Blog your way out of the gulf

by SandyMc · 12 comments

Sky with dark clouds reflected in water surface.We’ve spoken about your health in business, but what about your mental health? This month the Word Carnival bloggers tackle “Mental Health and Your Business.”

In our three decades of business, we’ve employed upwards of 50 people.

I used to count how many of their names ended in ‘a’, including my own. Along with other mental collections of little use, could such an interest suggest a very mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Are there variations in mental health as there are in physical health? A sniffle, a cold, a nasty cold, a shocking cold, flu, dreadful flu, flu that wipes you out, pneumonia, bronchial pneumonia and . . . you get my drift.

Shutting stuff out
If my behaviour and thought patterns are a little OCD at times, it’s understandably invisible to you. But I still have to skip lines in the pavement, jump onto the footpath at least two steps ahead of a passing car in the distance, touch wood frenetically every time I have a bad thought, and put my fingers in my ears if someone talks about plane crashes. Normal? OCD? Anxiety?

Mental health is about the functional wellness of the brain. Health is about everything else in the body, even when the brain is playing silly buggars with it. Or that is as I wish to understand it, although the terminology police might have it otherwise.

We worked for many years for a prominent mental health institution. Meetings were torturous as everyone battled to avoid what they thought was demeaning language. One word was suffering. That was a no-no of the first order.

Really? When I’m hit with a bout of depression or have a panic attack, I suffer. So do my family. Even if these moments are episodic and short lived, the impact can be ghastly.

For that time, my world is catapulted into a very dark place. Accompanied by its sister in horror, anxiety and its physical symptoms, – vice-like bands about my head, constricted throat, thrashing creatures in my stomach – there is a breathless need for escape because it feels as if there is no way out.

I have untold empathy for the people who live with these conditions permanently.

So by comparison the depression or the panic attacks I ‘suffer’ might be likened to having an illness of short duration. They are not chronic and they don’t lead to permanent damage, but they certainly render me less equipped for work then when I am well.

A friend once said a little bluntly, “you don’t have depression. If I gave you $250,000 you would cease to be depressed immediately”. It made me reflect, but not necessarily agree.

One in five
During our years in business, our many employees suffered variously from mental health issues. Two had bipolar disorder, two depression, two, and I suspect four, had severe anxiety, two mild OCD, and alongside this we saw substantial alcohol and substance abuse.

My husband coined a line about mental health: ‘One in five are affected by a mental illness; five in five can help’ which was, in our experience, true.

We made no distinction between an employee with a bout of flu or a bout of depression, as we believed it should be in all workplaces.

Cold or flu, bad mood or depression?
We did expect a little stoicism from those with a sniffle and often reflected that some would complain they had terrible flu when all it was, was just a cold. Similarly, a bad mood did not warrant the same approach as an anxiety attack.

Being aware of and recognising the symptoms of your own mental health when it’s not in top form is helpful when the condition is mild, especially for those close to you.

Clearly, if a person is very unwell mentally, they need care and treatment without any stigma just as a person with a physical illness or disease. Why I’ve often pondered, should we respond differently to a diagnosis of diabetes for example to one of bipolar disorder?

As a business owner today without employees, it is only my own mental wellness I need to attend to. Do I have a list of suggestions for you on how to do that? No. It would be arrogant to prescribe a solution for how to keep someone else’s brain well.

While I know that exercise, meditation, a good diet and sleep are useful in keeping me mentally fit, they don’t help much in the moment when my brain changes pattern, stamps on its endorphins, and renders me unwell.

Blogging helps
What I can say is that it helps me to write. I know that journaling is encouraged during some treatments for mental un-wellness, as the recuperative power of writing is well known. So perhaps we can blog our way out of the gulf. I’d like to add that to the already very long list of the benefits of blogging.

If you’d like to have a yak about just how blogging can benefit your business, come and meet me at the next Business Online and Blogging Breakthrough Meet Up or contact me here.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Hurley Hall
Twitter:
March 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for this thoughtful discussion, Sandy. I love the fact that you see mental health as another aspect of health without discrimination or stigma. And I agree. For me, writing helps – it’s a way of expressing the angst, and whether you choose to share it via a blog or keep it private via a journal, it’s worthwhile.
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SandyMc March 28, 2014 at 6:02 am

Great reminder Sharon that writing doesn’t have to be public, it is just the act of writing that is important. Maybe even hand writing. I am told that we activate a different part of the brain when we write by hand then by typing. It would be interesting to investigate that further.
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Sharon Hurley Hall
Twitter:
March 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Yes, it would, Sandy. I’ve certainly found that true of the difference between dictating an article and typing it.
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Tea Silvestre
Twitter:
March 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Wiser words were never spoken. And I LOVE your advice to write — it IS a fabulous way to process. Will remember this the next time I find myself in that dark place. Thanks, Sandy!
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SandyMc March 28, 2014 at 4:35 am

