Mental health – where’s the compassion and where’s the treatment?

I haven’t written about mental health for a while. I haven’t wanted to. But it’s no good me urging other people to talk about it if I can’t do it myself – especially when we’re up against too many people who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about but are happy to spout damaging rubbish about mental health in loud voices.

In the last week, I’ve seen a certain hate-for-hire far-right foghorn belittling somebody’s mental illness on Twitter, with their pack of bully-worshipping followers joining in.

I’ve seen a prominent and powerful politician writing that the cure for depression is to do some hard work.

I’ve seen a particular TV presenter opining that we all just need more resilience.

For all the great strides forward we have made on mental health awareness in the last few years, this kind of ignorance – often wilful, sometimes maybe not – persists.

Those of us who know what it’s really like to live with mental health problems can easily become drowned out by the loud but convincing bellowing of shouty oafs who have neither the experience nor the empathy to credibly represent the reality of what we face or what we need.

Alongside that, when we take the step of seeking help for our conditions, where is the practical support? If we need therapy now, what do we suppose the impact might be of having to wait nine to twelve months for it? Even for children?

Would we wait a year to get our cars fixed?

Would we wait a year to get a broken window fixed?

Would we wait a year to get a broken leg fixed?

No, of course not. But when our brains go wrong, is it OK to expect us to hold tight and wait a year?

No, it isn’t. It’s unacceptable. It’s wrong. And it’s not our choice to wait, unless we have the means to pay for private treatment.

My brain right now

My brain is quite a good one on the whole, I like to think. But it often goes rogue and malfunctions. I need to do various things to calm it down and rein it in.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been back on Citalopram for a bit of balance, but my old sidekick isn’t proving as successful as it used to be. It was never enough on its own, but it used to work as part of my set of coping strategies. Recently it doesn’t seem to have provided an adequate stabiliser for my runaway mind.

And it makes me put on weight. I gain at least a stone when I’m on Citalopram, and no matter how much exercise I cram into my week, I still weigh the same and my tummy still sticks out more than I want it to. It gets me down, I feel worse, it affects my confidence and that contributes to my depression. While weight gain isn’t recognised as a direct effect of Citalopram, the drug is known to increase our appetite.

So I am switching from Citalopram to a different antidepressant – Amitriptyline. A new sidekick.

Now you can’t go swapping pills just like that. No, these medicines are powerful, and I know from experience that you have to come off them gradually and carefully. If you don’t, it’s like being injected with a concentrated dose of depression and you want to smash everything. At least, that’s how it was for me last time.

I am currently near the end of week three of a plan worked out with my GP, during which I am slowly moving from 30mg of Citalopram over onto Amitriptyline. Week one involved alternating between 20mg and 30mg. Week two was 20mg a day. This week is 20mg one day and 10mg the next.

Today is a 10mg day. I can feel the difference. I am sharper and more alert, which is good, but I also feel anger and irritation more intensely.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this – because I’m more keenly aware that people who need some support with their mental health are being hung out to dry.

Statistically, we all know someone who is having a hard time with a mental health problem. It’s an everyday thing.

Let’s just be decent and respectful about mental health.

Let’s all look after each other and show each other – and ourselves – some compassion instead of judgement.

And if we won’t show kindness to other people simply because that’s the right thing to do, let’s remember this could happen to any of us. Me. You. Anybody.

Because if you were struggling and felt you couldn’t cope, I’m sure you’d welcome a little help and hope.

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A joyful dad and son birding encounter

Birdwatching can be many things: relaxing, absorbing, frustrating, educational… but exhilarating and joyful? Well, yes actually.

There are birding moments that can leave you grinning like a fool, cheering like a champion, or gawping like a fish.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy one such moment when I took a long-overdue day off to go birding. It was also the first day of the school holidays, so I had a wildlife-loving sidekick for the day: my son Daniel.

We faced a dilemma. Would we head for Flamborough on the east coast in the hope of finding our number one bogey bird, the Firecrest? There had been sightings in two different locations there in the previous few days but none reported the day before. Or would we go somewhere a little nearer – maybe to Fairburn Ings and the chance to see a Little Gull, which had been reported during the week?

