By Elaine Jinks-Turner
Tuesday October 10th was World Mental Health Day. I’ve been trying all week to find the words for this blog post and in the end borrowed bits and pieces from a couple of earlier ones I wrote.
If you follow Baa Baa Brighouse on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or YouTube, you’ll probably be aware that we’re big supporters of crafting as a way of coping with mental health problems. We often share stories on our social media networks about the benefits knitting, crochet and other crafts can have on your personal well-being and we’re keen to see the stigma attached to mental health removed altogether.
So, I’m taking the opportunity of World Mental Health Day to once again share my story in the hope that it can help others who find themselves struggling with their own demons.
I set up Baa Baa Brighouse in 2014 following a lengthy battle with post-natal depression. A mother-of-three, I’d given birth to my daughter, Florence, in 2010 and quickly fell pregnant again with my second son, Benjamin, born in 2011. I already had an older son, Jonathan, born in 2003.
I have struggled on and off with my mental health for most of my adult life with major changes being a trigger point; a difficult relationship resulted in a failed suicide attempt and a spell in hospital, a permanent move away from family and friends brought out the worst of an eating disorder that I had previously had under control, the inability to conceive my second child led to a round of fertility medication and the onset of a deep depression.
Looking back, it is only with hindsight, that I see my depression most probably took hold as early as 2008 when desperate for a second child, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and I was told that I only had a 30% chance of conceiving, even with the help of fertility drugs.
This is coupled with an eye condition that I’ve had since birth: rotary nystagmus, leading to me being registered as partially sighted shortly after Benjamin was born and bringing with it a whole host of other anxieties.
For the most part, I coped by throwing myself into my work as a journalist for a local newspaper and telling myself that I was ‘fine’. But after taking voluntary redundancy from my post as a court reporter in 2012, the depression and anxiety that had been bubbling away in the background came to a head.
My moods went up and down in the extreme, I was irrational, angry, acted totally out of character, became detached, distant, disinterested in everything – even my children. Often it was a struggle just to get out of bed and sometimes days would go by where I wouldn’t. This went on for months. I had cut myself off from friends and family and wouldn’t open up to anyone because I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I couldn’t be there for my children. Ashamed that others would see me as self-absorbed. Ashamed that I was a bad person and a bad parent.
Contemplating how to end it all on almost a daily basis, I eventually admitted to myself and later my doctor, that something was seriously wrong. Breaking down in tears and asking for help in the doctor’s surgery was the first step. After suffering a terrible reaction to Citalopram, which resulted in another hospital visit, I was prescribed Fluoxetine by my doctor who was nothing but understanding, sympathetic, patient and most importantly non-judgemental.
Once the medication kicked in, I looked for other coping strategies and found the most effective one in knitting. I’d always been keen on crafts but never really had the time or motivation until then. I had learned to knit as a child and when I picked up my needles it was like riding a bike or learning to swim – it was one of those skills you never forget.
My enthusiasm led to the formation of a regular Knit and Natter Group at Rastrick Library, Brighouse, followed by a second group at LoveBread Bakery in the town. From this, Baa Baa Brighouse developed.
The people who frequent the groups all come with their own baggage, their own problems, their own mental health issues; whether it is suffering a bereavement, coping with an on-going physical or mental illness or beating breast cancer. Members are all survivors in their own way and through their love of knitting, crocheting and crafting, help to support each other.
Five years on since my initial diagnosis, I have accepted that depression and anxiety are and always will be a part of life, for me at least. I know I will never be free of them and I still have episodes from time to time when it all just gets too much.
This year has been particularly difficult in fighting and failing in claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP). For years, I had struggled to understand rotary nystagmus myself and how it affected me on a day to day basis, very little being known about the condition. But just as it felt as though I was beginning to come to terms with it, my Disability Living Allowance was stopped and following an interview for PIP, in what I can only describe as one of the most humiliating experiences I have ever had, my depression flared again.
I try to remind myself that there are hundreds of people in worse circumstances than me and whilst I still struggle, extreme episodes are less frequent and more manageable because of medication and because of knitting and Baa Baa Brighouse.