normal feelings.

It actually scares me to think back on this time, I could see no light, I felt stuck in this quicksand that pulled me down and held me fast but still allowed my head to be up in the real world so I could see everyone around me feeling happy and living wonderful lives.

I thought about running away from home a lot, about just packing a bag and disappearing, I fantasised about just going and leaving everything behind.  And then I felt extreme guilt about thinking about leaving my beautiful family.

I was in a cycle of bad thoughts and guilt.

It came to a head one day when it all came tumbling out, I cried and screamed and shouted at Timm. I lost it, pushing him away and telling him the horrible things that were going through my head.

I had 100% convinced myself that he was having an affair. I couldn’t imagine why he would want to be with me and I was so paranoid and lost that it became the truth.

I feel so sad now thinking back on this, I barely recognise myself in my own words.

The one thing that kept me going was my kids, my amazing children who I knew I would hurt more than I was hurting myself if I wasn’t here.

I read a quote once that said:

Suicide doesn’t take away the pain, it just passes it on to someone else.

And that quote kept me going.

I eventually went to the doctors and I was faced with the most caring and compassionate GP who put all my fears to one side. He took his time and talked through everything, he listened and told me it was all ok. That the feelings I was having were frightening but that lots of people have them.

He told me that my thoughts of running away or ending it were my brain going through options but the fact that I’d made the decision to be there in his office showed that I had chosen the right option.

I started on antidepressants last year and the difference is amazing. This imbalance in my head was addressed and slowly, those feeling ebbed away.

There was no switch, no instant recovery. But one day I realised that I hadn’t had bad thoughts for a few days. My GP said it’s like the sun rising in the morning, if you keep watch it takes so long, but if you turn away to make a brew, you come back and realise that the sun is here.

Im still taking my tablets, they have been life changing but the other thing that has helped so much is opening up and talking to the people I love.

Its hard to admit you’re struggling, but my husband and my close friends listened, loved and didn’t judge and I’m forever grateful.

So there we go, today was my #timetotalk I hope you can find someone to talk to if you are having a tough time right now.

Thanks for taking the time to read

sam xx

 

So I have something to tell you…

I have been quite open on here about the ups and downs of this journey of mine, through meds, hospital stays, 5 surgeries, months of recovery and the multitude of things going wrong, I have documented the lot.  There are times when I feel positive and upbeat and other times when I feel thoroughly defeated.

You may have noticed that I didn’t blog for a good few months this year (from April to July) which is the longest time I have abandoned this place for.  The reason for that time away is that I am really struggling mentally.  And after months of hiding my feelings and plastering a smile on my face, I decided to start seeing a counsellor a few weeks ago.

I haven’t told many people this, I suppose I just wanted to keep it for me for a while, to try it out and see how I felt about it.  I suppose there is a small part of me that is a little embarrassed, I am not from a place or family that talks about needing support or showing any vulnerability or weakness.  I know this is bullshit, but I am fast discovering just how much crap my upbringing and environment has subconsciously taught me.

I don’t want to go into it too much, it is very much a private thing between me and her.  But I do want to say that just a month in, and I am feeling the benefit of it week on week.  Don’t get me wrong, it is HARD.  We are talking about things that hurt. A lot.  We are talking about things that bring a lump to my throat to just think about, let alone say them in front of another human.  But it is helping me to start to learn about myself, to pull things apart and think about them in a new way.

It is helping me to not only understand myself, but to start to think about the people in my life and how they are feeling and how their actions have affected me.

sam cleasby blogger mental health counsellor sheffield

It’s weird, I am quite controlled, yet when I am there, things come out of my mouth that I didn’t even know I wanted to say, that I hadn’t even thought about.  And her responses sometimes floor me.

I struggled with the very idea of counselling because I struggle with people who make excuses for their own behaviour (she has made me realise that growing up with alcoholics and drug addicts will do that to a person!). And so there is a big part of me that feels like I shouldn’t be there complaining, that I should just figure my shit out and deal with it myself.

But another part of me has realised that figuring my shit out requires the input of a very clever and compassionate therapist at this point in my life. And that’s OK.

