Friday, 28 February 2014

White Rabbit Number Six: John Drake’s Mental Health Blog - 1

As the DIY Futures project comes to an end, the focus is on the stories in the book "It's the inside that matters," which have drawn some really positive feedback. But there are so many stories out there, and one book can never be long enough...  So when we heard about John Drake's experiences recently we invited him to write a guest post for the blog.  John soon came back to us with not one but three posts! Here is Part 1... with 2 & 3 due to follow shortly.

1: Down the Rabbit Hole

There is nothing so very remarkable about falling down that very deep well we call depression. What follows is just one man’s experience...

It was quite a relief when I was first diagnosed with depression. My initial reaction was: Thank God for that, I thought I was going mad! I was certainly getting fixated on some strange ideas and experiencing overwhelming feelings of dread which made it difficult to continue to work...and I loved my job.

My GP referred me to a Community Psychiatric Nurse. He assessed me as suffering from mild to moderate depression and recommended a short course of anti-depressants. But I was very resistant to the idea because I had heard so much about the bad side effects... Fortunately the nurse was very sympathetic to my attitude and suggested I instead try St John’s Wort (a herbal alternative to pharmaceutical medicine). My GP was also supportive of this and said that I should treat it like any antidepressant and use it regularly for six months.

After three weeks I felt well enough to go back to work and in fact, with the aid of St John’s Wort, I managed my condition for the next seven years, throwing myself into my work with renewed dedication. I still suffered from occasional bouts of anxiety but I knew that I had to just keep going...

Until one day I couldn’t... It was as if an abyss had opened up and I was about to fall into it.

I rang the surgery but my GP wouldn’t be available for a couple of weeks! I knew I had to talk to someone straight away and fortunately one of the other doctors had a cancellation and was able to fit me in. She listened to me for what must have been quite a long time (once the dam broke, the flood was overwhelming), signed me off work and referred me to the counselling service that was attached to the surgery.

And now that I was in safe hands, I could let myself fall...

I was offered what I understand to be the standard counselling service through the NHS, which is six sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Towards the end of this period I was offered an extension of three further sessions, which I was happy to accept. When I first began therapy, my counsellor assessed me as having moderate to severe depression. By the time I finished the course, I felt ready to return to work. Although our sessions were coming to an end, the counsellor assured me that if I ever needed to see him again I could get a new referral through the surgery.

Throughout these first few months of illness, I had felt very well supported both by my counsellor and by the GP. At her suggestion, I continued to be seen exclusively by the same doctor who had been available on that crucial day – and I think that this continuity of service was very important in my being able to cope with day-to-day living, without being hospitalised – which, along with being forced to take antidepressants other than St John’s Wort, was my biggest fear. Rightly or wrongly, I believed that pharmaceutical antidepressants would take away my mind and that, once in hospital, I would never come out again.

The CBT sessions had taught me how to cope with going to shops and facing the dreaded ‘how are you?’ question from well-meaning acquaintances, but going back to work was another matter. Even though I had met with my boss and we had agreed a back-to-work strategy, it all fell apart when a personal crisis caused everything to unravel – and I was back almost, but not quite, where I started – still down the rabbit hole but resting somewhat precariously on a ledge – no longer falling, but not yet able to climb out.

This time my GP was adamant that I should take stronger antidepressants – but I was equally adamant that I wouldn’t. To her credit, my doctor accepted my decision and continued to support me in other ways. I was referred back to the counselling service and, this time, I was told that I could book a session whenever I needed it, through the appointments desk. I assume this was offered to me as my counsellor believed that I wasn’t the type to abuse the privilege – and in fact I only took advantage of it a handful of times.

Throughout this time I felt that I was being supported in the way that was right for me by everyone concerned in my welfare – and for this I will always be grateful.

Meanwhile, however, I was still being signed off work. Then one day I got a bit of a shock when the finance officer informed me that my sick pay had run out and that I needed to contact the Job Centre about claiming long-term sickness benefit.

And that’s when my problems really started...

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