World Mental Health Day

Saturday was World Mental Health Day
Not a day I’ve ever paid much attention to before but this year I felt I should post something to mark it, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a little bit about how my mental health has suffered this year.

This year has been a bit of a strange year. I’m currently having therapy for depression and social anxiety having had a few problems over the Summer. I would say the problem has been building for the last 18 months or so but the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t helped; We went in to lockdown just at the moment when I needed my support network of friends.

I’ve had no real experience of mental health issues up until this year but it was perhaps not unexpected. A report by the National Autistic Society found that compared to the general publuc, autistic people in June and July were seven times more likely to be chronically lonely; 9 out of 10 autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown.

I often find that talking to people is difficult so the majority of people I’ve told, I’ve been told via text, email, Facebook messages, etc.

Here’s how it manifested itself in me:

  • Just generally feeling low / numb / sad (often without reason – unsure why)
  • Adrenaline constantly pumping around the body making me feel tense or on-edge – Mood swings!
  • Tiredness & low energy
  • Not enjoying things I usually love doing (I lost interest in my radio show for a few weeks in June before I got back in to it again)
  • Feeling like I have no friends, that no one likes me, no one wants me around (Irrational I know – My closest friends value me as much as I value them; I know that because they tell me!)
  • No sense of purpose / belonging
  • Smaller appetite: For a while I wasn’t eating as much as I used to – Started around beginning of June – particularly anxious eating around others.
  • Difficulty sleeping – On a bad night I’d wake up every hour or so during the night (now I’ve got that down to just once, usually around 3 or 4am).
  • Struggling to concentrate at work.

Now your mind is a room where twenty radios, all tuned to different stations, are blaring out voices and music. The radios have no off-switches or volume controls, the room you’re in has no door or window, and relief will only come when you’re too exhausted to stay awake.

Naoki Higashida

Japanese author Naoki Higashida sums up pretty well what it’s like inside my head. Although I can’t say for sure, there could well be something like OCD or ADHD at play here too.

I’ve always had this sort of thing going on inside my head but around about February time it went from being background noise which I felt I could control, to becoming downright intrusive. I just couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t switch it off. There was no escape. When it gets bad it is intense!

Early June though was when I started to really consider that a mental condition of some sort might be at play. That’s when I drafted a message to one of my closest friends saying I wondered if I might have depression; It was mid July before I finally sent it to her.

On Saturday morning I started by checking in with my small but very close group of friends – my inner circle – who I talk to pretty much on a daily basis – just to let them know I’m OK and to make sure they are too. (They are my support network and we all check in with each other often).

This week has been better and my treatment is a combination of antidepressants and therapy, both of which I have only just started; It will take time but hopefully I’ll be back to normal before too long.

Besides the therapy and medication, there’s a few things I’ve been trying in an attempt to make things a bit easier:

  • Baking – I was doing this weekly during the lockdown earlier in the Summer – Kneading in particular is a good stress relief (quite therapeutic)
  • Playing my guitar – One of the best ways of feeling better! It is like playing music releases chemicals in to the brain which make me feel better.
  • Getting out and about – Trying to go for regular walks; In the absence of international travel I’ve been doing weekly road trips in the car; visits to either a tourist attraction, or restaurant.
  • Meeting people – I’ve formed a sort of support bubble of close friends and relatives and have been trying to meet up with them fairly regularly since July.
  • My radio show – Playing my favourite music on the radio is the best way of expressing myself. I often sneak in certain songs as a hidden message to friends who listen so they know if I’m OK or not while I’m doing the show.
  • Listening to music, podcasts or radio shows.
    • 1800 Seconds on Autism is a BBC Sounds podcast presented by and for autistic people – I loved listening to this in the car during the early part of lockddown.
    • Yes Minister / Yes Prime Minister – I have the audiobook versions on my phone, great to listen to in the car to take my mind off things. (Similarly, Dad’s Army is great to listen to).
    • Bob Harris Country – The soundtrack of my drive to and from work on a Friday morning (I download the show on BBC Sounds after it has aired on Radio 2).
    • Spotify – I have playlists for Greek music, Scottish music, Country music, a Geroge Strait playlist and a Dolly Parton playlist to listen to in the car.
  • When I installed my new radio studio at home at the start of lockdown I set up the lighting in my room to be controlled from my phone and use a series of small desk and bedside lamps instead of the main light. I find bright white light can be a trigger, so prefer dim/warm light. (I think that’s an autistic thing rather than a depression/anxiety thing but it all helps).

Going away for a few days with Mum and Dad this week – A week in Devon, by the Sea should be good. 🙂

FH.

Fred Hart

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