Festina, Garmin, HTC Columbia, Liquigas, Sky, U.S. Postal – all names, at one time or other, of elite professional cycling teams. They are, or were, easy to spot in the peloton thanks to their matching team colours emblazoned with often garish logos of their team sponsor. Riders crossing the finishing line in first are always careful to sit up smartly on
their bike in celebration once they have crossed the line so that the cameras can capture their sponsor’s logo, and have it beamed across the globe.
Team work plays an important role in mental health recovery, too.
Recently I wrote about gathering together people who can support you in your recovery, and help when times are tough. I want to talk more about who this team might be, and what they can do to help.
In a pro cycling team individual riders have different roles. Teams have a Team Leader, and it is this rider the rest of the team exist to support. Other riders in a team will support the team leader in different ways, carrying drinks (to save him/her from carrying extra
weight, protecting their leader by allowing him/her to ride in their slip stream, and so conserve energy.
Up until now the star British rider Mark Cavendish (pictured above winning yet another stage of the Tour de France) has been supported in winning so many races by his ‘lead out man’ Mark Renshaw – himself a formidable presence in the peleton. Renshaw’s role was to position himself at the front of the peleton on races which finished in a bunch sprint (a big group of riders racing towards the finish together at high-speed) only swinging away from the front of the pack to allow Cavendish to emerge and make a furious dash for the line over the last 200 metres or so.
Riders who support a star rider through a race are known as ‘domestiques’, they are there to offer support in whatever way they can.
Regarding developing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (W.R.A.P.) it is difficult, but important, to see the person who is writing the Plan as the Team Leader, the Star of the team. I appreciate that this is a difficult thing to do, especially when it doesn’t come naturally to people who suffer from mental health problems to see themselves as someone with such an exalted status, rather we like to hide from the light. But put ourselves at the
centre of this process is what we must do if we are going to ensure that we have the right kind of support available to us when things start to go wrong.
Mary Ellen Copeland, in her book ‘The Depression Workbook; A Guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression’, suggests naming five people as key supporters
who can help you with practical and emotional support during times of crisis, as well as supporting you in keeping as well for as long as possible.
Five is a very big number for most of us, especially when we withdraw from our social networks, and shut ourselves off from the world – common symptoms of people in crisis. Who of you reading this has five friends that they can count on for this level of support?
I’m guessing not many.
What’s more, just thinking about who we can count on in times of trouble can increase feelings of isolation. The good news is that there are lots of ways that we can identify and gather supporters around us to keep us steady during good times, and support us when times are grim, and there seems like there is no way out.
So what can someone trapped in the well of loneliness do to enlist supporters to the cause of their recovery?
Ten years ago, when I was first sought help for my persistent low mood from my G.P. I gathered supporters around me in the following ways. First, I saw my G.P. frequently, Every week to begin with. My wife came with me to my second appointment (I didn’t tell her what I was going to my doctor about the first time I went). On that occasion I told my G.P. that I had all the symptoms in the book. So, my first support was my G.P. Including my wife in the process at an early stage meant that (even if I was in no state to accept her love and support,) she could begin to understand what was happening to me.
Shortly after having been prescribed antidepressants in those early weeks I saw a Psychiatrist. He was my next supporter. I clearly recall him welcoming the fact that I was sleeping for England in those early days. He also reviewed my medication, and saw me weekly, and then fortnightly. He was my third supporter.
In those days our son and daughter were at primary school. I used to do take them to school (when I was feeling up to leaving the house). My daughter’s teacher asked me if I would accompany the class on a trip to a local Stately home, as part of their topic studying The Victorians. I agreed, and spent the next three weeks growing chunky side burns, as part of the ‘look’ of a Victorian gent. On the day I dressed up in something resembling a resident of such a stately home, and so I took my first tentative steps back into the world six months after that visit to my G.P. Subsequently the teacher asked me if I would
volunteer an hour a week to listen to the children in her class reading. That was virtually the only activity outside the house that I managed for the next twelve months. I continued to listen to the children reading for the next three years. That teacher, her name is Janet Smith, was my fourth supporter. As for the children I listened to every Tuesday during term time, they were my peloton. For them, I was a figure of authority, a person of competence who would talk to them about the stories they were reading, and hear their stories, too. Nothing beats being looked up to when you are at low ebb. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all those 8,9,10 and 11 year olds who helped to pump up my tyres as I spluttered back into life during those cobblestone years.
Then there’s Depression Alliance. This kind of supporter has probably been one of the most long-standing ones for me over the years. There are several different aspects to this
kind of supporter. First, there’s theact of joining the organisation. That’s was a step towards acknowledging that my moods were problematic. It also opened the door to a community of supporters, both in person, and online. Depression Alliance offers members an online support group, which I have found tremendously supportive at
times when the outside world just felt too daunting. But for me the most effective aspect of the support that Depression Alliance has to offer is their network of Support Groups. It’s where I can be found most Wednesday evenings. Many of you reading this may feel that attending a support group is too daunting a prospect to consider, that too much will be asked of you, that it will be cliquey, that no one will understand, or you will feel too shy to join in. And anyhow, who would want to listen to me drone on in the first place?
I felt all those things, too, before I had attended a meeting.
Mental health support groups are not like Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. meetings are structured in a particular way, following a 12 Step programme; mental health support groups vary in their structure (guest speakers, themes, book reviews, sharing experiences, swapping notes) and frequency (weekly, monthly). The Depression Alliance support group that attend is weekly, and we go round the circle, ‘score’ ourselves over the past week, and share our experiences. It doesn’t cost any money,and it’s an open group. You can turn up
when you want to, there’s no need to commit to a certain number of meetings, or even to say anything. I keep going, even when my depression is under control, just to keep a check on myself, as well as offering a message of hope to fellow group members that recovery is possible, even if it seems hopeless, and unattainable.
The online support group and the one I help to facilitate are my fourth and fifth supporters. And it’s worth remembering that once you have connected with people who have had similar experiences, there’s no reason why you can’t develop personal
relationships outside of the group itself. I have established long-standing friendships with people from the online communities I have belonged to, as well as the weekly groups.
I have not mentioned family and friends since I realise that for many of us these two groups just aren’t an option. However, for some of us they are where we begin and end. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have been sustained, held, listened to, put up with, and waited for by my family, friends and colleagues for many years now.
To all of you, thank you for what you do for me, and for being the reasons I carry on.
What it is
It is nonsense
It is what
It is misfortune
nothing but pain
It is hopeless
It is what
It is laughable
It is frivolous
It is impossible
It is what it is
Erich Fried (1921 -1988)