I gave Daniel the choice, and he plumped for the shorter trip to Fairburn.

Raptor rapture

We had a moment on our journey that made the trip worthwhile, before we’d even started in earnest. Daniel loves birds of prey – the first time he said ‘bird’ was when a Red Kite drifted over his buggy on a visit to Harewood House – and had been talking about how he’d love to see a raptor close up.

He was pleased enough when we spotted a buzzard in a tree, but then we passed so close to one perched in a roadside hedge that he could see every detail on its face. The delight in his voice as he described it set us up for a great day ahead.

A promising start

The omens were still good as we arrived in the village to be greeted by several Sand Martins, my first of the year. We strolled down the lane to Village Bay, where the Little Gull had last been reported, encountering several songbirds as we went – a very vocal Chiffchaff, a Linnet in a classic pose on top of a hedgerow, and a Song Thrush hopping about in a grassy field.

Reaching the shore of the lake, I set up my telescope, lowering it to a Daniel-friendly height so he could get the same decent views of distant birds as I could.

Main Lake at Fairburn

The Main Lake, reflecting the blue sky

Daniel looks through the telescope

Daniel gets to grips with the scope

One by one, we spotted Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens, and a generous smattering of Gadwall – a very smart and under-rated duck – then Great Crested Grebes, Pochards, and my first Little Egret of the year on the far side of the lake.

On wooden posts in the middle of the water stood two Cormorants – one juvenile and one adult (like Cormorant versions of me and Daniel) and a trio of Black-headed Gulls, which I studied closely in case one turned out to be our Little Gull.

A little bit of magic

I expected that if we were lucky enough to see it, the Little Gull would be a fleeting glimpse of a juvenile some distance away.

When we did clap eyes on it, though, it surpassed all my hopes.

A small white gull caught my eye as it flew over the heads of some Pochards over to our left. As it zipped about, I got a clear view through my binoculars of the gull’s unmistakable distinguishing feature, which I’d seen in photos – the wings, although pale on top, were distinctly dark underneath.

“I’ve got it!” I shouted. I was able to point it out to Daniel. “See it, there? Flying over the Little Egret now…”

“I can see it!” he said.

There were two more special moments to come for me.

The first was when Daniel managed to pick up the Little Gull with my scope and follow it around as it whizzed high and then low over the lake. As a toddler, he had an operation on one of his eyes, and we weren’t sure he’d ever have ‘binocular vision’, and now here he was, sharing my hobby and this magical moment, just as able to watch this uncommon bird as I was.

In fact it was Daniel who got the best view first, and told me he could see the gull’s black head. This wasn’t a juvenile, or an adult bird still in its less striking winter plumage. This was a smart adult in full breeding plumage.

“You little beauty!” I gasped as a took over the scope for a few minutes, following the Little Gull as Daniel had done. What a smashing little bird. What an exhilarating and joyful few minutes. Not just a ‘lifer’ (the name for a bird you’re seeing for the first time in your life) but a cracking and generous view of a bird at its best, which I could share with my boy.

Moments like these make time stand still, and banish all other thoughts. Whatever else is going on in life, or in our heads, an encounter like this can put a smile on our faces whenever we pause to recall it.

Me and Daniel, after seeing the Little Gull

Two happy boys after seeing the Little Gull

Making memories

The day would bring other great moments – listening to Bitterns ‘booming’ (their call sounds like the noise you can make by blowing into a bottle); being so close to a singing Robin that Daniel could almost touch it with his nose; watching an exotic Spoonbill; and a great look at a dazzling Kingfisher – but it’s that shared moment with a Little Gull that will stay in our memories for many years to come.

Robin

Our friendly Robin

Pair of Gadwall and a Coot

A smart pair of Gadwall and a photobombing Coot

 View from Lin Dike hide

The view from Lin Dike hide

Sand Martins using nest holes

Sand Martins take advantage of these nest holes

View from Pickup Hide

The view from Pickup Hide


Stress – when is it a problem and what can we do about it?

We all get stressed out sometimes, or even a lot of the time. Stress, by itself, is not a problem – it’s the same inbuilt human reaction that made our ancient ancestors run away from things that wanted to eat them, or to fight when they had to.

