Bet you weren’t expecting that!
Yep, I have Mental Health problems. Scary stuff. In honour of #WorldMentalHealthDay I thought it would be fitting to share with you my story. As those of you who’ve followed my blog from the start know, I’ve been meaning to write this post for nearly three months. Most of what I’ve written was actually typed up months ago, I’ve just pulled back from posting on so many occasions. It’s really brutally difficult to bear your soul online, believe me, and many of you will probably wonder why I’m about to. But I wrote this post in the hope that it would help those who are too embarrassed, scared or self-conscious feel as though they have a voice.
I know for a fact I’m not a ‘usual suspect’ when it comes to the disease known as Depression. I’m a natural born extrovert; confident, loud and vivacious. I take risks, wear my heart on my sleeve, feel comfortable in my own skin and live a life full of crazy moments and adventure. You won’t find me nose deep in a library, or struggling through social isolation, or finding it difficult to make friends.
But this is why I felt now, more than ever, that it was important for me to sit here and write this. I’m here to brush away misconceptions, to educate those who don’t know the truth about poor Mental Health, and to help people going forwards to re-define Depression and Anxiety. We aren’t all the same. we aren’t all suicidal. we aren’t all social misfits, losers and rejects. We’re all different kinds of people; financially stable, good looking, loud, funny, charismatic, goofy, intelligent, creative. Mental Illness hold no prisoners and doesn’t offer a definitive textbook guide on ‘”What Does a Depressed Person Look Like?”
I’m here to share my journey and experience, talk you through what Depression can ACTUALLY look like, break down a few barriers and misconceptions about Mental Illness and hopefully bring some reassurance and clarity to you all; either on how to help someone who you know struggles with poor Mental Health, or how you can combat your own personal Mental Health issues. I might even write another blog post about methods and techniques that have helped to fight my Depression and Anxiety and have calmed me down in really difficult situations. Let me know if you’d like me to post that too.
So on to Mental Illness. I personally think there’s still a massive stigma attached to people with Mental Health issues, especially ‘pretty girls’ with seemingly ‘everything going for them’ (the line I hear ALL the time about girls like myself opening up about Mental Health on Social Media). Let me just remind you that there are a number of different forms of Mental illness, from Bipolar Disorder to Schizophrenia, to Anorexia, to Self Harm. I do count myself lucky that my problems are very insignificant and manageable in comparison to others in the grand scheme of things.
However, I always think that if I turned around and said ‘I have a broken leg’ people would sympathise, tell me to get well soon, ask me about my treatment, go out of their way to help. Because we all know a broken leg is bad. It’s sore, it’s inconvenient and I’m probably struggling to go about my everyday life dealing with it. But so is poor Mental Health. However many people still don’t see it like that. It’s like people think you’ve opted in to have it. Like you’re just a bit of a morbid person. Like you chose it as a form of attention seeking. Or they think you’re the complete opposite. Damaged goods. A fucking unstable nutter. Is she going to cry? Is she going to stab me in the neck with her steak knife at dinner? Should I be asking the waiter for plastic cutlery? I joke, but seriously. It’s not fucking easy to talk about.
If I sat here and introduced myself as someone who suffers with Depression and Anxiety, I know a lot of people would roll their eyes. Hence why, up until now, it’s not really a topic I’ve felt comfortable talking about. Both terms are definitely used wrongly on a daily basis, and if I’m being truthful, quite often even I sit here and think ‘do you REALLY though??’ When people spew it all over Social Media saying they’re ‘literally so anxious right now’ I do sit there and despair a little, but hey, live and let live. I can almost guarantee that the majority of the population do in fact sit on what I imagine to be a Mental Health ‘spectrum’, however what isn’t necessarily beneficial is the glamourising of Mental Illness.
This is why I’m writing this post now, as I’d like to articulate myself properly and educate people about what Depression and Anxiety looks like, and hopefully normalise it much more. Break down the taboo of talking about Mental Health and create an environment where people feel comfortable admitting their weaknesses to themselves.
