So this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, for those who don’t know go check out social media and the web. It’s a week to share and discuss issues that impact all our lives at times, even mine.
A Warning: This article deals with mental health issues and an honest look at my own experiences. While I have written it with great care, it may make uncomfortable reading for some.
Those who follow this blog or who know me will be able to tell you quite a lot about me. I am (obviously) a coffee lover, a passionate student of the world around me, I am a huge geek in my spare time, loving everything from Marvel movies and console gaming, through to heavy thought board games and tabletop rpgs.
What fewer people know about me is I also see a therapist every couple of weeks, indeed over the years I have seen several, and that I have battled my mental health issues for most of my adult life.
This isn’t exactly an accident, I have never been hugely open about my issues, tending to keep things pretty close to my chest, and selecting a small number of people with whom I share. Today I am changing the game on that one. I’ll get to the “why” later on, but right now I am throwing open the doors a little…
I’m going to talk through several of my issues, and try to keep them separated for the sake of conciseness and your sanity, of course in reality as with so many people I have to balance several of these at a time. So let’s look at my mental health a little.
Self Worth and Anxiety
Despite the outward vision you may see of me, which I confess is well practiced and crafted, I am not the world’s most confident human. In fact I have a pretty busted sense of self worth, my life experiences have left me with a deeply distorted understanding of how to value myself.
You can actually see a pretty good example on this on the main pages of this very website, you will note that when describing myself as a “coffee expert” I point out that I really don’t like the term. While this is accurate (I’m not a fan of terms like this generally) there is a deeper truth here, I dislike being referred to this way because, despite the fact that the term is used by those who know what they are talking about, I often feel the effects of “imposter syndrome” the feeling that at any point people are going to discover that I am in fact a total fraud and deride me for my lack of real skill and knowledge.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on talking through the whys and wherefores of this, for a couple of good reasons. Firstly I have no desire to have anyone who has been a part of my past feel offended or hurt by the impact that my world has had on my mind, and secondly there is not a lot of value in analysing it beyond being able to accept that it happened and that I am affected by it, both of which I have done with professional help.
Suffice to say that in my past I have worked and achieved under extreme and perhaps even excessive pressure and felt a severe lack of acknowledgement, which has taught me that I have very little value. After all if I had done anything worthwhile someone would have noticed right? Not true, but deeply ingrained in my mindset.
Instead I am going to talk about the methods and measures I have been taught to use to help me deal with this. I regularly need to seek assurance from those I love and trust, and I have learned to ask for it directly. This was not easy, it’s very simple to just say “fuck it. If they don’t say it, they can’t think it.” but this is so far from true. I have had to learn to acknowledge when I am doubting myself and to ask those who are around me for support. This has made a huge difference.
My Disability and Mental Health
Fact: Anyone who tells you that disability doesn’t equate directly to mental health has probably never had to deal with the reality of a changed body and lifestyle.
So I am assuming everyone is familiar with my particular disability, if you’re not check out this link don’t worry I’ll still be here when you come back.
My life isn’t what you would call average or honestly simple, in fact it’s pretty challenging some days. This has had quite an impact on my mental health. Story time…
Back in 2014 I was in a very different world than today. After many years of hard work my amazing wife had gained enough control of her long term illnesses that she was out of bed, out of a wheelchair and we were moving slowly toward a new stage in life. Despite a little time needed to recover my body from the rigours of long term caring for someone barely able to move, and with a lot of help from getting hard back into being pretty fit as a football coach/player (the American one, not the kicky one), I was ready to head back to full time work.
In July 2015 I had a brief moment of weirdness but all seemed ok. By November we were ready to move to York as a family and I was doing some academic admin and outreach project management for bio archeology.
Over Christmas I started to suffer fully from multiple episodes of paralysis and began to learn to live with them. It worked, for a while, the episodes seemed to find a pattern and even settle. By Christmas 2016 I was back working full time in coffee and tea sales and life was good.
But the episodes came back, with a vengeance, and my life turned into a terrifying balance of trying to work full time and push through a completely undiagnosed and bizarre illness. Despite a superbly supportive company, amazing people around me and hardworking medical professionals in august 2017 I became officially unemployed due to my illness.
I will not lie, this broke my brain. Having always been one to be doing something, indeed if at all possible many somethings and given my predisposition to self worth issues, I crashed hard. For quite some time I pretty much lived on autopilot, I still had support at home, and medical investigations, but life was about as restricted as I have ever experienced.
Looking back these were pretty dark days. I became pretty withdrawn, probably wasn’t a ton of fun to live with and really started to lose myself. My fears of becoming a largely irrelevant afterthought in a corner were becoming pretty real to me.
Now a lot of people may say that you need to remember that your health is not your fault and you are just doing what you can, and so, so many people did say that, or something remarkably similar to me, and I am grateful for the support. But the reality is that to me that was so much bullshit, worn platitudes to make me feel less of the broken wreck than everyone knew I really was.
If you are thinking this all sounds pretty grim, try living it. If you are reading this and it hits home to your own feelings and is deeply uncomfortable, please stick with me if you can, it’s not all darkness.
The Other Side
Ok so anyone who follows Bear Essentials here or on social media, and if you don’t why the hell not?! Seriously. Sort out your priorities! [Kidding of course]. Anyway if you do see our feeds you will know that life is not so grim as I just described. In fact it’s pretty good as a rule.
Bear Essentials was born in 2018 when my wife Em got fed up of me moping around and kicked my ass into doing something with my time. So I started a blog and it grew, boy did it grow see this link for more about that.
Now it’s far from a world of roses and joy, life is still challenging, indeed working through my illness is a tough prospect and the jury is out on if it can ever pay the bills, or even cover its own costs. Right now we just about keep the lights on for the site with our own money and the future is always uncertain.
If you want to help then please hit up the PayPal link on the homepage and make a regular donation, or get in touch if any of our work & services are of use to you or might be once the world resettles (I added this little adjunct as this article was published during the 2020 Covid 19 Pandemic). Anything you can do is appreciated, even if it’s just encouraging more people to read the blog and follow on social media. Feel free to share, we just ask that you tag us in your posts!
So the point of all this is that I have found a way to use working (or at least trying to) to help me manage not only my battle with my illness but also with my own mental health issues.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with your own battles, please if you take one thing away from my rambling, let it be that you can and should reach out and talk. Nothing will ever make more of a difference than the first time you feel the weight that lifts when you share and the hope that can swell when you find there may be help for you.
If you are reading and you know someone who is struggling, then reach out to them. You never know when your simple gesture can change a person’s world. Hell you may never know, even if it does. But trust me, you should try.
If you are reading this and you are in the position of making decisions for your company or business. Then I have a very special message for you. Please, please put some time and resources into making work accessible to those who struggle to do so. Yes it will be challenging to accommodate some needs. Yes it can be a bitch to navigate needs and business management. Oh and yes it can be expensive. But fuck me if it’s not worth it to help someone find a sense of self and maybe even pull them from a very deep dark hole, why the hell not? (Oh and if you want to consult us on this concept, guess what? You can. We are always open to helping where we can)
Well that’s it from me. If this article makes a difference or if you think it can. Please share far and wide, you never know who might come across it.
About Bear Essentials Coffee
If you have enjoyed this or any of my writing please check out my Homepage to find out more about me and my work. Follow the blog and if you feel you can, drop a donation to support this project.
Thanks, – Bear