Elizabeth Evans is a Mathematics teacher who has recently discovered a love of creative writing and the benefits of writing about her own experiences of mental health. She has experienced depression since childhood, but only faced the reality of her own condition after a recent major depressive episode.
As Head of Logistics for the Team Evans family (husband and 3 kids), Elizabeth has had to find ways to manage family life with the illness, however it chooses to manifest from day to day. Reading and writing about the condition, sharing experiences and finding coping strategies is the way she hopes to make mental health a priority for research and treatment, and help to make us a mentally stronger society.
I’ve never liked confrontation, I’m not a fighter. I wonder now if that’s why I never reached the top of my game in hockey. I’ve always loved learning sports techniques and having recently taken up cricket and learnt to bowl and bat has only confirmed that. I’m determined to do every movement the way the coaches have shown us, it’s paying some dividends (top run scorer and the only player to take a wicket in my first two matches!) but as an adult with an independent mind, it has surprised me how exact I am when trying to reproduce what I’ve been coached to do. Give me an instruction, please, I want to take it literally.
Mental ill health has been hard for me to deal with because there is no clear technique for me to follow, no route to winning. I had set myself up for a fight but was discouraged knowing I could not or would not win. I’m suffering from major depressive disorder and very occasionally I have the energy to fight it, but I never quite get the victory my fight warrants. I look back now at my hockey career, I was captain at school, I played in a local league as an adult and I just loved being out there. I loved being part of a team, I loved smacking the ball, tackling, weaving in and out at speed and making that cross across the pitch that sets up the other wing and centre to score the goal but I was never one of the best players. I could see the grit and determination on my teammates faces, I could hear their shouts as they lost themselves to the game and would watch them transform back to smiles and ‘well played’ after the whistle blew but I never felt this fight from myself. I was just so happy being part of a team with a clear directive. Now I’m in a game, a battle and it’s just me, no team and no directive.
For me a battle with an illness put me on the defensive; ‘I can’t win this fight’. How am I going to play? I can’t do this on my own, I cannot face the confrontation. When the Psychiatric Nurse suggested that I think of my illness and myself as having reached a truce, I felt immediate relief. I knew it made sense to me. He said ‘live with it’. That doesn’t mean give in to it but it means acknowledge its presence and know that it is with me but it is not beating me. He gave me an example of a patient of his who had learned to live with the voices he hears. He can hear them and know they are not real, not be frightened of them, let them pass through. We talk of mindfulness in my counselling so the concept of observe and let it pass is familiar but it seemed I hadn’t thought to take it one step further and let this pass. Stop trying to fight it. This reconciles itself better with me.
We often hear mental illness compared to physical illnesses when we are being persuaded that it’s OK to take a pill. If you had diabetes you’d take the medication the Doctor offered you, why not for mental illness? It was a taboo that we do now talk about. When I asked the Psychiatrist why I am ill he likened me to a patient with diabetes; he said ‘Who knows? It may be that you inherited it, some effect from your past life events and some from the way you live your life now.’ So we will treat it with medication just like any other illness but you will need to do your part too, you will need to manage yourself everyday and it will take a little more effort than most people some days and a lot more effort than some people on a few days. At the time I really didn’t want to hear that, I did not want to have to fight to keep my head well every day, I was just too tired.
Now, we are 3 months further on and maybe the new medication is working, maybe it’s part of my natural pattern of mood or maybe it is the extra support that I am now being given… my new team. I am living with my mental ill health every day and we are living side by side. The illness is a part of me and we can both live together, I am not fighting to win it over, I am trying to accept it as my friendly opposition and I’m aiming for me and my team to have a good match where we’ll be happy with a draw.