Yep. This time last year, I made the choice to go (back) on anti-depressants. There are a lot of reasons why that was the correct decision at the time, and my life over the past twelve months or so has been made easier by the comforting fuzziness of dulled feelings. And at least now I know a bit more about the effects of both going back on and coming back off. The first time I gave up on the Citalopram (three or so years ago), I did not get the apparently common side effect of feeling 'electric shocks', but this time I think that's exactly what I did get. It's a bit like what you get when you've got a bad cold, where you suddenly become really aware of everything touching you, your heart leaps a bit, and you just generally need everyone and everything to lay off for a few minutes. My short-term memory has shown some remarkable lapses, as though a new train of thought is able to completely derail a previous one to the extent that the earlier does not leave an impression in my mind. I think some of that is down to my specific strategy for dealing with all those competing ideas jostling for position, which is to focus on one to the exclusion of all the others. It leads to black holes of dwelling if you're not careful, but it quietens the noise. I learned previously to step away from the black holes, and I think that's something that I will never be cured of but something I will need to be aware of for ever, that I am prone to harmful and pointless dwelling.
But there's a difference between letting my thoughts run away with me, and letting my feelings through. I don't want - and I don't think I ever wanted - the anti-depressants to stop me feeling grief and sadness, but I did use them to stop that grief becoming all-consuming. Being sad about someone dying is not a bad thing in itself, nor is being angry about the circumstances and the hypocritical things that people say after the fact. To give just one relevant example...
Last night, for a bit of light relief on the last day of the half term, I watched X2 (as in, the second X-Men film). Now, I can remember having watched it before, and I knew what was going to happen, but for whatever reason the bit at the end (SPOILER ALERT!!!) where Jean Grey 'dies' really got me. Tiredness contributes, no doubt, but this was the first time in a long time when something fairly basic in terms of storytelling did that thing: the thing that those Christmas adverts I wrote about once did. I think Jackman as Wolverine contributes as well, because he's so convincing in the role and the thing he shares with Jean Grey - they obviously have a connection - is itself equally convincing. It's impossible for them to be together in the way that he wants, and anyone even vaguely familiar with my writing will know that I have explored that in great depth and continue to do so as I finish book IV (yes, it's coming!).
So... What? I'm happy to be that person again, the one that my friend, colleague, boss, sparring partner and mentor saw in me, the one that is 'so human', to use her words. It's not comfortable or easy, but it's right for me at the moment. We'll see if that lasts through the winter...
Is it right still to be angry when someone is described posthumously as 'highly respected' when that definitely wasn't the case (for some) at the time? It certainly still hurts to think about it. For anyone reading this who knows what it means, I'm sorry if I have made you sad.
Well, it can't go without comment.
But let's start with this. Looking after your mental health usually means organising decent sleep for yourself, or at least allowing it to happen if it can. Having someone or something else disrupt your sleep is a real problem, and under ordinary circumstances adults in this situation start harping on about mobile phones, blue light and all that guff. Except it's not guff, but there you go. No, on this occasion I want to moan specifically about my own little boy's suddenly discovered gift for late-night wandering around. He's locked in his room (one of those gates, not an actual lock!), sure, but he's not velcro'd down to his bed. So off he goes. And - to my great discredit - I have moaned about this in my continuing riff about him being a total bell-end to whomever will listen.
Except it wasn't just a choice he was making with a view to miserabilising his parents. No, to cap off a fairly intense few weeks, it turns out that three quarters of the household has nits. And yes, I'm the remaining quarter. Nits. Poking at his ears - which we assumed related to his teeth - was just scratching at an itch. Waking up distressed, which we assumed was just more evidence of him being a dick and demanding unreasonable quantities of attention, that was caused by his head itching. Poor little soul. One application of the not-very-vegan-friendly nitbuster (other treatments are available) and a bit of brightness has come back into his world, and so, mine.
I have recently received some new-and-improved safeguarding training as a result of my frankly mule-headed insistence on remaining in the teaching profession. I have taken the trouble of recording a few of the more remarkable sentences I read - yes, almost all of the 'training' was reading a slide that was copied-and-pasted from a government document that I had also already read - and over the course of the next few paragraphs I'll give you a flavour of exactly what the government is telling me about looking after students and their mental health.
I have tried to write coherently about suicidal thoughts before, and I'm wary of doing it again. But I want to try to make the distinction between those people who are able to look at their own suicide from the outside, from the perspective of other people, the future without them in it, and those whose suicidal thoughts are entirely internal, focused only on the end of whatever it is that is hurting them. I don't think the minds of those who have written this guidance have fully taken in - much less experienced - the brutal reality of the thought that the best or indeed only way out of feeling this way is to take your own life. And there it is, in a sentence. That's the challenge. Those are the kids who need the person next to them at that moment to accept their reality, and their thoughts about it, as real. Even if those thoughts and that reality are wrong, the way it is to be that person just does not admit of being persuaded round to a positive view. That's not how a broken mind works; it can't be fixed by trying the normal methods of changing someone's mind, because that's how it got there in the first place.
I think there is an opportunity here for some properly detailed development of these ideas in a way that could be used by actual rank-and-file teachers in front of kids, but I'm not sure I'm equipped to do it (and certainly not alone). The tough thing is to recognise the nature of the thought. A kid can say that they thought about killing themselves, and that can mean a lot of different things. It can mean everything from an idle speculation about how it would be received, with no attachment to it as an act. It can mean contemplation of the act - the moment, the method - without any engagement in the meaning of the act. It can be that the kid saw death as the way out of a problem and that problem could be a simple one, fixable by small changes. But equally that problem could be huge, looming, inescapable, engulfing. And the distinction that needs to be made between how that problem appears to the outsider and how that problem appears to the person in question is that it just doesn't matter if the problem isn't what it seems to be, if things will change as time passes.
The same guidance gives the following list of symptoms of depression:
There is a problem that mental health is still not a comfortable subject for lots of people, many teachers included. Building up enough trust with a young person for them to feel able to discuss their mental health, particularly their poor mental health, is a labour of some form of love, often punctuated by moments of utter frustration. But it is one of few ways to get to the root of a problem, and a kid feeling that they have someone on their side is a decent step on the way to coming up with a strategy to manage it. Equally, crap mental health is not an excuse for bad behaviour, even if it offers an explanation, and some teachers are so nervous - and so ill-equipped with understanding - issues around mental health that challenging an instance of unacceptable behaviour becomes impossible. And that leads to a bad outcome, which is that bad behaviour choices are linked to (blamed on, excused by) bad mental health, rather than seen as just a part of the picture and one that still needs the same careful management as any disruptive behaviour choices.
So, what? What could and should be done? I don't know, but I really want there to be a force for change in the way that safeguarding children whose mental health is bad is pitched to teachers. The goal is for kids to be able to trust their teachers to listen when it comes to their mental health, and for teachers to have some sort of clue what it is like for the kid, and then what to do about it. Teachers aren't going to have the solutions to hand, but they can be part of that solution if they are aware enough. They certainly care enough, by my reckoning.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought