Caroline Verdon: Mental illness is malicious, it turns your brain against you

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A year ago today, a friend of mine from school died from suicide.

We hadn’t been close for a long time but the shortening of her life because of mental health problems affected me deeply. We met in school but it was when we went to college that we became good friends. We hung out together during free periods, went shopping together on our lunch breaks and went out dancing and drinking every weekend. Hers was always a JD and coke.

We’d been close for two years before I knew she had mental health problems. She didn’t talk to me or to the other girls in our friendship group about how she was feeling. Instead, one lunchtime as we sat our A Levels, she came up to me in the library, wished me luck for my next exam, told me she knew I’d do brilliantly and that I should never doubt myself and then headed to the toilets. It was there that she took her first overdose. Up until that point, I’d had absolutely no idea anything was wrong, let alone that she was ill enough for her brain to make her think ending her life was the best solution.

She got help and to a large extent got better. She went off to uni but still had to fight her demons and sometimes would need to become an inpatient when things got really tough but she won her battles every single day. We stayed close until new jobs took us to opposite ends of the country and eventually we both found serious boyfriends who later became our husbands and we drifted apart. It wasn’t a “conscious uncoupling” (to use the words of Gwenyth Paltrow), it was slow and it happened over many years without me really realising.

News of her death left me cold. I’d not seen her in years. I should have done more to stay in contact. I dug out her online blog. She used to write one years ago and it turned out she still did although reading it was nothing short of harrowing. She clearly hadn’t been well for a long time. She wrote about feeling like a failure, about the silence and the loneliness and about how she didn’t feel anyone would be able to help her. It crushed me.

The person I knew had a family who loved her unwaveringly - a mother and siblings who would do anything to help her. You see, she had something about her that made you want to be her friend– she loved laughing and being silly and was like a magpie when it came to anything that sparkled. She was also incredibly kind and was the person you’d turn to to talk things through with if you needed help. Had things really changed that much? Did she stop being that person? Her Facebook account suggested not.

Photos showed she had lots of people in her life who loved and cared for her – not least her husband and two young children. How cruel was her brain to make her think otherwise? Merciless in its plight to make her believe she was nothing, when in fact to so many people she was everything.

This is what mental illness can do. It turns your own brain against you. It robs you of your real inner monologue and replaces it with poisonous thoughts that steal your happiness. It’s malicious.

News out this week stated that almost one in four have to wait three or more months to see a mental health specialist. It’s too long. The nature of mental health seems to be that by the time you’ve realised you need help, you really could’ve done with that help having already started. Having to wait three months is a long time – and that’s if it is even just three months. After my friend died, I took stock of my own mental health. I’ve written before about how I have treatment from time to time, just to make sure I stay stable. A year on and they’ve only just found a therapy space for me.

I don’t know what the solution is. It’s easy to say money and training but I don’t know where that is supposed to come from. Services are stretched, money is tight and there are more people needing help than there are trained people to facilitate it. I do know that a year on from the loss of my school friend I still think about how I should have done things differently. I should have made more effort to stay in contact, I should have reached out more. It’s too late now. What I can do is make a promise to continue to speak out about mental health, to work to make it normal and to look for signs that others might be struggling.

Tonight I’ll also raise a JD and coke to a special person who will never be forgotten.

Obsession is getting out of hand

My toddler’s bottom obsession is getting a little out of hand.

The other week I told you about how we had a birthday party for him at home and I turned to some of the parents of his friends (none of whom I’d met before) and in a bid to make small talk said: “poor Arthur and his dance moves, takes after his mother”.

They looked over horrified. As I turned round I realised Arthur had stopped dancing and was instead crawling on all fours trying to sniff his friends’ bottoms.

This week his obsession continued. We were in the lounge and he said at the top of his voice: “Mummy, can you lick my bottom please”.

Shocked I asked him to repeat it thinking I’d misheard. I had not. He then went on to say: “You’re a dog mum and dogs lick bottoms”.

He’s a kid who is big into fancy dress and role play.

I explained that we didn’t lick bottoms and changed the topic. I thought I’d escaped that relatively well and was mentally high fiving myself for top notch parenting.

Then we went to our local church for a craft fair when he stood on a pew and hollered out the request again.

Luckily I managed to video it and will be playing it at his 18th birthday party as payback.

Ed Sheeran’s millions...

News out this week that Ed Sheeran took home £36 million in 2017. THIRTY SIX MILLION!

I can’t even picture that much money let alone have a clue what to do with it. It’s more money than most would earn in a lifetime.

Despite him being richer than Scrooge McDuck, Ant announced that he thought Ed wasn’t wealthy enough.

He’d done some terrible maths and figured out that during his world tour he went to at least 100 venues where there were a minimun of 30,000 people paying £50 each to see him. That’s £150 million.

Then on top of that there’s album sales and advertising revenue and merchandise – not to mention an acting appearance in Game of Thrones.

Suddenly £36 million begins to look a little low. Probably not low enough to start a Go Fund me page though.

Caroline Verdon is one half of the breakfast show at Radio Aire. You can hear Caroline and Ant between 6-10am every weekday morning.