Sunday, 16 July 2017

Depression and Duvet Days

Last week I finally managed to meet up with friend and long term collaborator Sue. We has been trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to meet for the best part of 6 weeks, and it was so good to finally find a space to spend some quality time together. We have been writing and publishing for some 17 years, and we have relished getting our thoughts and ideas out there, editing books, writing papers, and of course presenting at conferences. It’s been great fun and I think together we have made a difference – I also like to think that we have also helped many others start their academic journey.

For some people, presenting their research, or their thoughts to a conference audience is a somewhat daunting experience. This is particularly the case for early career academics and practitioners, many of who, often feeling that nobody will be interested in hearing what it is they do in their day job. As Roy Lilly has so successfully demonstrated, so often what might be felt as being ordinary in the provision of health care can, and very often is, quite extraordinary. Whilst getting your words in print can be very satisfying, these days with more opportunities to put your thoughts out there and sometimes to a larger readership, my publication rate has slowed right down. However, I have always enjoyed the conference presentations, and Sue and I have presented over 90 conference papers between us over the last 17 years.

We both share a love of surreal images, and often our presentations contain very little words, just thought provoking images we use as cues to the paper being presented. It’s been our experience that people appear to become more engaged in what is being said, and tend to remember more of the paper than when the ubiquitous PowerPoint is used. I have never been nervous or anxious about presenting and very much enjoy being on the stage whatever the number of people in the audience, or the venue.

So I have been very surprised to have recently started to experience anxiety or panic attacks on fairly regular basis. It took me a while to recognise what these were and what was happening. I had described the feeling as being faced with utter desolation to my doctor, a feeling that happened mostly in the morning. I would wake up and everything would feel fine, I might even send out a few tweets, particularly to the #earlyrisersclub but then very soon I would be consumed a combination of physical sensations: hot flushes, sweating, pounding heart, pins and needles and psychological sensations: racing thoughts and thinking about the same situation over and over again, a sense of dread, feeling restless, and tense. In the UK 1 in 10 people will experience a panic attack, and  5% of the UK population experience anxiety attacks, and it affects twice as many women as men.

My response to these feelings and sensations was to pull the duvet over my head in an attempt to block everything out. Which of course didn’t work at all. Usually after about 10 minutes these sensations would begin to ease leaving me feeling very down and uneasy for a couple of hours. Eventually my mood would lift somewhat. It was only when I wrote the feelings and sensations down after one of these episodes that I realised it was an anxiety attack I was experiencing. There are a number of powerful stresses in my life currently, resulting as some readers might know, in a current state of depression.   

Thankfully, just as when I confirmed that diagnosis with my GP and could start to receive treatment, realising I was experiencing anxiety attacks has allowed me to start to deal with them, and begin to address the stress that lies at the root cause of the anxiety. Not bad for a Professor of mental health care. And I think there must be a paper to be written here and a conference to find where it could be presented!