I think the real issue here ties back to my Judgement on Social Media post (read here). In society now it’s perceived that everyone has it better than you. I know for a fact people look at me and aspire to have aspects of my life, just as I do to others. I know I’m attractive. I know I have a nice figure. I know I have an affluent lifestyle and luxury possessions. I do seemingly have it all. So I’m sure you think I’m pretty selfish for saying that a lot of the time none of it matters. I know everyone’s natural reaction when someone like me mentions Depression is “What do YOU have to be depressed about?!” You may think I appear ungrateful with what I’m saying, but unfortunately I could genuinely wake up a billionaire tomorrow and still my mind cannot alter in to a positive mindset. It’s the same with post natal depression, and I relate to those women so closely. They’ve just been delivered an actual miracle; a moving, breathing, cooing mirror of themselves. A tiny innocent life; half them, half their partner has just been born in to the world against all odds. And yet their own mind is attacking them and sucking the happiness out of their world like a black hole. Tell me then that it’s all over reacting.
On to me. Let me first outline to you that I suffer with both Depression and Anxiety and have done consistently since the age of 17, so this is no new thing for me. I’m definitely not riding any ‘trend’ or trying to glamorise my issues, as it’s something I’ve barely disclosed to my closest friends or relatives. I have been, and still am, medicated for both illnesses and have also attended therapy on two separate occasions, the longest of which was 12 weeks. Again, I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you. I would personally say I struggle far more with my Depression than my Anxiety, but both trigger completely different reactions in my body and are very very different. For those of you that aren’t really aware of the difference, here are the Dictionary definitions of both.
“Feelings of severe despondency and dejection.”
(This is what Depression looks like for me, so please understand that this isn’t how every person with Depression will feel. It is a completely individual illness with personal symptoms and triggers that differ from person to person)
My experience with suffering from Depression is that we feel like an annoyance. We are often a very over analytical set of people, reading into every aspect of a conversation and therefore often feeling like an inconvenience to our friends if we try to say how we feel. Getting short or generic replies can make us feel even more isolated. There’s an enormous stigma with depression that we are completely miserable, erratic, crazy, vulnerable, suicidal or self pitying. This is not true. Sometimes people suffering with depression can appear wildly happy, full of life and vigour and fun. But that is often a temporary feeling. The real root of depression is the parallel to this. After surging highs come enormous lows. Being alone can seem frighteningly bleak. Just as we can so easily be all happy, we can be all sad. Darkness can creep in and simply suffocate all the endorphins in the brain.
You can feel the happiness leak out of you like a cracked pipe and there’s no way to fix it. You feel alone in your own mind with no distraction or advice. You feel as though you’ve had a personality transplant. One day you’re brimming with passion and enthusiasm, whether it’s for music or art or fashion or food. And the day after it feels as though you’ve simply had that surgically removed. You remembered it being there, but can’t remember what it feels like or how to re-awaken that feeling.
It’s so deflating because that in turn makes you feel as though you have nothing to offer the world, and therefore are further than ever from reaching your dreams, goals and aspirations. Happiness comes in short sharp bursts, but surrounding it is an abyss of emptiness. You are dangerously reliant on the input of other people in your life, that as soon as they’re no longer there, even if it’s because they’re just busy, you feel totally alone. Your mind also has a funny way of taunting you. It turns your friends and loved ones against you. On a bad day, if I get left on ‘Read’ on WhatsApp when I’m having a bout, my mind will literally run away with itself. They hate you. They think you’re annoying. They have better things to be doing. Things haven’t been right for a while. Maybe they’ve got a separate group chat. Maybe they’re talking about you in it. Maybe Maybe Maybe. You literally DELUDE yourself to a point of no return, poisoning your own brain. It’s so important to get it under control.