Life is full of stuff that stresses us out: work, family life, money… But how do we know when stress is reaching a point that could make us ill? Here are some tell-tale signs that stress could be leading to depression or anxiety:

  • You’re not sleeping, and/or you always feel tired.
  • You’re constantly lurching from one thing to the next.
  • You’re always tense, worried or anxious.
  • You’re getting headaches every day.
  • You’ve stopped looking after yourself, and you’re not allowing any time to relax or recover.
  • You’re run down and getting a string of illnesses.
  • You feel overwhelmed.
  • You can’t switch off or wind down.
  • You’re not looking forward to anything any more.
  • You feel irritable.
  • You snap at people or get more emotional than usual.
  • You feel vague, forgetful or indecisive.

If you’ve been experiencing stress for a prolonged period, there’s more danger of it leading to a mental health problem. That’s what happened to me towards the end of 2009 – I’d never experienced depression until then, but it has since proved a persistent thorn in my side. I’ve experienced all of the above symptoms. I still experience some of them, but now I recognise them and have some ways of managing them. I’m better at some things than others, and keep learning new ways of coping and looking after myself.

We need to stop stress before it stops us.

What helps?

There are three important things I need to remember, and maybe these will help you too:

  1. You’re not alone. Mental health problems are very common, and there are people you can talk to, and who can support you.
  2. It won’t always be like this. You can get better, and you can manage the symptoms.
  3. There’s no shame in getting help. It’s not weak – it’s stronger to do something about a problem than to let it keep beating you. See your GP, see a counsellor, take the medication – different things work for different people. The important thing is to do something. Ignoring it is not dealing with it.

Stress, depression and anxiety are very convincing liars, and will tell you that you’re fine and should keep soldiering on. But be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. If you don’t make changes, and if you carry on doing the same things that have got you to this point, how can you expect to get any better? It’s like breaking your arm and then repeatedly smacking it against hard objects, expecting it to magically cure itself.

Here are some other small tips:

  • Plan some time for yourself. Think about things you enjoy doing, and allow yourself a chance to do them. It’s not selfish to put yourself first sometimes – sacrificing your health to please other people isn’t really helping anyone.
  • Tell someone. It’s the first step towards getting better. Don’t let your problems silently stalk you from the shadows like a bully – expose them.
  • Take care over how you speak to yourself. Don’t put yourself down or apologise for things that aren’t your fault. If you’re beating yourself up or always criticising yourself, that adds to a feeling that you’re not good enough and that you have to keep striving and ‘going the extra mile’. Learn to accept that ‘good enough’ is perfectly fine the vast majority of the time.
  • Getting out into nature helps me – it gives me a positive distraction, some exercise and fresh air, and some perspective.

There are more things I’ve learned in this blog post.

What doesn’t help?

Here are some things that people might say to someone who’s experiencing a mental health problem:

  • Be strong.
  • Keep a stiff upper lip.
  • Grit your teeth and get on with it.
  • We never used to complain.
  • Don’t make such a fuss.
  • Just have a drink or two.
  • Cheer up.
  • Just relax.
  • Man up.

People might mean well when they say things like this, but guess what? None of these things will reduce anyone’s stress. None of these things makes a mental health problem go away.

In fact, these sayings, attitudes and beliefs cause harm – people bury how they feel and avoid talking or getting the help they need because they don’t want to seem weak. They don’t want to be judged or pitied. By not getting help, we might suffer worse and longer – and that can have tragic consequences.

It shouldn’t be considered brave to talk openly about mental health problems, but it still is. The fear is real. The stigma persists. That’s why we still need to raise awareness through things like Mental Health Awareness Week.

A small wave gently laps the beach


Recurrent depression and anxiety: the rollercoaster ride continues

So, you take your pills, have your therapy, learn some lessons, write a few blog posts, and your mental health problems go away and leave you in peace, right?

Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Perhaps they go away for a while, then pay a return visit at a later date. But it’s also entirely possible that your enemies will become like the horror movie franchise villains who stubbornly refuse to die, and come back for seemingly endless sequels.

The latest dip in my rollercoaster recovery began towards the end of last summer. These late-summer plunges have happened before in the last few years, but to avoid the pattern becoming too predictable, depression and anxiety – being two sides of the same coin, and being partners in crime – like to mix things up and take it in turns to lead. One weighs in first, usually triggered by some kind of prolonged stress or worry, then the other puts the boot in.

Doodle of a rollercoaster

Riding the mental health rollercoaster. See more doodles like this in my blog for the Blurt Foundation: https://www.blurtitout.org/2017/09/14/8-doodles-living-depression/

They seem to lie in wait for a time when I’m winding down and starting to relax, so holidays can be a prime opportunity. That’s when all the pent-up mental poison starts to ooze out and build up, like that nasty pink slime in Ghostbusters 2.

What does it feel like?

My thoughts turn dark and destructive, the despondency and lethargy set in, and other symptoms start to show:

  • irritability and anger – finding people insufferably annoying, especially those who dare exhibit any energy or enthusiasm when I have none
  • illnesses – I’ve had a different illness every month since last October, ranging from a standard cold to lingering laryngitis, suggesting a run-down immune system
  • despair and fear – seeing the worst in everything, and finding it hard to see things getting better
  • paranoia and over-sensitivity – I get wound up by any little comment aimed at me, even if meant in jest, to the point that I get embroiled in a series of long-running imaginary arguments
  • over-thinking, indecision and forgetfulness – the din in my weary brain makes any kind of thinking difficult, and impossible at times
  • mornings are hideous – I haven’t had problems sleeping with my latest episode, but getting myself up and out in the morning still feels like I’m having to physically drag my leaden body to wherever it needs to go.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

I wonder how many times a day we get asked how we are, or we ask how other people are. It’s how we greet each other; part of everyday conversation.

I’m generally a very honest person, but I have lied to people. I have lied a lot. Because many times when I don’t feel fine in the slightest, I don’t want to say so. It’s not that I mind being asked, I just want to pretend I’m fine until the reality catches up, and I don’t want sympathy, or to drag other people down.

The confusing thing about depression and anxiety is that we can also feel perfectly fine for much of the time. Once I’ve got through the first half of the morning and got suitably distracted, I might well have a perfectly decent day, unless something triggers a negative thought. Then I’m at the mercy of spiralling, toxic thoughts and feelings.

I am fine right now, and have been fine for the past few days, and that is good enough for me. If I wasn’t feeling fine, I wouldn’t be writing this and I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it.

So what am I doing about it?

As I always do with these episodes of mental ill-health, I try to face up to my problems and get help in various ways.

I went to see an excellent doctor, and – with some hesitation – decided to team up again with my old pal Citalopram, an antidepressant that I’ve just about managed without since autumn 2013. I always thought I wouldn’t want to go back on the meds, but it was a better option than struggling on without them.

I’ve been on a course, learning tips from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and am on a waiting list for some further CBT to try and crack some persistent and recurring issues.

I’m trying to get out and enjoy nature as much as possible, so am grateful for the weather improving in the past week. The continuous rain and snow was, I think, getting me down more than I realised.

And I’ve finally found another kind of exercise that I’m enthusiastic about and committed to, having drifted terminally from running. I’ve joined a martial arts class after seeing how much my son loved it. The intense workouts leave me thinking I am either going to vomit or keel over, but it’s a good way to release tension and focus on something positive.

Perhaps my biggest lesson in these last few years has been that life does not have to be about doing, exceeding or producing stuff. There is great value in doing very little, or passing time in a not-obviously-productive kind of way – things like jigsaws, favourite TV programmes, games… and trying to rediscover hobbies like drawing birds.

I’ve also made a conscious decision not to set myself unnecessary challenges this year. Why add to the pressures of daily life?

To end on a positive note…

There is one consistently positive thing that recurrent depression and anxiety do for me. Each time they gang up on me, and I go through this gruelling experience, it makes me rethink and evaluate my life. What can I do differently? What’s harming me? What’s good for me? What have I tried that worked but I’ve forgotten or neglected? What haven’t I tried yet? Is there something I should give up? Something I want to find time for?

