Recognising depression - #ShareYourStoryGH

Posted on Wed, 28/04/2021


Continuing the ‘Share your story’ series aimed at increasing and encouraging the discussion of mental health within the Trust, we this week welcome senior sister Michelle Lewins.

Sharing how depression has impacted her throughout her life and led to challenging thoughts, Michelle begins: “The first time I can recall my depression, or what I now call my dark clouds was around the age of 8. Of course I didn’t know what it was then but I can distinctly recall my mam repeatedly asking me what was wrong and I didn’t have an answer. All I could say was that I just don’t feel myself.

“I remember my grandma telling my mam that she had to ‘take that bairn to the doctors’. My mam’s response echoed mine; ‘she’s okay, she just doesn’t feel herself’. Of course depression in children wasn’t recognised as it is now, and within a few weeks I was likely back to feeling myself again.”

But for Michelle, depressive episodes have never been too far away – regardless of their intensity.

“My dark clouds have come and gone over the years and have mainly been very mild. I normally feel better after a few weeks, however my worst episode of depression came in 2016 when I first got my senior sister post.

“I still refer to this as the worst year of my life. My job had always been extremely important to me and nursing was what I loved to do. Then I suddenly found myself struggling in a new role and I’d managed to alienate some of my team.

“The mild back pain I’d suffered on and off for years became crippling to the point I began experiencing tingling sensations in my neck and face. I’d smother myself in deep heat and shuffle into work physically every day, but by this point my thought processes were all out of place and I was experiencing a lot of negative thoughts, so I definitely wasn’t bringing my entire self.

“I’d be driving to and from work thinking ‘if you just crash the car you’ll be okay and you can have time off work’. I never would have actually done that, but that was how negative my mental state was at the time.”

Michelle’s mental struggles were also having an impact on her personal life too, as she explains: “At this point I was 30 years old and I wanted to start a family, but I was struggling to conceive simply because I just wasn’t mentally well.

“And despite all the signs, it still took my mentor to say ‘Michelle, do you not think you’re depressed?’ for me to realise what it was. I was devastated that I hadn’t recognised it myself. I had failed to identify some of the most classic signs of stress and depression, and all that only made me feel worse about myself.

“I took myself off to the GP and my years of dark clouds were finally diagnosed. Just after that, I broke my toe and I was forced into having time off work as a result.

“We talk about a stigma in relation to mental health but for me there was no greater stigma or pressure than that which I put on myself. For that reason, I strongly believe someone was looking out for me and made me break my toe. Without that physical issue I know I wouldn’t have phoned in sick due to my mental health – as much as I know I should have.

“Despite my dark clouds, I’ve never been medicated and I’ve never taken time off work due to my mental health. I don’t say this to discredit anyone who has, rather because this is the pressure we can often put on ourselves. Back in 2016 I know I should have been medicated, and on at least two occasions when my dark clouds have been present I know I should not have been at work.

“I’m incredibly thankful that I broke my toe back in 2016 as I felt much stronger after a few weeks off work. I wasn’t strong enough to admit that I wasn’t coping and I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t broke that toe - but it shouldn’t take something physical to give yourself the chance to rest mentally.”

While Michelle’s understanding of her own mental health has helped her to manage in more recent years, the challenges presented by the emergence of Covid did cause a major setback as she continues: “My second bad episode came in early 2020 when we were suddenly faced with a worldwide pandemic. My anxiety was through the roof.

“I was convinced I was going to bring Covid home and I was frightened to kiss my little boy goodnight. I was having conversations with my sister-in-law, ensuring that she’d promise to look after my little boy should anything happen to me and his daddy.

“Then I found out I was going to be in a Covid ward. I was unexpectedly faced with managing a team full of fear and anxiety in addition to my own personal fears. My matron asked if I wanted time off work and I honestly considered it - however I knew if I took time off I wouldn’t come back.

“In my head I kept comparing the situation to fighting in the trenches. I’d consider how I could send my team up and over that trench while I cowered away.

“In the end though, I found that because my focus switched to the team and managing their anxieties, my own dark clouds began to clear. Although I was still anxious, I was back to being able to function and I actually found some comfort in helping others through a tough period.”

If like Michelle you find solace in helping others and you work at the Trust, you might be interested in becoming a Health and Wellbeing Ambassador within your team. To learn more about becoming an ambassador, please email and ask for further information on the roles.

You can also keep up to date on more of our health and wellbeing efforts by following us on Twitter, @HWBGatesheadHe1.

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