Why do you think rich people kill themselves? Why do you think attractive people kill themselves? Because it’s a disease that warps your perception of happiness. It takes no prisoners. It doesn’t care who you are or the hand you’ve been dealt in life. You get told ‘Oh, just be positive, it could be worse’ but what do you do when you forget positive? What is positive? How can you force it when your body is actually consuming every part of it in abundance and replacing it with anything from self-doubt, to emptiness, to full blown misery.
Depression isn’t always a case of a person waking up and feeling as though their life is no longer worth living or that death is the only option. It’s a feeling as though the best years are behind you. The closest thing I can liken it to that people without depression suffer is that feeling you get when you return home from an amazing trip and step back in to reality. But harder. You feel as though everything you’ve ever enjoyed is now in the past and that there is nothing left to look forward to. The most difficult thing is, I can often wake up for weeks on end feeling glorious, feeling like I’ve been over-reacting about my ‘Depression’ the whole time. And then it hits me like a train all over again and I have to re-acknowledge the fact that I really am victim to this disease. People need to understand that Depression can lie dormant for weeks, months, even years.
“A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”
(Again, this is just my notion and experience with anxiety and is different from person to person)
Think back to a time you were at your most physically scared. When you hear a loud noise in the middle of the night, or see someone following you closely as you walk home alone in the dark. That’s the physical impact anxiety has on the body, however the triggers aren’t in ‘fight or flight’ instances, but in everyday life. I know people who suffer from anxiety in every situation from social gatherings or public speaking down to hearing a certain word or song. “Well just don’t do those things then” I hear you say.
Those that suffer with anxiety can’t unfortunately turn these things off. Some people have no triggers at all; an anxiety attack will just hit them for absolutely no reason, completely out of the blue. We often suffer with conpulsions; meaning our brains actually work against us and force us to think of our triggers to a point where our bodies go into shock and we have an overpowering physical reaction. This comes in the form of an anxiety (or panic) attack.
For me, this feels like a suffocating tightness in my chest, as though somebody is trying to crush my ribcage. I also get a sharp shortness of breath and waves of temperature through the bloodstream. I can literally feel my blood run cold from my face down. The hairs on my arms and neck also stand on end and my heartbeat races in my ears; it’s as though the sound of a banging drum is reverberating through my brain. My pupils dilate, I get really clammy and also feel faint or nauseous to a point where I convulse. It can get to the point when I do throw up. My hands tap frantically and my muscles contract and tense up so I physically cannot relax. The most common times for this are either the middle of the night, when I wake up in a pool of sweat, or when I drive alone at night. It gets to a point where it keeps me up at night with attack after attack. The only thing I can liken it to is being dropped in to a War Zone. Your body just swells with anxious energy to a point it just overflows. Your mind runs on autopilot whilst your body gets fully absorbed by genuine physical fear, responding to it in the most basic, animalistic way possible.
It’s really hard to explain, because sometimes anxiety attacks can be strictly mental, where you just feel overwhelmingly sensitive, vulnerable and nervous, but for me I find anxiety features more predominantly in a physical sense.
So about me. My anxiety stems predominantly from a phobia of Death, which I will talk more about in a minute. I find now that my anxiety attacks are rarer, however when I am forced to handle significant life changes, such as moving out or getting a job, I do sometimes get hit with anxiety. Also, my medication, which I will also talk about in more detail shortly, gave me severe attacks, and is something I no longer take for those reasons.
On to Depression. I have suffered with Depression noticeably since the age of 17. I’d just started college and broken up with a guy I really liked. I was forced in to new friendships with people I didn’t really connect with. Everything felt superficial, I hated my courses, my best friend was on the opposite side of the year (so no time could be spent together) and I was having a hard time. It sounds so minor, but for a 17 year old, I thought I’d been extremely brave to go to a college where I knew nobody. I saw it as a way of challenging myself, but the consequences of this really overwhelmed me.
