Personal stories of reclaiming life from mental ill health

Andy: Living in a connected world

My headteacher calls me too emotional but I’m really not. With the boys and everything that’s sort of gone on, it really doesn’t bother me.

The first time I ever had time off, I was sharing an office. We had all the high court stuff going on, for the adoption being approved.  That was the first one in terms of… I mean I’d had depression on and off since I was a teenager, cos I used to run off and hide in the woods and do all sorts of stuff. Its been there in the background for years and years and years because I come from a family with very high expectations and things and you get compared to so and so. I didn’t fit into the  mould properly but then I went off and university was better.  It wasn’t until l….  It was just the combination of events. I’d been doing a masters degree.  Two boys in six months, both of their cases had been contested in the high court by their  birth parents about contact.   So we had all this going on and it just got… and I was organising that year trip,a residential trip for 140 kids, no it was 200 kids, and then trying to.  It was just like, but the thing was because we’d  had the adoption going and the things , with social services you could say its all school stuff, so you play the social worker and at school you could say its stuff at school but also linked to stuff with the boys.

For my current job, I put on [my application form] that I’d had depression and I’d had time out. They didn’t really get it at first but now we have this sort of, well the Head’s PA basically does all the staff support. If I’m having a down period or things aren’t going quite right, I will tell her, I will tell my line managers in both the departments I work in. So they are aware of it. My head of department he’s got more and more supportive to the point where he’s like, keeps offering. “I dont know if theres anything I can do to help…” usually there isn’t but the fact that he’s said it is … I had Thursday out before half term and on the Friday I went in. Every lesson he came in and said “I’m going to be annoying and come in every lesson to see how you are, which he did! I don’t have a problem with that.   I know why he was doing it. So its fine.

It’s quite funny actually because the school’s, what d’ya call it, the staff welfare person, sort of the first time I [blogged about my mental health]  she said,  “why would you want to do that?” Then she reread it afterwards and said, “that actually helps you doesn’t it?” I said, “yes”  because its like… I’m taking it and putting it on the blog and not that many people read it anyway but its out there and it’s ,well I’ve offloaded it.  Work don’t really read my blog. When we had the thing with my son in the summer, the big sort of stuff then, I actually sent the link to school. Because it was about, “you don’t fully appreciate what’s going on.” and it actually put them in the full picture. I didn’t get a massive response from it but I didn’t get any negative feedback. For the first time it opened their eyes to all the different things that were going on.

Whenever I do a mental health post it really hits the nail for certain people and there are some people on Twitter who come back to me saying “ Thank you for doing this because you are actually sort of speaking out. And also I thought, “right I’ve got tags for all my other things it actually makes sense if people are just looking for mental health stuff. If I tag it they can do it retrospectively at least its that aspect that people can find. I’ve stuck all the mental health bits together. It started, the word mishmash started, because I did a Teachmeet early 2012 and I like lots of different things and of course they were all teaching things. And then I suddenly thought oh I’m going to put it out there. And it went down ok , in fact the response was really good and I then just carried on using it as it just lets go of, as I said, it stops me bottling things up in the same way.

So, I mean, this [academic] term, I’ve done a stress relief and management course, that was 6 weeks.  I’m doing one to one counselling, I still take my medication. I’ve now got  Beating the Blues online which I’ve done before but I lost loads of the stuff I did for it. It’s a thing through the NHS and it’s a CBT based 8 week course where you do activities each week and you keep a record within it, and I kept sort of tracking thoughts and so on. I’ve got to restart it because In the last two weeks I’ve literally finished my 6 weeks stress relief management course. From which, one of the things was  I’ve bought myself a thought diary  and various print outs from that to start getting stuff down and write about things and let them out. Ummmm and to think, “ How might I react to that differently?”

The counselling, this time, hasn’t made as much difference. You only get four half hour sessions, which isn’t a lot, you can go back and ask for more … because I’m much more self aware than I used to be lot’s of things have come up that I’ve already thought about, or am thinking about, or am trying to do something about. It’s not anything new that I haven’t come across before. It used to be that I’d go into my box and shut the door, but I can’t do that anymore, my boxes don’t work my boxes came *mimes tumbling down.*


Twitter has become my support network that I never had in the past, the whole #BD [blackdog] thing. It started, at first, there was a lot of stuff, it’s gone down to, sort of, you know who the other people who have got depression issues are and you tend to keep an eye out for each other and send each other messages and some of that is just on Twitter and some of that is ringing each other up.  I quite often speak to Gwen’s  answer phone saying, “How are you? You’re not there as usual. Tweet me.”

