Ten years ago, Helen from Worcestershire was a happy, outgoing mother of four who worked as a part-time teacher. She started to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, but they were unrecognised and untreated. They became worse and eventually she was unable to work and depression took hold of her life: the impact was devastating. However, Helen fought back with professional help and self-help reading. Here, she talks about her journey of recovery.
"Everything felt grey"
When I first started to have symptoms I didn't know what was wrong with me. I felt tired all the time, had poor concentration and everything seemed pointless. I would wake each morning and wonder how I was going to get through another day. Everything felt grey. Looking back, I'd been coping with too much stress for too long. I tried various herbal remedies, but to no effect. By the time I reached my GP I was very ill indeed.
My first approach was to change jobs, twice within eighteen months. However, this was the worst thing to do, as I was putting myself in new stressful situations. Life was an uphill struggle and I blamed myself.
Eventually, I resigned from my job as I could no longer cope. This left me at home alone, with my husband at work and children at school. I had no structure to my days and felt isolated and increasingly desperate. The mental distress and pain were unbearable and I could see no way forward at all. If I'd tried to find help early on, through talking therapies or other forms of support, I may never have become so seriously ill.
Determined to get well
After many months, ECT was administered, carefully and sensitively, and I was given a combination of medications. Very slowly, my brain started to respond and I became determined that I'd get well for myself and my family, and that I'd find out how to stop this illness from taking hold of me again.
Progress was slow and I took small steps. I worked in the back room of a local charity shop for two mornings a week. As part of my stepped recovery plan for myself, I enrolled on an easy computer course and then an art class. I did have set backs and very grey days, but I kept on going.
I started to go to my local library and came across a section of self-help books on all sorts of subjects, including depression. The Books on Prescription scheme was there for me! Here were easy-to-read books that I could dip into for information and strategies to support my recovery. It was life changing. I learned about cognitive behavioural therapy and how to take on board its strategies. I learned that I wasn't alone and that depression wasn't my fault - it wasn't a weakness, but a treatable illness.
I travelled to Birmingham Central Library where there was a larger selection of books and a depression support group once a month. I learned so much from these books - how to raise and maintain my self-esteem, to problem solve successfully, to manage stress and how to take care of myself. I took notes, so I could keep reminding myself of what to do.
Gradually, steadily, I have recovered. Occasionally I have a 'blip' when I'm overloaded by stress, but when I reread my notes and remind myself how to help myself, I feel well, happy and now able to support others. I'm back teaching part-time. My children have grown up to become well-balanced and compassionate young adults.
Reading Well Books on Prescription
I'm a keen supporter of Reading Well Books on Prescription. Over the years I've borrowed books on a range of subjects, such as insomnia and anger. I've bought my own copies of some of the books to reread and lend to others. Self-help reading gives you back control over your own life, which enables you to empathise with and support others too.
A library is a welcoming, calm environment and the positioning of the Reading Well Books on Prescription titles works well. They are easy to find and you can browse through them to choose which are right for you. You can borrow them in exactly the same way you borrow any other library book.
Help for the whole family
Mental health problems are on the increase and more information needs to be available. Most importantly, there needs to be greater help for the whole family.
Children can become anxious, confused and feel very helpless when a parent has depression. There were no books available to support my own children during my illness, so for three years I searched for titles about depression suitable for primary-age children. Finally, I found one! Can I Catch it Like a Cold? is excellent. It is informative, reassuring and sensitive and should be read with a trusted adult.
With the support of my local MP, The Rt Hon Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, this book was added to the local Books on Prescription scheme in Worcestershire and made available in all libraries in the county. My wish is to make the book available in all libraries across England and Wales. (N.B. Can I Catch it Like a Cold? is not currently part of the national Reading Well Books on Prescription reading list.)
'Information and education are power'
To anyone worried that they may be depressed, my message would be:
- Find a trusted person who has time to listen and speak to him or her openly about how you are feeling. Don't struggle alone.
- Make an appointment to see your GP or practice nurse.
- Go to your local library and look for a few books on depression. The information will help you to understand your symptoms and show that they can be managed and treated successfully.
Information and education are power - a life saver. I'm now confident that through the skills and strategies that I have learned from books in the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme I would recognise the symptoms of depression in myself and take the best steps to aid recovery.
By more people realising that it is vital to take a proactive, responsible role for maintaining their own mental, emotional and physical health, millions of pounds could be saved and suffering greatly reduced for individuals and their families. I'm living proof that you can recover from depression and keep well.
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