The darkest hour is just before dawn

4 Nov

The darkest hour is just before dawn” is one of my favourite lyrics of the Mamas and Papas, from the song Dedicated to the One I Love. Any parent, night shift worker, hardened clubber or insomniac will, I am sure, attest to this fact, that before it gets light, the night time does indeed seem to get even darker. For anyone with any propensity towards a depressive illness, the change of season, with increased hours of darkness from teatime on one day through to the end of Breakfast News on the next, is possibly the worst thing Mother Nature could prescribe. Like many, I also have a mild case of seasonal affective disorder, and find myself drawn to lights at this time of year, and always feel better in daylight hours. The changing of the clocks has also been a significant trigger for the deterioration of my mental health into depression in the past, and so it was with some trepidation that I counted down the days to the end of BST last week.
Additionally, I have been gearing up to today, 4th November, for some time.
Fourteen years ago, I was an inpatient at one of the last old school mental health hospitals, and a year ago to the day, was the beginning of what I can only describe as the meltdown which triggered my ultimate realisation that I could no longer pretend that I could manage my mental health by simply pretending it wasn’t there.
In the last year, I have moved house (twice), completely changed career, as well as ticking off several items from a list of things I have always wanted to do. Most notable of these has been to reconnect with some of my old school friends, whom I have lost touch with over the years, due to a deep depression, and the feeling that I would just be a burden to them. To be told that, contrary to these beliefs I have held for so long, I was greatly missed for almost fifteen years does make me realise how mistaken (or indeed, ill) I was.
Also, my trip to South Africa, volunteering in a school in Cape Town was a life changing experience, and it was a mixture of standing in front of a class of 10 and 11 year olds, teaching them WB Yeats (my choice, definitely not theirs, as it transpired), as well as standing at the top of Table Mountain, looking out to the southernmost point of the African continent, which made me realise that I was almost completely “recovered”. Having been dogged by depression for all of my adult life, and most of my adolescence, the sensation of a weight being lifted off my shoulders was immense. I can only equate this with the feeling you get the first day after having had the common cold; the ability to breathe normally again, after days of congestion which has disrupted both waking and sleeping hours, making you thoroughly miserable, is like a liberation. Sadly though, while I can guarantee a certain level of sympathy for bouts of “man flu”, I never dreamed of being quite explicit about my mental health until 12 months ago, owing to the fear of the stigma this would leave me susceptible to.
The last few weeks, from my return to the UK, and the lead up to this anniversary, have probably been the most ‘wobbly’ I have experienced in a year, with a couple of curve balls thrown in for good measure.
Now safely back on firm ground, and having overcome the obstacle of the 1st anniversary of a significant mental health episode, I realise that I still had further to go to say I felt ‘better’ than simply doing the things I had wanted to do for so long.
I had found doing the good things in life to be an incredible motivator for wellness, but for sustainability, I still had to confront some of the old mindsets head on, to enable me to truly stand, and indeed walk tall in my own right.
So, in the real world, I finally told all of my friends the true extent of my illness over the years, as well as the people with whom I have contact with on a day to day basis. Having been open and honest, I have found a new confidence, and an ability to manage my depression in a way I could not even have imagined last year. While I would not seek to shout about it from the rooftops, I am however now in a position to begin to feel comfortable acknowledging my previous experiences to those around me, as well as to be able to tackle the old mindsets for my own part whenever these have arisen. After months of counselling, and a long term programme of medication, I now practise the art of mindfulness, which I prefer to call by its proper therapeutic title of “having a word with yourself”.
So in terms of recovery, I feel ‘recovered’, not because I think I will never get ill again, but because I now feel in control of my mental health, and I know what to do to safeguard it.
I still hate the nights drawing in early, but, as with everything else in life, I now have to confront this head on. Unless of course I win the Lottery, in which case I will spend 6 months of each year in Norway, revelling in the fact that the sun will not set for the duration of my stay. Right now however, I will have to make do with switching on every lamp in the house!!

2 Responses to “The darkest hour is just before dawn”

  1. insidementalhealth November 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Another fantastic post. It’s amazing how honest you are. You are a true inspiration to others in similar situations. Please continue to write through this new busy chapter of your life….x

  2. anxious girl December 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Great blog, i really enjoyed reading this 🙂 xx

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