I didn’t get Twitter at first. Why would I want to know about Stephen Fry etc?   I don’t want to know about Stephen Fry but  there are people who like looking for things and changing things, which is fantastic.  It’s so easy to get into [and to be global].  Back in April I ran this SOLO  global chat with Alice, who’s in Melbourne, and we had 40 teachers from UK, Australia and New Zealand all doing stuff together. I sat in the car, in a car park , outside my son’s scouts running this international chat.  People say, “You’re the SOLO expert”  I am kind of but I don’t feel like an expert, I’m interested in it and I’ve done loads of networking with it and I go and talk about it. So uh, that’s different. I’ve got interested in it and I think it’s worthwhile.

I’ll have days where I’ll do 2 or 300 tweets, because I’ve got, I’ve now developed so many links. Something goes off in Thailand or Eastern Australia or somewhere in Japan and there are 3 or 4 key people, who I will go to their TL and I will get links to local websites and I will go in and I’ll show kids local websites, flooding in Queensland. The local council website, this is what we’re doing, [1700] these are the flood warnings. I can look on Facebook, which roads are closed. The kids are like, “How do you know all this?” Oh, Twitter. You get into the, “How many tweets have you done sir? How many followers have you got?”  I’m nearing 3000 at the moment. I can’t sleep at night so I’ll join in with a chat. I’ve done chats in New Zealand, I’ve done chats in South Africa.

I can be online and I can have people to talk to 24/7. I’ve had sleep issues, for ages and we’ve had issues, because I snore quite loudly. Anne tried earplugs and  we’ve tried all sorts of things on the wrist  and nose and whatever and it didn’t solve it. So it got to the point when the eldest wasn’t here, some of it possibly linked to when he was here but he was trying to sneak out of the house, I ended up sleeping on the sofa.  In fact, only this week, he’s been in hospital now 4 months, only this week have I slept upstairs again, a little bit with Anne but also on the bunk bed where he usually is.  So for four and a half months I slept on the sofa and most of the time I’ll get reasonable chunks of sleep but the problem was I’d have to stop playing with the electronics before I went to bed because then you’d get somebody [online] saying, “I can’t sleep I’m going to say something.” Thats one of the things, I found. Its good being back with Anne because I don’t take any electronics in the room, that was always the rule up there, which was good. Down here, of course, I’ve got access to it.

J, he’s in hospital now. Hes got *to Anne* – how would we describe J’s difficulty? ADHD, AST , Asperger’s is a term that doesn’t officially exist.   The last two summers he’s been in psychosis. J + alcohol and then + cannabis = psychosis. In Summer 2012 he was down at a [residential]  hospital, so we got to see lots of the [motorway]. He went in and he did three months, three and a half months then didn’t he?  A good journey was an hour and a half and the worst one was 3 hours one way. That was a specialist facility, there are only about 100.  This is what we came across, the fact that adolescent mental health and adolescent secure units are few and far between. This year he’s in a new one, he went in June this year, he’s in one which is only a 45 min drive away. We talk to him on the phone every day and have done for four and a half months now. He’s a lot better. He’s not actually in the psychosis any more but we are now in the situation where he wants to move out of home because he feels he gets on better with us. Since Summer 2012 we’d been sort of growing apart.

There are [other siblings], we’ve always had contact, it’s one of the things we pushed for, and seen the others and they actually always get on. They [J and C] are full brothers but they were never actually together before they came here, they didn’t actually know they had a brother. That was an entertaining idea, “Right  how do you introduce to a two year old that he’s got a brother and he’s going to come and live with us?”   So we went from no children to, a two year old and, six months later, a one year old.

It’s come out gradually, we’ve been lucky having contact with the older half siblings that we get to see any patterns that are going through the birth children. Which we’ve then seen in ours but at least we’re forewarned slightly. Not that it means we can actually do much about it but at least we’ve walked into it more with open eyes than was previously.

