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Column: Why are so many people dismayed by honesty, and so few by pretence?

After I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I was shocked by how many friends challenged my need to be open and honest about it, writes Patricia Tsouros.

Patricia Tsouros

THE GREATEST RESPECT we can offer to John Murray, Conor Cusack, Marian Keys, Adam Clayton – and many more courageous public figures talking about their struggle with depression – is to start thinking differently and behaving differently about mental health.

I know what its like to feel anxiety to the point where I cannot breathe. I don’t suffer from depression, I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress; but just like depression it impacts on every aspect of my life.

My illness evolved from a personal circumstance, from which at first I had a mental breakdown, and was ultimately diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I lived a wonderful privileged life, loved my family, friends and dogs. I would wake up every day feeling confident, happy, chilled and just enjoying the day that was in it. I always worked and played hard with my husband and friends. Then, one day, my life was turned on its head and now I don’t know what peace of mind is.

PTSD has redefined my life

Post Traumatic Stress, the killer of joy, has redefined my life and that of my husband and family. Most of our friends have distanced themselves from not just me, but my husband. To be fair, while I had normally been very social, I stopped wanting to be with anyone but my husband or a couple of very close friends. I often felt disoriented, forgetting where, or who, I was. I would panic on certain roads walking to work and was not able to talk on the phone.

I was admitted to St Edmundsbury Hospital last New Year’s Eve for my safety, I had taken an overdose on a couple of occasions and the danger was the next time I would not be so lucky. I lay in the bed on New Year’s Eve and did not understand how I had gotten there. I am very lucky that I was in a position to access top psychiatric and psychotherapeutic support, without which I know I would not be here today. They guided me to the light at the end of the dark tunnel with care, patience, understanding and mostly no judgement.

At least I understand where my illness comes from, and that there is a process I have to go through to recover. I also know that I will recover. In the most extraordinary way, I was relieved when I was told I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and not depression. Depression can just arrive into your life one day, but at least in my case it relates to an identifiable circumstance in my life.

Friends questioned my need to be open

My way of coping was to be honest and open about my state of mind and life. I expressed my distress, fear, and desolation in poetry. Poetry continues to play a very important part in my recovery. The extraordinary aspect to this was how many friends questioned and challenged my need to be open and honest about my life – they believed I should keep it private.

I am in my early 50s and had never suffered from any mental health illness before in my life; it could happen to any one of those people who place a stigma on mental health. It’s daunting how many people are dismayed by honesty and how few by pretence. And this is the stigma we need to break down, the secrecy behind mental health.

Finally, I went to an extraordinary wellness workshop run by Suicide or Survive and heard the ancient Cherokee Indian story of the Wolf of Hope and the Wolf of Despair. It says that, if each day you feed your ‘wolf of hope’ then you can have a peaceful quality of life you want – but it’s tough as the ‘wolf of despair’ is always there waiting in the shadows, where the negative thoughts feed it and it gets fatter and fatter.

This is the way Caroline, the founder of Suicide or Survive, told her story and it resonated with me so strongly. As you continue to feed the wolf of despair you need to look around for your wolf of hope and pull it back in to feed. Feed it all the things that are good at that moment in your day and remember that you could feel better at any stage, so keep feeding the wolf of hope and you will make that change happen.

Patricia Tsouris is a Greek-Irish businesswoman with expertise in the emerging contemporary art market and the Co-Founder & Head of Innovation at www.artfetch.com. She is a mother, dog lover, and traveller, with a passion for photography, poetry and politics and fashion.

Suicide or Survive is an Irish charity focused on breaking down the stigmas associated with mental health issues and ensuring that those affected have access to quality recovery services that are right for the individual. Find out more at suicideorsurvive.ie.

Read: RTE presenter John Murray talks frankly about his depression

Read: “I was thinking of killing myself 24 hours a day,” – Irish personalities talk about

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Patricia Tsouros

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