I thought about whether to share this with you or not, and I came to the conclusion that if I do this, I do it honestly. I don’t want someone reading this blog and only seeing the Mary Poppins, sweetness and light, positive rainbow side of me and thinking ‘oh. why do I feel so shit and she is ok?’ I want to share the highs, and the lows.

I want to tell you all, and myself, that even when things are awful, even when you want to hide in bed or run away, when you feel like you are a burden to those around you, when you wonder what the point in carrying on is, when the world feels like a dark an scary place; you aren’t alone, I am here and I understand.

Love Sam xx

 

It doesn’t happen to people like me… World Mental Health Day

Mental health issues, they don’t affect people like me.  I’m a natural optimist, a giddy kipper who is loud, giggly and excitable.

People like me don’t get depressed. Don’t get anxiety. People like me are ok Jack.

Only it turns out that mental health issues don’t care about optimism or character.  They’re not bothered whether you’re old or young, rich or poor, working or at home.  They’re not fussed about race, sexuality, ethnicity or gender.  Mental health issues strike without prejudice.

When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression this year, it floored me.  For a while I couldn’t accept it, feeling that some mistake had been made. I wasn’t embarrassed, I have many people in my life with a whole host of mental health issues and never judged one of them.  I felt compassion for them, I wanted to help them.  But I didn’t see myself as the sort of person with depression.

But what is that? What does that person look like?  I imagined someone in bed, crying and alone, someone who always looked sad and miserable.  A pessimist, someone who saw the glass half empty. I basically imagined Eeyore in human form.

How patronising and judgmental of me.  It goes to show that mental health issues need to be spoken about more.  I’m a left wing, feminist, socially conscious person who desires to be aware of the struggles of fellow people and who would fight for the freedoms of others.  Yet I was holding silly, preconceived ideas of what a person with mental health issues looked like.

Depression takes many forms and has many faces.  And it took me having episodes of pure anxiety to recognise it in myself.

It has been terrifying to admit my feelings and one of the toughest things I’ve had to do is to go to the doctors and open up about the scary thoughts and feelings I’ve had.  To write about it on this blog and on social media took a lot of courage, but from that I have received nothing but support, compassion and help.


If you are struggling, I beg you to speak out. I promise you that you aren’t alone and that if you can take this massive leap, things can start to get better.

There’s no shame in asking for help and the stigma of mental health issues will only continue whilst we don’t speak out about the reality of it.

For a long time, I thought that mental health issues didn’t affect people like me.  Till it did.

On World Mental Health Day, please reach out, learn more, raise awareness and hold out your hand to anyone in your life who is affected.

www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Sam XX

Hello… It’s me!

Hello you lovely lot, it is good to be back here blogging.  Thank you for all your kind messages and support over the last few weeks, I have taken a bit of a leave of absence to get my head together and just haven’t had the energy to blog.

I opened my laptop today for the first time in a month and honestly, it took a lot to do it.  I have been feeling very low and my anxiety has been sky high.  I just felt so overwhelmed by everything that I thought it wise to avoid anything that was causing stress.

I have always used this blog as a cathartic way to deal with my emotions, writing has always been my way of dealing with the shit that goes through my head and for the first time, I just couldn’t make it happen.  But as things get every so slightly better, it feels really good to be back here.  I feel like I have come home.

So how have things been? Well, not great.

I went to see my doctor and was prescribed antidepressants to help with my low moods and anxiety and we are still trying to sort my dosage, it has been upped twice and we are working together to find the dose and medication that is right for me.  I have also been today to see the psychotherapist today to get an assessment of how they could help me, I am going to see a counsellor to try CBT and see how I get on.

This struggle with my mental health has really knocked me for six, I don’t feel like myself.  I have always been the sort of person to just power through, to be positive and be the confident, silly, loud one.  So to all of a sudden feel like I am depressed and anxious has been really difficult and frustrating.  I feel like I have been hit with a shovel.

chronic illness and mental health

Some days are better than others, and most of the time I can paint a happy face on and smile and laugh, I find it extremely difficult to open up and talk to people about how I am feeling and so I almost feel like I am acting most of the time.  I am playing the role of Normal Human Being.  Whilst inside I am ridden with sadness and anxiety.  It has been tough.