Tea, as you are such a prolific and excellent writer I can’t imagine a time when you wouldn’t write, although I find I have to use all my resilience and awareness and discipline to at first sit down and start. Once I do though, a veil seems to lift and light shines through. That is what I need to remember in future. Hope it works for you.
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Nick Armstrong
Twitter:
March 26, 2014 at 8:18 pm

A really fascinating idea there: 1 in 5 have a mental illness (which, for the sake of a really interesting coincidence: 1 in 5 is also the number of children who grow up hungry) – but 5 in 5 can help.

Empathy is a tricky skill to learn when the root cause of a symptom (disinterest, restlessness, irritability, whatever) is hidden from us. I liken the battle against depression not as a war but as a covert invasion. The folks suffering from it have very little clue as to why they’re behaving or feeling a certain way, they just are. If you could reveal the chemical ninjas slicing and dicing their brain, the problem would be a lot easier to combat. You’d still be fighting ninjas, but, sheesh.

Try to get people to understand that and it’s really tricky, they think depression, anxiety, etc – are choices or are easily cured by environmental factors (your friend who thought the money would solve all your woes). It’s pretty universally proven that money is very rarely tied to more happiness, as more money means more problems and more complex problems. So what we need instead is a framework to deal with those simple problems (and scaffolding to grow our framework to deal with the complex problems) – and teaching that is difficult indeed, even when you’re the boss.

Great post Sandy, thanks much!
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SandyMc March 28, 2014 at 4:33 am

What a turn of phrase as a description for depression Nick! “Chemical Ninjas slicing and dicing the brain.” Actually I think such evocative descriptions are awesome in terms of helping those who don’t suffer to understand what it is to suffer. So you should publicise that as I am sure that it will get cut through. Thanks Nick.
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Carol Lynn March 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

Wow, Sandy, I did not know any of this. You’re such an amazingly positive person that you have obviously figured out a way out of the gulf from time to time. I almost fell out of my chair about that comment that if someone handed you $250,000 you wouldn’t be depressed. There is a difference between a daily worry (“Will I be able to pay my mortgage?”) and feeling anxious or depressed. Money may relieve one point of worry but it is certainly not the antidote, not even to a bad mood, let alone to something deeper.

As I read these posts for this month’s carnival I’m shocked at the stigma that gets attached to mental health. You can be all manner of unhealthy – overweight, diabetic, have lung issues from smoking, you name it – and people just figure that’s part of life. But if you’re sad or worried or in a bad mental place… well, you are just wrong or making it up or reacting badly. Get over it, right? Imagine trying to get help for something like that – are you going to admit you’re mentally unwell? It’s hard enough to admit it to yourself!

Well this was a strong and brave post and I have to say I share your outlet in writing. It definitely keeps me sane.
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SandyMc March 28, 2014 at 4:30 am

Hi Carol Lynn, it’s that ‘get over it’ attitude to mental unwellness that is so damaging, isn’t it. Imagine saying that to someone recently diagnosed with cancer! The ‘put one foot in front of another’ and ‘chin up’ approach which while well meaning is also just so WIDE of the mark, when said to someone who is depressed, as to be laughable. Society at large, despite far greater awareness, still appears to stigmatise mental illness. I hope that like in all great societal shifts, we will look back on this attitude with amazement one day, the same way we can’t imagine that it was every possible to smoke on aeroplanes or cinemas!
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Nicole Fende
Twitter:
March 31, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I just can’t get past this comment someone made to you, ““you don’t have depression. If I gave you $250,000 you would cease to be depressed immediately”. Depression is NOT about money. Otherwise rich people would never commit suicide and poor people would be killing themselves all the time. That attitude is why so many people who legitimately suffer from depression are afraid to share it. Thanks for shining some light and empathy on such a difficult topic.
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SandyMc April 6, 2014 at 7:16 am

Thanks Nicole for coming by. The thing is if you haven’t suffered depression you truly cannot understand it. Those who haven’t might be forgiven for feeling that surely it can be fixed materially or by some other physical means. I think I am empathetic because I have been there, but I also understand the need to ‘FIX’ it. It is certainly true that depression is not about money, but if the remorselessness of stress at work and a lack of money is party to creating a collapse of good chemicals in someone’s brain, I suppose it is a simple enough reason to think that money would fix it, or leaving their job, or just stopping being stressed etc. Anyone ever said don’t be stressed to you when you are stressed? Just not possible!!
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