So I keep learning and arming myself against these attacks. I’m lucky in many ways – my depression and anxiety are fairly mild compared to what many people endure, and I have the support of great family and friends.

I’m sharing this not to alarm anyone, not to attract attention, or to elicit sympathy or pity, or to be considered brave, but just to be honest about my experiences in a society that still stigmatises people with mental health problems.

Ball with smiling face


How does nature benefit mental health?

I was on BBC Breakfast recently talking about how getting outdoors and enjoying nature helps me with my mental health. But how exactly does it help?

I’m going to start with two quick disclaimers:

  • I’m not a scientist, so I won’t try to give you any scientific evidence of how nature benefits mental health. This is all about my personal experience. But that evidence does exist, as Dr Andrea Mechelli explained alongside me on the BBC sofa (see pictures below). Find out more about the study from King’s College London.
  • Nature alone does not cure depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem. It’s one part of a toolkit of coping strategies that can help us to manage our well-being.

My own personal mental health battles are with depression and anxiety, and I find that nature does help me in a number of ways.

Doing something I enjoy

When we’re worn down by stress, anxiety and depression, it’s easy to forget the things we used to enjoy doing – or how to enjoy doing anything for that matter.

A few years ago, when I was frazzled and going through an episode of depression, my counsellor encouraged me to find time to do something I enjoyed. I’d always enjoyed birdwatching and walking, and tried to get out more and rediscover the pleasure of my abandoned hobbies.

Magpie in tree top.

A magpie perches proudly in a tree at St Nick’s nature reserve in York.

A positive focus and distraction

Absorbing ourselves in nature can turn a walk – or even just a nice sit down in a park or garden – into a mindful experience that focuses us on the present and takes us away from the churning thoughts that tumble round our heads and the anxiety that chews at our tummies.

Hear the breeze rustling the leaves in the treetops; listen to the birds singing; watch butterflies and bees flitting among your garden flowers… I find that even a few moments being completely distracted by wildlife usually has a calming effect on me and lifts my mood.

As well as the wildlife, experiencing different places – or just retreating to a favourite wild place – can be very therapeutic. I find being in woodland or by water especially soothing.

Being outdoors has other health benefits too – fresh air, sunlight and exercise are good for our physical health as well as our mental well-being.

Filey Brigg

Discovery, excitement and adventure

One thing I love about nature is that there is always something new to discover – new species to see, new places to visit, new behaviour to observe. I’ll never forget the wonder of watching badgers in a woodland clearing after years of waiting for even a passing glance of one. If I’m planning a birding trip, there’s that sense of anticipation and excitement at what I might see, and the thrill of seeing a rare bird for the first time.

But a new experience doesn’t have to mean a new species – it can mean finding something unexpected in a familiar place. While off work with depression, I took a short walk from home, and found yellow wagtails – glorious, sunny yellow birds – bobbing about in a field where I’d never seen them before.

Grey heron at Staveley nature reserve.

A grey heron at Staveley nature reserve.

Nature is everywhere

It’s an unfortunate truth of depression that the things that are best for us are often the hardest things to do. Even for someone like me, who loves being outdoors, the draining, soul-destroying experience of depression can completely kill off all energy or enthusiasm, making the prospect of going out for a walk feel like the last thing I want to do.

At those times, if we just can’t face going out, we can still enjoy nature without venturing out. If you can see the sky or a tree, lawn or plant from where you’re sitting, you can still look out for wildlife. It’s amazing how many different species you can see in a fairly short space of time.

I feed the birds in my garden and can lose myself watching them – the goldfinches jostling for position on a feeder, the blackbirds fending off rivals, the wren that always follows exactly the same route into our garden and disappears for a moment in a bush…

A red admiral is lit by the sun as it feeds on a buddleia.

A red admiral is lit by the sun as it feeds on a buddleia.

Accept that it’s not going to work every time

Sometimes nature will help you feel better, even if only for a short time. Other times, it will not – but that doesn’t mean we should give up.

There are occasions where my mood has been too dark – my thoughts too destructive and intrusive – for me to be able to get lost in the sights and sounds around me. There have been other times where I’ve felt crushing disappointment because I’ve ‘failed’ to see what I went out to look for (I’m trying to learn to manage my own expectations), or I’ve felt defeated and demoralised by the weather spoiling a day out.

