Living in Bridport, where being eccentric is elevated to an art form, I felt perfectly at home being mad, writes Emily Pykett.
People are famously bonkers in Bridport: who else would devote an entire annual festival to the wearing of silly hats?
There was the weekly pilgrimage to the Thursday pub quiz with a colourful collection of fellow mentalists, all in varying stages of diagnoses and dosage. It was not dissimilar to a form of group therapy. We used to joke we were the sanest people in Bridport, and it might have been true.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem during the course of a year
Now, I live in Poole, where more citizens seem to have wits about them, and I feel I stick out like a sore thumb. The doctor’s signed me off for three weeks, so I can enjoy a nervous breakdown in the privacy of my own home. He’s banned me from booze, and my therapist’s on speed dial. All joking aside, it’s been a pretty grim time. Even though this is my second bout of depression, it’s still knocked me sideways. I’ve been winded, prostrate, paralysed with fear that I won’t surface.
All in my head, of course: now I’m getting up again, and, blinking, walking into the sunlight. A higher dose of Prozac has stabilised me into believing I can be a normal person again, someone who walks and talks and holds down a job and relationship, just like the rest of you. Because I’m the only one, right?
Wrong. One in four people will experience a mental health problem during the course of a year. And all of a sudden, it seems to be fashionable to be talking about it. Royalty, sporting superstars, Oscar winners are all lifting the lid on mental health issues, or sharing their personal experiences of depression.
It’s no longer a stigma, no longer taboo.
And this is incredibly helpful for sufferers of an illness that forces us into isolation as default position: hiding under a duvet, shutting ourselves off from family, friends and partners. It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful treatments are called “talking therapies”. Being able to express how utterly worthless and alone depression tricks you into feeling is the first step on the road to recovery.
It’s a long old journey: mine has taken in copious weeping, cognitive behaviour therapy, SAD lamps, emotional freedom technique, self-help books, anti-depressants, blogging and thousands of pounds spent on counselling.
Best of all though, was adopting a rescue dog. Bindy is a five-year-old of indeterminate breed and came from a charity in Norfolk that brings dogs over from Romania. I’ve had her for two years and can’t think how I would have got through each day without her nuzzling my hand, sitting with me (regardless of whether I’m laughing or crying) and dancing for joy when I walk through the door. Then of course there are the walks — she gets me out the house each day for that all-important exercise.
So — my advice to everyone else who has depression (apart from get a dog) is to talk about it. Shout it from the rooftops. Let’s not suffer in silence any more.
Where to get help — local services
Steps to Wellbeing is a free, confidential NHS service for people aged 18+ who are registered with a Dorset GP. It offers a range of treatments for people experiencing mild to moderate depression and anxiety disorders. Support is provided over the telephone, face-to-face, in groups or via their website: www.steps2wellbeing.co.uk
The West Dorset office is based in Dorchester, call 01305 367051 or 07825 657349
Bridport Community Mental Health Team is based at Bridport Community Hospital. Phone 01308 421236. For CMHTs based in other parts of Dorset, see the Dorset Mental Health Forum website: www.dorsetmentalhealthforum.org.uk
Dorset Mind runs Mind Out Dorset, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered support group that hosts monthly meetings at Safewise in Radipole Lane, Weymouth. Contact co-ordinator Mandy Nicholson on 07950 741698.
Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS): 01305 255705
Bridport Moving On Group is a social group for people who have suffered from serious long-term mental illness in the Bridport area. The group meets on a Tuesday between 10.30am-1.30pm at Bridport Youth and Community Centre in Gundry Lane. For more information, contact facilitator Jilly Jakeman on 07503 547152.
Dorset Mental Health Forum is a peer-led charity based in Dorchester that improves the lives of people affected by mental illness by promoting wellbeing and recovery. It runs courses at the Recovery Education Centre in Bournemouth to empower people to find hope, see and embrace opportunity through building skills and gain control over their mental health conditions. You can request a prospectus by calling 01202 492025.