It is a very scary thing for me to admit that I have suffered with mental health issues throughout my mid-teens and adult life. It is scary because I think of myself as strong and independent and I feel that admitting I have a history of mental health issues somehow makes me weak. I want to be able to speak about my history with mental illness because up until now I have always kept it very hidden through fear of it defining me, but more importantly than that, sharing my story could help others to feel less isolated and perhaps inspire them to also open up about their mental health. I want to be part of eradicating the stigma and with Mental Health Awareness Month now upon us, it seems like the right time, so here goes.
I have re-written this post nearly twenty times, through fear of coming across badly but in the end, the first draft is always the one to stick with because it always contains my most honest thoughts, here it is…
Fact: I suffer from Anxiety and Depression.
Writing this down is heartbreaking for me, it is like admitting defeat and baring my scars for all to see. A few people know about my anxiety and with more and more people talking about it, I feel more comfortable admitting that I had stress-induced anxiety from 2014-2016 and have occasionally experienced odd episodes of my panic attacks and the other symptoms – clumsiness, short fuse, unable to sleep, obsessive behaviour, highly emotional etc ever since.
My depression is harder to talk about however, because I have never told anyone about it. I had it very bad when I was 15-16 years old and recently had another bout for just a few months. I had almost forgotten that depression had been part of my life until it came back last year but I am pleased to say that I am not currently under the dark cloud and that is why I am finding it easier to admit that it has been part of my life and probably will continue to be part of my life in some way.
I am lucky because I only experience episodes of both and am not a permanent sufferer of either. And I’m not ashamed to say that I am a ‘sufferer‘ because I most certainly do not enjoy having anxiety or depression. I am more of an occasional visitor to both, my depression is usually triggered by identifiable ‘sad’ events and seasonal changes, whereas my anxiety is usually when I have taken on too much or am facing uncertainty.
Having spoken to a lot of people that have experienced anxiety, it seems that it is quite common to have depression and anxiety at the same time, for me however the two are very separate and have never crossed over. Anxiety is horrible. But depression for me, is way, way worse. My anxiety may stop me from leaving the house or from being able to get to sleep but depression makes me not want to live, which is tremendously scary. Both leave me feeling out of control of my own thoughts, which anyone would find terrifying and when your thoughts become irrational or harmful it is not a good place to find yourself in. I worry about telling people about my depression because I fear that it will change people’s opinion of me and I have a fear deep down that because of my depressive thoughts I will end up on some mind numbing medication or locked up in an institute (One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest style).
Although the two are always separate for me, they do have very similar symptoms. They both cause me to become socially withdrawn, this is usually the first sign that I am starting to experience an episode. I will turn down invitations to go out, will stop answering calls and texts and eventually hide away as much as possible to avoid any socialising or conversations. Both depression and anxiety also cause me to restrict the activities that I participate in, such as hobbies that I once enjoyed. When anxious I do this to avoid anything going wrong and when depressed it is because I stop finding pleasure in anything I do. I am also permanently exhausted because of the emotional turmoil I create, even if I sleep for 10 hours a day I never feel refreshed. Anxiety causes me to have difficulty sleeping because I am worrying or having panic attacks just before bed, depression on the other hand makes me want to sleep 24/7 because I find no enjoyment in being awake. My emotions are in turmoil in both situations but in different ways. Both make me want to cry constantly and it is hard to control when and where the crying takes place. Anxiety stimulates my emotions and any normal emotion will be x100 for example excitement or sadness in a situation usually completely controllable by an adult human-being will become overbearing. Depression on the other hand leaves me feeling numb and unable to feel any emotion, occasionally deep sadness will occur but largely I feel nothing but empty. It is the most unnerving thing to be crying but not feel anything at the same time.
The hardest thing for me to write about is self-harm. That is because I know, viewing from a position of being completely mentally balanced at the moment and not at all depressed, that it seems so ludicrous to even think about harming myself. But when I am in the depths of depression it is something I almost use as a treatment for my mental illness. It started when I was a teenager, I would lightly cut my wrists with a blade. I would never slit my wrists, the pain of the blade on my skin was simply enough to distract me from the pain I felt inside. When this was discovered by a friend from the cuts on my arm, I moved on to a much less obvious method of self harm which was to starve myself. The worrying thing was how easy this was to do and how it was not discovered until I stopped it myself. It is normal for teenager’s weight to fluctuate and at that age you start to take responsibility for most of your meals too – a dangerous combination. I soon plummeted to a very anorexic BMI and found that hunger pains were a great distraction from my depressive thoughts. When I recently experienced depression I never got to the stage of really hurting myself but I would dig my nails deep into my skin until they left marks to give me something to focus on rather than the depressive mindset. That was when I realised I needed to take control and I gave myself until the sun started to shine again to sort myself out or I would have to talk to a doctor.
Luckily I have always found a way out by myself but I think it is important to share with others what you have been through. Not only to help yourself out of a horrible situation but also to encourage other sufferers to be brave and to share their story too. I am hopeful that me having the confidence to share my darkest moments of my life will inspire someone else to do the same or to seek help if they need it.
Everyone’s mental health can be affected in so many different ways, in very different doses and at very different times in their lives. I do not think there is anyone on this planet immune to depression or anxiety and there is no shame in admitting that. It is important for you to know that whatever you are going through you are not alone and you most certainly can get through it. If you want to talk to someone anonymously remember the Samaritans are always there to call. Just be brave and admit when you can no longer cope, it is nothing to be ashamed of and it certainly does not define you as a person.