One such day that stands out in my mind is when I took a day off work to go to Flamborough Head, one of my favourite places on the Yorkshire coast, on a mission to see some particular birds. I can’t remember what birds they were, but I can remember that I didn’t see them, and that I couldn’t even enjoy the beautiful scenery because of thick fog. I genuinely considered giving up on birdwatching that day – not only had I not seen what I’d wanted to see, the weather was manky, there was barely a bird of any kind to be found all day, and I was sick of dragging my telescope and rucksack around.

The bird that saved the day was an unlikely one. At the point of my greatest frustration, the movement of a small bird in the hedge up ahead caught my eye. I followed it, hoping it would reveal its identity, and it did. It was a male chaffinch – a very common bird, but a colourful one – and for some reason that splash of colour and the chaffinch’s perky character were enough to bring me back out of my brain fog. The actual fog lifted soon after that too, and I remember sitting on a bench, and discovering that a cup of tea tastes even better by the sea.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head – worth seeing in the sunshine

 

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Birdwatching, depression and the BBC sofa

I found myself on the BBC’s famous red sofa last Sunday morning – not for a tour of the studio or for a nice sit down, but for a live TV interview.

“Being on the telly” is one of those mysterious, magical things that many of us, including me, have daydreams about. People on the telly are a different breed of person, who are beamed onto our screens at home from some kind of strange, alternative universe. As I discovered, the world of BBC Breakfast is certainly very different to my own.

Paul Brook on BBC Breakfast

Birdwatching and depression

Last weekend, a new study was published, showing that birdwatching can have a positive effect on depression and anxiety, and I was plucked from obscurity to talk about this on BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 5 Live. It wasn’t my study, of course, but I do write about birdwatching and mental health. A BBC producer had been looking for someone who could talk on the subject from personal experience, and stumbled across my blog.

Up until late Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t expecting any of this. I went swiftly from shopping at Tesco with my eight-year-old son to chatting on the phone with a member of the BBC Breakfast team just after 4.30pm. She asked if I’d like to be live on the show the next morning. I’d been planning a family trip out, so this unexpected development made my head spin a bit, but these opportunities don’t come up very often, so I said yes.

Crazy logistics

There then followed a whirlwind of crazy logistics. The studio is at Media City in Salford, and they wanted me on the show at 8.40am. The train times didn’t work out (I’d have had to get up at about 3am to get the only train available) so I agreed to drive over from my home near York. Another option was to travel over that evening and stay in Manchester, but I was going out with my wife and friends to see Sunny Afternoon, a musical about my favourite band, the Kinks, and I wasn’t going to miss out on that.

In the brief time between getting the call and going out, I had to send over some photos from my birdwatching trips (my photo of a great spotted woodpecker appeared as the backdrop to my interview) and try to get my head round what was going on.

There was more to come.

During Sunny Afternoon (which was brilliant), I could feel my phone buzzing in my pocket, and afterwards I discovered I’d had a call from the BBC 5 Live team – they wanted to speak to me live the next morning too. So I found myself on the phone two or three times between 11 and 11.20pm as we tried to fit this in. At one point, they wanted to talk to me at 7am and I was going to try and find somewhere to stop and do a phone interview on my drive over to Salford. Luckily, the 5 Live studio is one floor up from BBC Breakfast, the two teams exchanged notes, and I was booked in to talk on the radio at 8.20am, which meant an even earlier start.

So what was it all like?

Media City was spectacular for a start. It’s by the quayside in Salford, where an old industrial area is being gradually regenerated. I walked past the CBeebies office, and saw the studio where Shine, the BBC’s new talent show, is being filmed. Across the water I could see ITV and the Coronation Street studio.

The staff couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. I was greeted at reception and taken up to the green room, where guests wait before they go on air, but wasn’t there long before being whisked off with a cup of tea in hand to see the make-up man (he put on a bit of foundation and powder ‘for the lights’ in the studio – good job too, as the glare from my bald head would have dazzled the viewers).