The doctors are suggesting it could be PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), that the last few years of multiple surgeries and illness have taken their toll and my mind is just catching up with it.  Whatever it’s title doesn’t really matter to me right now, what is important is that I have recognised how I am feeling and I have asked for help.

It is funny that whilst I sit here on my bed, typing away, the sun shining through my window and the sound of kids playing outside dancing on the wind, I can open up.  I can say how I am feeling.  Yet when I am with others, I find it so damn hard to find the words.  My throat closes and I feel sick at the thought of telling people my sad and dark thoughts.

I worry that they will worry, that it will make them sad.  I worry that this is just one more thing that makes me a burden to those closest to me.  I worry that they will be scared, that they will think I am an unfit mother.  I worry that they will not believe me, after all, my instagram and Facebook are filled with photos of me laughing, so how can I be depressed? I worry a lot.  You can probably tell.

I sometimes wonder about this label of depression, what does a depressed person look like? In my head, I imagine gaunt, hollow souls floating around a psych ward in hospital gowns and bunny slippers.  I think about someone who is crying, wailing and hurting themselves.

It turns out that my perception was so skewed, I see that depression doesn’t have a look, it doesn’t have a character, it is, like everything else in the world, so personal.  I know that on the outside I look happy, confident and strong, yet inside I feel like I am crumbling.  I am honoured that so many of you have been in touch and spoken about your own mental health issues and I want to thank every one of you for taking that time to reach out.

sam cleasby so bad ass blogger health ibd ostomy

I am working hard to feel better.  I am taking meds, I am forcing myself out of bed and into the allotment, making myself go out and see people, pushing myself to do ‘normal’ things.  This is easier some days than others, some days I can do it.  Others it takes everything I have just to get out of bed in the morning.  The effort of showering and changing out of pyjamas defeats me some days, but I am learning not to beat myself up about that.

This will take time.  And effort.  But I know that I will get there.

Thank you all for reading and supporting me and my little blog.

You are all awesome, you are all so bad ass

 

Sam xxxx

 

When you can’t breathe 

Sorry I’m not posting as much as usual right now. The thing is, I am really struggling. 
Sometimes, I can’t breathe. The tide of panic gets too high and fills my lungs. Sometimes, I feel numb. I can’t connect with people around me. Sometimes, it’s all too much. I want to hide from the world. 
Sometimes, I feel like an actress. I’m playing the role of human woman and making my actor face smile and speak. Inside I’m just watching. 
Watching my bad acting. Recognising when I spoke too loud, acted too jovial. I see the fakeness in my smiles and hear the insincerity in my laughter. 
Being with the kids helps, it makes me pull myself together and try really hard to be me. I don’t want to give them yet another thing to worry about me and so I need to just be ok, be me, be mum. 
I’m a week into meds, and to be honest I’m not feeling any better. If anything, I feel worse. I sway between manic anxiety and numbness and the guilt levels of feeling like this are sky high. 
I’m not sure any of this is making much sense, but I thought that writing it all down might help. I wish I were better at opening up to people, but I find it so difficult.  
It has shocked me to feel like this, after so many years of poor health and surgeries, I am so annoyed that now I am struggling emotionally! It’s really pissed me off, I want to be well. And healthy. And happy. So why am I screwing this up? 
Usually, I can talk sense to myself, I can assess my thoughts and feelings and reason with myself till I feel ok. I give myself therapy and thrash it out till I feel better. But this time, I can’t get to the root of it, I don’t know why I feel like this. So I’m not sure how to make myself feel better? 
What I do know, is that I should share this, that it’s ok to feel like this, I shouldn’t be ashamed. And nor should you. Thank you for all your messages, those telling me your stories of mental health and those thanking me for starting the conversation. As with the surgeries, if me talking about this can help, then it gives it reason and purpose. 
I know this is a depressing post. If you came here today for spirit lifting words or inspiration, then I apologise. I don’t have them in me today. 
Because I just can’t breathe. 

Sam xx 

Chronic Illness and mental health

I am very rarely lost for words, this blog is a stream of my internal thoughts and so I usually find it easy to empty my brain onto the page, but today I am struggling.  I am struggling because I find it really difficult to write about my own mental health.  I can share a million photos of me in my undies with my ostomy bag on show, yet when it comes to the health of inside my brain, it is tough.