There were days I couldn’t even get out of bed. My chest was heavy. I lost weight rapidly. I stopped going to lessons. I could go from laughing to crying in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happiness again. I went to a counsellor briefly which didn’t really help me achieve much at the time. In honesty, my mum was my rock and still is to this day. I remember she’d drive to college on my lunch break and we’d have a picnic on the back seats sat in the car park. It makes me want to cry thinking back because I’m just so lucky to have her. Over the space of around 6 months, I gradually came to terms with how I felt, I got more comfortable within my courses and I made stronger friendships. The symptoms did subside and I felt a lot more level and comfortable for some time. Back then, I thought I was just having ‘a rough time’ but I do identify this as my first real encounter with Depression looking back.
It wasn’t until I had a really serious car accident a few years ago that the cracks began to reappear and my Illnesses began to take over again. I was lucky to walk out of a life changing car accident on the motorway. I was told time and time again, by paramedics, police and nurses that I was lucky to be alive, bar a few burns and cuts. I laughed it off, however their expressions proved they meant it. The grave look of the paramedic and the tearful face of the girl that pulled over to help me resonated in my mind and has never really left me.
I should’ve died. And with that thought, the floodgates opened and all my anxious fears and depressive tendencies encroached again. I felt like I was living on borrowed time. I imagined every eventuality of that day to a point I was making myself physically sick. I didn’t have the mental capacity to process how I was feeling and was constantly haunted by my crippling fear of death and the passage of time. It seems so dramatic and eye-rollingly cringe to write it down now but it was getting to a point where I was getting OCD; becoming fixated with imagining myself dying hundreds of times per day and the finality and inevitability of death. I physically couldn’t stop myself, it was such a massive internal battle.
Eventually I found the courage to tell my mum. I just broke and in tears I told her all the grim details of how I felt and what I’d mentally pictured. I could see how hard it was for her to hear that I was going through so much when, on the surface, I seemed so happy and chirpy and loud. Within days I was prescribed both Diazepam (for Depression) and Citalopram (for Anxiety).
I decided that, paired with medication, I would attend talk-through therapy with a family friend who was a councillor. She was without doubt the single biggest help for my Mental Health and helped me see clarity. Her method was to ask gentle questions and let me talk through how I felt, with her prompting me to delve deeper as we went. The concept of counselling feels very sterile and emotionless, but Rachel came to my home, sat with me privately and injected positivity in to my life for an hour a week, for 3 months. This process transformed my mindset slowly from extremely pessimistic to optimistic for what the future held. I can’t recommend talk through therapy enough, I regard her as one of my genuine saviours when it comes to my Mental Health. I do still have a phobia of death, however it’s much more manageable. I have more control over my own thoughts and choose to avoid situations in which the topic of death runs deeply.
Let me jump to the most recent times. So recently, after a number of really challenging setbacks in my personal life, I’ve felt like the symptoms of Depression creep back. Without a job I’ve felt rudderless, with no real sense of determination or direction. I found myself feeling childish and self-pitying and ridiculous when in actual fact I was back again, fighting the most stubborn disease imaginable and it’s one I couldn’t even see. I hated myself for being so pathetic which in so doing, made things even worse. My mind was back to feeling bleak. I was sapped of happiness, creativity and motivation. I couldn’t actually think straight or make rational decisions. I was constantly thinking of the future and feeling fearful of change. I pushed it to the back of my mind and naively assumed that I could talk myself out of it, even after having suffered with it before.
Simply imagine waking up tomorrow and not feeling anything. At all. The more you think about that prospect, the sadder it gets. The world is void of emotion. It’s just countless instances that build your day, coming and going with no sequence or purpose at all. That’s how I, felt most mornings. It’s been tough to manage, tough to describe, and even tougher to cure.
After realising that it wasn’t simply going to go away, I went back to my doctor 4 months ago and after talking through what was going on again, I was re-prescribed Citalopram 20mg and Diazepam 2mg. As I mentioned before, I’ve previously been on both medications and at the time, they helped me. Citalopram is a tablet to be taken daily to ease my depressive tendencies and level out the fluctuation in my moods, and then Diazepam is a tablet for significant instances when my anxiety triggers and I start to really panic.