From there, I went up to 5 Live, and within ten minutes was live on air. I sat down with a black microphone in front of me, opposite the two presenters, put on some headphones, and off we went. I spoke for about two minutes (it went well – here’s a recording), then was collected by my friendly host and taken to a comfy corner outside the BBC Breakfast studio.

From there, I was met by the floor manager and given my clip-on microphone, then when the time came, we crept into the studio and I waited for my turn to join presenters Ben Thompson and Rachel Burden on the big red sofa.

cv-pic-of-paul-1

Both were lovely, and put me at ease. They were remarkably perky, given the horrible hours they must work. I wasn’t really conscious of the cameras – I just answered their questions as best I could and tried to remember key points from my blogs that I’d glanced at on my mobile.

It was quickly over, and I doubted whether it had actually happened, but when I got home, I was greeted by my two children bouncing up and down with giddy excitement at having seen their dad on the telly, then had the weird experience of watching myself on my own TV set (unfortunately it seems the programme isn’t available on iPlayer). I was happy I’d managed not to say anything stupid or pull any weird faces.

It just goes to show that sometimes extraordinary things happen to ordinary people, and – more importantly – that depression is not the end. We can live with it, and occasionally something good can come of it.

Oh, and seeing as I was home by 11am, we still managed a family trip out – just a less ambitious one.

Thanks to Jane Brook, Claire Vinent Yager and Michelle Atkins for the photos.


Introducing Dippydoodles

Today, depression has made a dream come true. Sounds unlikely, I know – but at least something good has come of it.

If I hadn’t had depression, I wouldn’t have drawn a series of doodles about it last September for the Blurt Foundation. And if I hadn’t drawn those doodles, my friend Gary wouldn’t have seen them and suggested putting them on T-shirts.

I’ve just been onto Gary’s website, Trustovi, and ordered a T-shirt with my own design on it. Ever since I reached an age when I wanted to choose what to wear, I’ve loved T-shirts. I used to draw T-shirt designs on computer paper or in exercise books at home. I’ve doodled for as long as I can remember. So having T-shirts to buy with my own doodles on is pretty much a dream come true.

I’m calling these designs Dippydoodles, and the T-shirts are available to buy right now. There are four designs, all intended to help raise awareness and understanding of depression in a positive way. All the profits from sales of the T-shirts will be donated to Blurt to continue their great work supporting people with depression and fighting the stigma that goes with it.

The doodles all feature a bald chap in an orange T-shirt. I don’t have any orange T-shirts, but the hairstyle is definitely mine.

Two of the designs are from the set I drew for Blurt.

‘Look after yourself. You’re important.’ is a reminder to people like me that we need to be kind to ourselves and not to be so self-critical. We’re happy to praise other people and show them kindness but it’s such a struggle sometimes to do the same for ourselves.

Smiling man saying 'Look after yourself. You're important.'

‘Anyone seen my confidence?’ shows those times when our confidence hits rock bottom. I’ve definitely experienced this during episodes of depression. It completely crushed my self-esteem and building it back up is a long work in progress.

Doodle of man in boat, with confidence at bottom of the sea beneath him

The other two designs are new ones, based on other themes I’ve explored in my blog.

In ‘Former perfectionist’, you’ll notice that ‘perfectionist’ is spelt incorrectly and that the bald chap looks pretty vexed about it. I’m a former perfectionist myself, and it’s a hard habit to break, but it can be pretty punishing to live with. I would still recoil in horror at the thought of spelling a word incorrectly.

Man looks vexed at misspelling of 'perfectionist

‘Man up? Er, no.” is a polite version of what I feel like saying in response to anyone using the phrase ‘man up’ in connection to depression. It’s a stupid and destructive phrase, as I wrote in this Blurt blog.

Man saying 'Man up? Er, no.'

I’ll leave you with a couple of requests:

  • Please buy a T-shirt. You’ll look splendid and you’ll be supporting an important cause. The website’s great and really quick and easy to use. Oh, and delivery is free in the UK, so you won’t suddenly find yourself paying more at the checkout.
  • Share a photo of yourself wearing your beautiful new T-shirt, using #dippydoodles

I’ll post a photo of me wearing mine very soon…