I wrote recently about making the leap and asking for help and the response I got from you guys was overwhelming, so much love and support and people sharing their own mental health experiences, it made me realise that it is important to share these things along with the physical side of chronic illness.

The truth is that I am really struggling.  After 12 years of living with IBD and 4 surgeries in the past 2 1/2 years, my life has changed dramatically.  The past 3 years, things have moved quickly, surgery after surgery, change after change.  Each surgery, I thought would be my last but then problems arise and I find myself back under the knife.  I feel I haven’t had time to deal with these things, but just had to react to each event.  I think I went into survival mode.

Now, after my last surgery in January, I have 2 big hernias and know that the only treatment to get rid of them is more surgery and it has frazzled my brain.  It is the straw that broke the bad ass’s back and has crumpled me to the ground.

I went to see my GP last week to talk about it, I wound myself up all morning and was a shaking mess by the time I got there, I couldn’t breathe and felt like I would puke.  The idea of telling a stranger just how messed up the inside of my head feels right now was almost too much to bear but I did.  And she was wonderful.

She listened, questioned and encouraged.  We talked about just how huge the changes in my life had been and that it was understandable that I was having a bit of trouble in my head catching up with my body, we talked about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how the brain reacts to traumatic events.  How people with chronic illness often have issues with mental health and how society doesn’t always think about healing the mind as well as the body.

chronic illness and mental health

We talked about my feelings of having another surgery and she suggested that we try and make me feel better in my self before making a decision on hernia surgery.  Her thinking being that if I can feel better in my head, that I am better placed to decide whether to have surgery immediately or to put it off for a while.

I am on the list to see a psychotherapist, but there is a 10-12 week wait and so we decided to try some medication to help calm my anxieties and lift my mood.  I hate having to take any medication to make me ‘normal’, 12 years of taking meds every day to stop you shitting yourself does that to a person.  But I had to think seriously about what is best for me right now.  And this is it.

I don’t feel depressed.  I don’t think I do.  When I speak to friends with depression, they talk of a lack of hope, of darkness and feeling stuck in a hole.  I don’t feel that.  I feel massively anxious.  I feel panicky and distressed.  I can’t sleep for the millions of thoughts of all the bad things that could happen to me or the people I love.  I check plug sockets a lot.  I feel I can’t breathe, that something is trapped in my chest.  My heart pounds.  My throat closes.

Not all the time, there are times when I feel ok, there are times when I am fine.  When I feel that things will get better, that it will all figure itself out.

Then BANG! It hits and I can’t breathe.  I walk down the stairs and see myself falling and breaking bones, I get on the train and imagine the carnage of a derailment, I go to events and think about how I would get my family out if there were an attack.  I look at my hernias and think that I have had my fill of surgical luck and what if, this time, I die.  I panic when Timm goes out, visualising the policemen coming to the door to tell me he has been in an accident.  I think about the kids getting snatched, or hit by a car, or falling and cracking their head open on a kerb and never getting up.

And then later I am fine again.  I cook tea, I write articles, I have meetings, I go for a drink, I speak to friends.  I make plans.

Then it is there again.  Terror, fear, panic.  I sit in the garden at 3am to get some air, to overcome the stifling thoughts.  Adrenaline surges through my body, and I can’t sit in bed.  It compels me to get up and wander through the house, checking.  Checking the kids, checking plugs, checking locks.

And on and on, the cycle goes.

Well, it is time for it to stop.  And so, though I find it very hard to talk about, I am putting it out there.  The events in our life have to have an effect on our mental and emotional health, I know there is no shame in admitting this, but it is still tough.

This isn’t me, I am not a worrier or a panicky person, I am ever an optimist and think things will be fine, so it is a shock to suddenly have these thoughts and anxieties.

I know I am not the only person going through this and I just hope that in writing about it, I can help someone else to speak out and get themselves help.  I am not an expert, I have little experience in mental health, but I do know that when I have written about my physical health, that it has benefitted others, so hopefully in writing about this new hurdle, I can help someone else too.

 

Sam xx

I have taken the leap

After quite a few months of just not feeling myself, I have taken the leap and made an appointment with my GP to discuss my emotional health. And man, it was scary. 

