I think I have suffered with depression since my teens. I say ‘think’ because sometimes it’s hard to know. Back in the 80’s they didn’t know so much about it, especially in teenagers and we certainly didn’t talk about it so freely. All I remember was that I felt fed up and sad and lost my identity a bit. I was offered counselling but apparently refused point-blank – I don’t remember this at all!
Since then I have been up and down the roller-coaster and more recently have experienced much anxiety. Having both depression and anxiety is exhausting and surprisingly, they often go together. I really struggle to rest , to even sit down. My mind rarely switches off which at times can be a bonus as I seem to get loads done! On other days however (and what I am trying to manage right now) I feel emotional and burnt out. All I want to do is sleep and I find it hard to get-up-and-go. Anywhere. Motivation is a real struggle so you end up in a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. It’s really crap.
So what have I done to manage all this crap?
I take an antidepressant (more on that in a bit) and have had counselling with CBT 3 times since my teens. For me, it has really helped me work through my feelings. Most importantly I have a better understanding of what is going on in my head; figuring out why I feel the way I do. To talk about and accept my feelings and behaviour is a huge step towards learning how to manage them. For so long I have been an ‘I can do it on my own’ kinda gal. For reasons I won’t go into here I rarely ask for help and blimey I can be stubborn! One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with about my mental health is that I can’t do it on my own. I have learnt it’s OK to ask for help and that actually this is a sign of strength, not weakness.
In some ways I am fortunate that I now know my triggers for anxiety and depression; for some there is no obvious explanation at all – that’s when talking therapies can be so useful. The books and professionals say life changing events and stress can play a part and I would certainly agree with that. There has usually been a different trigger for the return of my symptoms but through counselling we have revisited some of my childhood memories more than once. It’s pretty frustrating when events in your past rear their ugly head and bug you, but the more I work through these, the more secure I feel about myself. I often joke to my husband that he has married a ‘fruit loop’ but I know in my heart I am not going mad, I am the 1 in 4 who has a mental health issue. It can happen to anyone at anytime.
Anxiety and depression can also be really tough on the family. My husband and close family (especially my mom) who know about all this, worry about me a lot and I am very conscious about my son picking up vibes. I have to battle with myself so I don’t end up feeling guilty – another symptom of depression arghh! It’s tough on them when they want to know if I’m OK but am just not in the mood for talking or answering questions. I know I lose patience (and the less said about my moodiness the better!) but am so grateful they have learnt to take deep breaths and give me space when I need it. They are also there whenever I need them and I know I am very lucky to have such big rocks to support me.
So what about exercise and healthy eating? Before I got married and had a child I was one of ‘those‘ people. You know, the annoying ones that had to tell everyone on Facebook about what training they did that night. One of those that exercised 6 days a week and lived in lycra and trainers at home. My body was a temple and all that. So why the hell do I struggle so much now to go for a walk or a swim? Why don’t apples taste as good as biscuits?! I am very much aware through my line of work how important diet and exercise are when it comes to mental health, yet these are the last things I feel like thinking about, never mind doing.
Only very recently have I made a concerted effort to be more active and plan my eating more. If I want to be more active, I need to eat better. I know that eating better and being more active will help me feel better. It’s getting started that’s the tricky bit! So around 3 weeks ago I started with yoga and pilates. Something that is not overly demanding physically, yet gives me time out and helps with relaxation. I have had to make a real effort to go on some days but I do feel the benefit of going as soon as I get there. Funnily enough, since I started these classes I actually want to eat more nutritious food. Bonus!
Last week my medication dose was increased. I knew it was the right thing to do. I don’t plan on staying on this dose, but I am hopeful it will get me through this ‘dip’. I started taking an antidepressant this time round in January 2014 and it is amazing how changing the level of a chemical in your brain can make such a difference. It took nearly 2 months but as a result I feel less overwhelmed and much more in control of daily stresses. When originally asked if I would consider taking an antidepressant, all I knew was that I wanted to feel happier. If taking tablets was going to help me, it was a no-brainer.
For family, friends and colleagues that know me, you may not have known this about me. I have become an expert at the smiley, cheery face, the ‘I’m fine thanks’ response and at the end of the day, life carries on. We can create whatever persona we want to on social media, so who really knows how I am feeling. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so why not talk about my mental health? Depression affects around 1 in 12 people so more than likely, you know someone who suffers or has suffered in the past. This is something I am not ashamed of. I hold a professional job, I run a household, I have a loving family. I am human, I laugh (would like to do more please) and cry (not a lot) and am positive I will win in the end. I want to help lift the stigma of depression. Society has stereotyped views about mental illness and this makes it so much harder to deal with.
Writing this has been therapeutic for me but if anyone else out there can relate to this post or is spurred on themselves to talk about mental health, please feel free to share.
If you are worried about your mental health, there is a lot of help out there if you know where to find it.
Try The Big White Wall, NHS Choices and The Mental Health Foundation for starters and of course, go and see your GP
Thank you 🙂