Being as candid as possible, Citalopram made everything significantly worse. I had the most resounding panic attack of my life after taking it again; something I didn’t have any issues with the first time around. I was instructed by my doctor after enduring a week of hellish attacks to begin taking half doses. Again, the panic attacks didn’t subside at all. I’ve therefore chosen this past week to stop taking Citalopram after seeing no symptoms subside and am going to explore more natural remedies. This is why I would caution people on automatically taking the medicated route, as you often feel far worse before the medication eventually begins to make you feel better, if at all.
However, I’m trying to remain positive about everything. I’ve been recommended a tonne of herbal or over-the-counter remedies by a few people, such as 5HTP (I’m yet to try so can’t make any recommendations) and have developed my own coping mechanisms for dealing with my Depression and Anxiety, which I’d be happy to do a separate post on.
My best advice in helping someone with depression is similar to what everyone says, but the detail and importance of it is what’s missing from generic Mental Health posts. You must persist in helping someone with Mental Health issues. Really ask every question you have, engage your brain, mull over and reflect on their answers and keep injecting positivity. As kind as it is, being a shoulder to cry on and repeating ‘everything will be okay’ isn’t that helpful. Ask poignant questions, make an effort with them and make them feel valuable and important. Give them answers or perspectives that cannot be copied and pasted from Mental Health websites or books. BE A FUCKING GOOD FRIEND. I’ve been lucky enough to have an incredible support network around me fro close friends & family.
But if it gets too much, simply try to be a positive influence and go gently. Sometimes all you need is a strong positive energy near you to help ease the pressure and change your mindset. Distract them. Don’t let them dwell for too long. Make a personal effort to help. Recommend good books, meditation apps, go on a walk, take them to a gym class. It will be appreciated more than you will ever know.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ll probably have to manage my illness for the rest of my life. There’s no straight up cure right now; it’s about discovering coping mechanisms, both through medication, therapy and learning your own body.
I want you all to know that I feel so much better in myself recently as well. I know for a fact some of my closest friends will be out there reading this with a look of horror on their faces because genuinely, nobody really has any idea about this. But I’m good. I’m still me. It’s sometimes hard to find yourself and really keep ahold of the characteristics that positively define you when you’re struggling with Mental Illness, but I want everyone who’s read this ’til the end to know that, amidst absolute chaos in my personal life, I feel really content, happy and optimistic for the future. Depression and Anxiety can seem scary, and I’ve not exactly made them sound great above, but they’re completely and utterly normal. If I, the girl with a load of followers, the girl that gets sent free shit an lives a glamorous life, the girl that looks like she’s got her shit well and truly together can suffer with it, then it’s completely normal for you to struggle with it too.
Embrace the fact that times may not be great and please understand that things ALWAYS improve and that there is a way out and a destination at the end of your journey, no matter how horrific. Life isn’t made to be easy, but it’s definitely a rewarding process to watch yourself grow and transition into a stronger version of yourself.
If you relate to this, I hope I’ve helped you, no matter how small. And if you don’t, I hope you at least feel more educated about why #WorldMentalHealthDay holds such significance to some of us out there. I think it’s vital that Mental Illness becomes a topic that people can comfortably and openly discuss, without over-dramatising. It’s vastly important that we acknowledge the importance of mental balance and wellbeing. I can’t emphasise enough how taking care of this first, before anything else, will help you to lead a happier and more contented life. Please, please, if you need someone to talk to, please contact me. I want to break down the barriers around Mental Health as much as possible and am here to confide in.
As I said, I’m happy to follow this post with my methods, tips and tricks on how I genuinely help to soothe my depressive and anxious tendencies and live a more consistently happy and relaxed life. Let me know if you’d like to see it as I’d love to inject a little more positivity next time!
As usual, thanks for reading my incredibly personal post, I hope you take something away from it.
Loads and loads and LOADS of love and positive vibes.