I always think I’m quite tough. Not much scares me any more as I have been through hell, so what else could frighten me?  I’ve been cut open, had bits removed, added, joined up. I’m scarred beyond belief and have an ostomy bag. This wasn’t my plan for the first half of my 30s but it’s happened and I’ve come through it. 

But it turns out that discussing my mental health is fucking terrifying. 

Since this last op, I’ve just not felt myself.  I’m anxious and weepy, I feel ever so sad sometimes. I feel myself building bigger and bigger barriers between myself and my friends and family and something has to change. 

Guilt is at the heart of a lot of this. I feel guilty for being ill, I feel guilty for not being enough for others.  I feel guilty that I’m not coping very well. 

I just feel like the past few years have been one thing after another and I’ve had to just react to each of these things. I haven’t had time to actually process them.  And now it’s all catching up on me. 

I can bear my physical scars, show them to the world. But my emotional ones hold a lot more fear in them. 

  
My scars show my battles with IBD.  My emotional scars are the wounds of my heart, my pride, my soul.  

They hurt just as much as the physical wounds and I need to give myself time and opportunity to heal my head as much as my body. 

So here I am. Taking a leap. Allowing my hurt to be spoken of. 

I’m Sam and I need help. 

And I am going to gift myself the time and space to seek help and feel myself again. 
Xxx 

Im so badass… life with Ulcerative Colitis

I run another blog called Pretty Little Peculiar and I first wrote this post on that blog, I got such a great response that it seemed only right that it should be my first post here.  Please feel free to leave comments!

I suffer from a disease called Ulcerative Colitis – people usually stare blankly when I say that.  ”It’s kinda like Crohns” I say and most people sort of get it.  Both come under the same bracket of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – not the same as IBS by the way.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis 10 years ago and since then I have been hospitalised may times, had blood transfusions, taken so many types of drugs, had numerous colonoscopies (that’s a camera up your ass to the layman) and dealt with so many issues surrounding the disease.

Ulcerative Colitis affects up to 120,000 people in the UK, that’s about 1 in 500, so not as rare as you’d imagine.  It affects the rectum and the colon (large intestine). Inflammation and many tiny ulcers develop on the inside lining of the colon resulting in urgent and bloody diarrhoea, pain and continual tiredness.  In addition, UC can cause inflammation in the eyes, skin and joints.

So as you can imagine it is a pretty embarrassing disease at times, we don’t tend to like talking about bodily fluids, especially if it is ones coming out of your bum.  I used to be mortified about my condition, I hated to talk about it and it made me feel ashamed and disgusted with myself.  But in the past ten years I have realised that it is nothing to be ashamed of and that if myself and fellow sufferers don’t speak out then the taboo will continue.

So I make a point of speaking openly and honestly about my disease.  Family and friends are aware of my condition and are now so used to me chatting about the disease, the side effects and the medications that they are happy and comfortable talking and joking about it too.  Joking about it probably seems weird to anyone who hasn’t suffered from a debilitating disease but honestly, there are times where if I don’t laugh, Id cry!!

 

I have recently been put on high dose steroids (prednisone) and the list of side effects from this drug is horrific!  Click on the link to go to the NHS website for the full list but here are a few of the corkers…

Blindness

Bone Fractures

Moon Face

Psychosis

Insomnia

Hair Overgrowth

Depression

Sound good? No, I don’t think so either.  I am under a great IBD team from the hospital and have a specialised IBD nurse who I can call and discuss all my problems with.  I spoke to her this week about the possibility of elective bowel surgery, with Ulcerative Colitis the ONLY cure is to remove the large bowel (this is not the same for Crohns as that effects the entire digestive system.)

Its a big step and one that I won’t take lightly, but I think I am getting to the point where it is affecting my quality of life and I don’t want to take any more nasty drugs!

I have also been thinking about setting up a separate blog about Ulcerative Colitis and IBD.  I follow an awesome american blog called Inflamed and Untamed – be sure to check it out.  But I am disappointed by the lack of young, funny and honest blogs in the UK for people like me.  The Crohns and Colitis UK site is an absolute wealth of knowledge, please do take a look.  But I want to speak to other people like me who are going through this.  I want to be able to share my journey and hear other people tell their stories.

Sam xx