Came across this research paper on social anxiety disorder and one sentence stood out, as it sheds some light on the unresolved question of how can it take so long to realise there is something going on:

Owing to the early onset and chronicity of SAD, many individuals may also believe that these symptoms are part of their personality and therefore cannot be changed.

Makes me feel better.

Tawny owlFor a bird with a reputation for being secretive, jays make an almighty racket when the occasion calls for it.

Yesterday, a walk in the woods. A jay kicks off in the trees above me. Spotted movement amongst the branches. There it was, getting in the face of a tawny owl. It would fly onto the branch next to the owl, squawk in its face and fly off again. Meanwhile, she would give a little ‘tu-whit’ in response.

Full disclosure: there is an owl box nearby that is currently occupied, so I had an idea what the fuss was all about.

Went and got my camera.

The jay had gone. The owl was now higher up in the tree, staring down at me, staring up at her.

Being watched by a creature like that is always a thrill. Enjoyed the moment and left her too it.

Thinking about the last year. Mental health. Anxiety. Depression. It’s taken a long time to come to a point of acceptance. Even now, the anxious mind questions the seriousness of it all. Little doubts here and there.

Are you sure you’re not just imagining all this?

This is not a patch on the problems some people have.

The one question that I still have yet to make peace with is how did it take so long to realise the nature of the problem? To get to this age and the penny not really drop.

Still wrestling with this one. The best answer for the moment is the boiling frog metaphor.

As an anxious child there is no alternative reality that shows yours is atypical. You grow up adapting your life around maladaptation. Avoidance. And that just reinforces the whole process. A negative feedback loop. And before you know it, that water is boiling.

Looking back I can see many wrong turns. It is hard not to feel regret. But equally I am here, right now, in a much better place. With a lot of living to do.

So if that means taking the time to stare up at an owl staring back at me, that’s what I’ll do.

A while back Colin Walker commented on a post of mine:

Mental health awareness has come on in leaps and bounds recently but, for many, that’s still all it is: an awareness. We need to convert that into an understanding.

Fortunately, we are more aware of mental health issues today, certainly compared to how it was when I was growing up. Prior to facing up to my own issues I considered that I had a basic appreciation of what having a mental illness meant. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Learning about the condition I live with has entailed finding out about mental health issues more generally. I have been shocked at how little I really knew about even the more common illnesses like depression and anxiety, let alone more serious ones. I have also had to realise that I am not without my prejudices.

I’m sure greater understanding will come from mental health being discussed more openly. If we can get to a place of better understanding then this in turn will, I hope, lead to greater empathy. Given that most of us will be touched by mental illness at some point in our lives more empathy can only be a good thing.

It doesn’t matter if it is for those who have a diagnosable illness or are simply experiencing the day to day stress of life, I hope that my own experience has increased my empathy for others.

It is a year ago today since I first recognised something of what was going on with my mental health. It has been a long 12 months, going through various states of mind as I have tried to come to terms with it all.

I haven’t posted much on the subject of late, largely because I have been receiving CBT since January and it is prettty intense. I have now finished the course except for a couple of follow up sessions and it seems a good time to reflect on both the therapy and the last year.

There is so much to think about that no one single post will cover it so I am planning to do a number of posts – planning, I emphasise! They probably won’t be posted in any kind of organised way either…

While I have experienced a whole gamut of emotions digging into what has been going on, with a bit of perspective that a year gives me, I can safely say that addressing my mental health has been one of the best things I have done in a long time.

That’s not to say that it has all felt good by any means – some of the time it has been bloody awful and I’ve questioned my ability to continue. Nor is it to say that all is done and dusted. I suspect I will continue to live with mental illness (I shall call it what it is) for a long time to come, but in amongst the negatives I have a greater understanding of myself and the nature of mental health, some tools to help me on my way and a sense of hope.

Part of me doesn’t want to post this. Shame can be a powerful aspect to mental illness but I have found reading about other people’s experiences so meaningful I feel compelled to share my own.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. Or SAD for short.

I had never heard of the condition until this year but it is one of the most common anxiety disorders. I have struggled with depressive episodes and anxiety since my teens but have never been able to quite put a finger on what the problem was. I have had a persistent sense that I could not function in the world in a ‘normal’ way – ordinary day to day activities could be anything from a strain to so stressful they were to be avoided. I put it down to ‘that’s just the way I am’.

During the last year or so I found I was becoming increasingly irritable, angry and withdrawn from my family. Suicidal ideation was starting to creep into my thinking. I asked myself why, when I am in my mid-forties, am I not getting any better at this ‘life’ game?

Back in the spring, while wrestling with this question, I had what I refer to as my Oh Shit Moment. I came across an article about Social Anxiety Disorder. I couldn’t quite believe it – here was a description of what I experienced in a nutshell. The anxious and negative thoughts, cognitive impairment and physical symptoms associated with the illness are only too familiar to me. In turn all of this leads to the previously mentioned depressive episodes. I was both devastated and relieved in equal measure. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, it enabled me to make sense of my life.

It took some weeks to start to get my head around this knowledge and then pluck up the courage to go and see my doctor. A useful discussion with him and later, a lengthy assessment with a therapist confirmed the diagnosis.

It has taken months to start to come to some sort of acceptance. I know recovery will likely be a slow process. But I am glad I know what’s going on in my head. The symptoms are all still there, but viewed through the lens of the diagnosis their impact is diminished. Right now I am taking medication, not long enough to decide if it is making a difference. My doctor tells me I also have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I am on a waiting list for a CBT course. My family are being very supportive. I am reading around the subject of mental health as much as I can.

This post only scratches the surface – there has been so much to learn, take in and think about. The nature of identity, labels, the mental health/illness continuum, stigma. I think writing will help and I hope to further explore some of these thoughts.