We started adoption then we went and had treatment and it didn’t work and we had all the sort of  “once you stop trying it will work because it always happens” and “ you’re really brave to adopt”. No we’re not brave, we want to have children and this is the way we can do it. But its the sort of, now there’s this sort of, open acknowledgement of how much damage is done early on. That wasn’t… the research  wasn’t around when we adopted the boys.

There has since been a lot of stuff written about adoptive parents who suffer from depression, during the first year or couple of years after having children placed.  and it seems ridiculous because its the one thing you’ve always wanted, I mean a family and now you’ve got the family and then it makes you ill because you know.. Its a strange thing isnt it?  There’s been stuff on adoption UK about that   because I was saying to you “ Look, you know. Look, look.” You’ve suddenly  got a two year old who starts screaming and you have no idea why  and you know, you are strangers, they don’t know you, you don’t know them. It’s a completely unnatural situation. Its more difficult than people think it is.  – Anne

I was saying to Anne that I’m your first [male] volunteer.  My headteacher calls me too emotional and I’m like yeah but I’m really not and with the boys and everything thats sort of gone on, it really doesn’t bother me. I mean in some ways. I’m out there, I have a mental health issue. If you have a problem with it, talk to me about it. But it started at my last school when I found out my sort of first period of time off for mental health, I got help from the Teacher Support Agency, the original phone line thing. They were quite good.

I spent two years as a Samaritan. At the time I could do it, its when the boys were very young, before I’d had, I think I’d had one period of depression because we’d had all sorts of pressures going on. I found it put my life in perspective. You find yourself talking to people who are in a much, much worse situation. but it just got to the point where I just couldn’t fit it in, the hours and that didn’t fit into the lifestyle.  I wanted to spend time with the kids and so on. But that made me more open to talk about things and it varies, some people are very, very, don’t want to talk about it.  I’ve never been, because I’m not the pub sort because I rarely drink anyway. whereas, because of the boys’ things we’ve tended to be each others best support but that meant for years that we didn’t go out anywhere because we couldn’t  leave people, we couldn’t have  friends or a  support network to leave the boys with or the boys might just freak people out and we didn’t want to deal with the fall out. Um, there is that male thing that does seem to come through about not wanting to admit there is a problem. And I’m sort of odd in that I do, I mean, I don’t, I’ve become more and more open about it.

It [teaching]  does at times [negatively affect my mental health]  because the pressures in school… Lots of my ideas, in some ways  make me sort of senior management potential. I did it briefly, it didn’t work in my school because I was doing Assistant Headteacher, Head of Humanities, Acting Head of ICT because she was on maternity leave  and  teaching.  So I tried it then, I’ve looked at it previously in previous schools. But to be honest, I like being involved in giving ideas, I’ve always been seen as an ideas person. I love teaching.

Yes for me, [medication helps] because earlier this year I was starting to feel stressed. This is when we were having issues with J earlier in the year and I went to the GP and said, my medication isn’t enough. Because for me it feels like I have this sort of cushion, and we do dig into it.  I will go in automatic coping mode. So J runs off, I go into calling police mode and I just do it, don’t I? So thats been good for me and I’ve kept it consistent. I thought about coming off it, Robert Crampton of the Times is also on Fluoxetine, so we read the fact that he did. It’s there and and I need it. So I said, “No, its not enough and I’m not dealing with what is going on at the minute. So they doubled the dosage, one extra pill a day. So I got, the body shakes. I was literally sitting out in the garden. It was scary.  Yeah, so I took some time out for that. And then came off that and tried this sedative thing but that then gave me headaches, for seven days in a row I was having almost constant headaches. I couldn’t get rid of them. I couldn’t work either because I couldn’t look at anything and it was like “Oh if you persisted for a bit longer . It went into half term didn’t it?  I stopped it for half term so I could go back after half term and be well enough to work. “well if you kept going for another 4 weeks it might have stopped”   I was like, no chance!


Anne’s had counselling at different times, so we’ve shared. The reason it’s worked with all of the different issues with the boys have had is because we share things and we tend to,  if one is down, the other is slightly further up and that tends to balance things out.

Andy: Living in a connected world