Cancer of the mind

I have cancer – cancer of the mind, thankfully I am currently in remission but the last episode almost cost me everything I have or hold dear.

This is not a self-help guide or a wallow in self-pity (I’m not a celebrity) it is a frank account of the last four years of my life battling against depression and it is a battle.

I realise of course that calling depression a cancer is medically incorrect (at least currently) it is both controversial and provocative, its meant to be. Mental health, despite claims to the contrary, is the poor relation of the medical profession and the NHS in particular which is already in crisis over funding.

If depression were to be redefined or reclassified as a form of cancer perhaps it would receive the attention it deserves and needs as its proliferation is of epidemic proportions.

Cancer charities are among the best supported, have the highest profile, government backing, the most media coverage and public sympathy. I therefore have no compunction for wanting to purloin some of their market share.

Mental health, by contrast, is a difficult subject, a taboo not to be raised in polite society, even impolite society! It is often hidden away, a guilty secret, a weakness, a fault. It engenders fear prejudice and hostility.

So, I’m calling it Cancer of the Mind in the hope of changing perceptions, maybe it will catch on but for now it’s just not sexy. Things are improving, it is being talked about more, it is more widely in the public domain, and it is becoming, for want of a better word acceptable.

Read next: Be Careful What You Wish For

10/04/17 Tracy J Donald



Leaves, truly piles of them, blown hither and thither by late autumn winds. Except they all end up in my garden, how is that?

Leaves, oak, sycamore and others their names I have long since forgotten. It’s time to rake, time to sweep, time to gather (in the designated plastic bin, the green one).

Leaves, the cat chases as I collect, feigning to help me and he does, in his own way, just by being there. Chubster appears, the cheeky rotund robin, a new addition this year. He swiftly darts, flying so closely by me, then poses on the fence, the rim of a pot, under the shrubs, at the foot of a tree, gobbling up the grubs I disturb in my wake, sweetly chirping his appreciation.

Leaves, why do I enjoy this seasonal activity so? It’s hard laborious graft, it goes on for weeks, as soon as one load is cleared, the trees shed more. This garden chore is just ‘housework’ outdoors after all.

Leaves, this time of year my mind eases, this time of year I relish the task, this time of year I feel alive again as this time of year my depression truly – Leaves.

TJD – autumn ’17


Conkers are spent

I’m on the rise

Clocks turning back

Time to be wise


Stock up for the winter

Odd jobs to be done

Dig out your woollies

For late winter sun


The heating is up

Switch on the lights

Fireworks crackle

Halloween frights


Night’s draw in

But please don’t weep

For seasonal cheer

We’ll always Keep




I HATE CONKERS! They are beautiful little wonders of nature, perfectly formed orbs of a deep and shiny chestnut brown with a buff hat on top. They glint in the late autumnal sun once released from their protective hedgehog spiked shells. They look as if they have been individually French polished by hand.

I am transported back to school days when risks were still permissible and we pitted our champions against each other suspended on string until the winner, with nut intact, celebrated victory and our knuckles were red and sore.

Then there were cold winters on Oxford Street with the aroma of roasting brown shells emanating from glowing braziers cutting through the exhaust fumes with scorching hot produce for sale in tiny white bags for a few pence.

Why, you may wonder, did I shout those first three words when I have waxed lyrical about them with descriptions seemingly more akin to love? The answer is mental illness. For the last six Septembers I have pounded the local park in a bid to find some solace and relief from the dark depression that has plagued me since 2012.

What do I find there? Conkers, copious amounts of them, in various states, strewn across the pathways, on the grass and beneath the horse chestnut trees from which they fall. Small, poignant reminders of my seasonal madness. Last, but not least, the word rhymes with bonkers.

Of course I don’t hate conkers, I adore them, how cruel is the mind to form this new terrible association and spoil my pleasure of a thing as sweet as a nut.

What is One to DO?

Everyone is different and I think that is one of the reasons that treatment options are so poor. The medical profession is still in the dark ages when it comes to the mind and it is this difference, this individuality that is the cause of the problem.

You may be offered ‘the usual suspects’ of bland advice if you speak to someone about it, healthy diet, work, relaxation, yoga, exercise, sleep, getting out more, mindfulness, meeting people, doing things you enjoy *yawn* Sorry but the situation is ‘Catch 22’. When you most need to heed this kind of advice, this is precisely when you are least able to do so.

The mind is cruel, Woody Allen once said the brain was his second favourite organ, being a woman, I put it first but it is both a blessing and a curse. Because the mind controls everything we do, when it goes wrong so can everything else.

Things have improved and are improving all the time but there are currently only two options for treatment, drugs and therapy but what if they don’t work? You are stuck. Even if they do help, the process of obtaining them is brutal, it is time consuming, expensive (both emotionally and financially), frustrating, disheartening and often feels damned near impossible. Unfortunately for many people it is too much and, like other cancers, they don’t survive.




Be Careful What You Wish For

With increased awareness and publicity surrounding mental health therein lies a danger, it becomes a trend, a badge of honour with everyone (I mean the famous or well-connected who have access to mass publicity) jumping on the band wagon. And it always seems to be Mental Health Awareness year/month/week/day/hour with some heavy weight protagonists.

To name a few; Jeremy Paxman, Tyson Fury, Alistair Campbell, Damon Hill, Will Young, Cara Delevingne, Justin Bieber, Colin Farrell, Winona Ryder, Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christina Ricci, Ellie Goulding, Glenn Close, it has even had the Royal seal of approval and I don’t mean the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Prince Harry with the ‘Heads Together’ campaign, I mean LADY GAGA!

I could go on (and sometimes I do) but this ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ style of publicity is not always helpful.  They say all publicity is good publicity but I beg to differ, it can be counterproductive when it falls out of fashion, it is forgotten about when the next fad comes along to hog the limelight in its stead leaving sufferers who thought they would be understood and get help well and truly stranded.



27/04/2017 Cancer of the mind

Three Survival Elements

What does one need in order to survive? Basically it’s SUPPORT. I am fortunate enough to work in a university, all be it as a lowly administrator however I have access to a wealth of knowledge and expertise. I work in the department of Design Engineering and Mathematics (DEM, yes I work for dem ha ha). I am particularly close with the Maths team despite being spectacular bad at the subject (grade 5 CSE at school).

You need three elements (E) to survive; doing (D), being (B) and having (H). With the help of many learned maths professors I have calculated precisely how much support you need to survive depression with the following formula –

E = D + B + C

Here is the calculation for the value of E



Ok, I’m sorry there is no magic formula but I will take each of the three elements and share my experiences of them with you. It is a bumpy ride much like a roller coaster, I am not cured, as indicated earlier I’m in remission at present and by imparting my adventures, I do hope to highlight the pitfalls and explain how I overcame them.