Wednesday, 13 August 2014

LET'S TALK: Mental Health - Depression and Anxiety

Today I was going to talk about CVs, job hunting, interviews – all the monotonous stuff many of us often go through - myself especially at the moment, I’m a couple of weeks off relocating and a few days off finishing my temporary position. But…talking about this today didn't feel quite right.

The last few days have been a bit strange really. I had a long weekend in Northampton, saw a load of agencies and had an interview on Monday then returned home to some terrible news.

Theodore had passed away while I had been gone. Yes, a hamster. A hamster I am very upset about losing. Any pet lovers, I’m sure, can sympathise with this. And despite his lack of cuddling and him simply being a hamster, he was my little pal. Let me explain…sometimes we find light in the darkest of places – for me, that light was found in the form of a little fluffy rodent.

Yesterday, we all heard of the terrible news of a man we had grown up laughing along with...And a man that the world had lost for one of the most upsetting reasons.

Now, it may seem like everybody is talking about this and jumping on the bandwagon at the moment with the topic – but talking about mental illness can only be a good thing.

Many think that everybody writing, tweeting, Instagram-ing yesterday’s events, even blogging about them is just because somebody famous has passed away – my point is, it shouldn't take somebody in the limelight ending their life to bring to everybody’s attention the severity and realisation that mental illness is a big deal – it affects 1 in 4, cancer affects 1 in 3 – that’s very close odds, don’t you think?

Let me make clear – this is not about page views – this is about awareness and increasing the support and help available to people. The only two people that have read this prior to posting on UC are my best friend Caitlin and my Mum; Caitlin is a newly qualified nurse (PROUD FRIEND!) and very supportive of what I’m about to share. My Mum, although very supportive, is afraid it is too personal for me to post on my blog. I fully agree with my Mum, it may be way too personal but it’s honest, it’s relevant and it’s nothing I am afraid to admit or to talk about.

As somebody that has suffered from depression and anxiety, it is an issue very close to my heart. And until recent years, was one I found very difficult to talk about. I’m very lucky in the lifestyle I have had, the upbringing I've received and the supportive nature of my parents. But, especially for my dad, depression was just something that initially could not be understood. And I really feel like that’s something a lot of people can relate to. People will ask ‘what have you got to be fed up about?’ – well actually, probably not a lot but I am but it’s not something I can just snap out of. It’s like trying to flick on a light switch that’s just got stuck somewhere between the dark and the light.

I don’t want people to misinterpret what I am saying – I don’t want people thinking ‘oh, look at her, publicly confessing’ – it isn't like that. But when I was feeling at my lowest, I felt like nobody would understand, nobody would help and I didn't really understand what was wrong with me. This feeling of detachment, I suppose, was something I had felt for many years. It wasn't until University that it really occurred to me that it could be something more. Detachment was something I felt, even in myself. I felt like an empty shell. My first year you would expect. But it wasn't until towards the end of my second year I actually acknowledged it – I had to cut down on my drinking and I went to visit my doctor. 

There are different levels of depression and all sorts of things can factor into it. I read an article on the Guardian online yesterday that I feel really outlines some of this and others opinions about mental illness. Please have a read, if you are one of the skeptical ones, give it a chance to help you see a little differently.

Each year there is a mental health awareness week – a fantastic idea, but it should not be brought to light just once a week for 7 days a year. I understand many organisations are in place to raise awareness, support sufferers etc. but I really believe these need to be brought to public attention in a much bigger way. This morning on BBC news, a spokeswoman from Time for a Change came in to talk about the organisation, in light of recent events and in an odd way, it felt quite comforting to hear it being spoken about on National News. I felt proud of this woman for being there, being honest (she had suffered 12 years ago) and taking action to help others.

I think one of the most realistic ways to start trying to take action, is to help the cynical start to understand the issue – that there isn't necessarily a solid reason for the way somebody feels, that it can affect anyone and the signs to help them see if somebody close to them is suffering. Now, everybody is different but often, there are some signs to show an inkling that something isn't quite right.

For me, it was my sleeping pattern and lack of interest in anything that used to make me happy. I barely slept, meaning I was tired all the time…all I would want to do is stay in bed all day, I didn't want to see my friends, I didn't want to speak to anybody. I just wanted to lay there, in silence, with my eyes shut and a numb mind. Unfortunately, my mind was never numb or logical – it was, and still sometimes is, irrational. It overthinks, it creates hypothetical situations. It’s sometimes not a very nice place to be.

Other things affected are appetite, lack of it usually, mood swings (I could go from calm, to emotional, to full of anger in a matter of minutes). It is a very lonely place to be. It was only really early last year that I took complete control over the situation.

At the time I was living with my ex, we were both unhappy. I sometimes think I didn't give him enough credit with the situation he had to put up with but also, I feel he was a person who didn't fully understand…but that’s a different story. I decided that, it was best to part ways, move home…and book a one way flight to Bangkok, apply for an Australian visa and completely come off anti-depressants. I’m not saying to do this, but it was the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me some time to heal, refocus and meet people that really opened my eye to the world and who understood things in a completely different way.

Sometimes it takes something big to make you seek help, unfortunately for people like Robin Williams, he tried and it just couldn't help him. Sometimes it takes something small, like one morning you wake up and just think ‘I can’t feel like this anymore’, somewhere inside some bravery peaks up and thinks, ‘let’s do this’. I suppose that’s what did it for me really, in my twenties, I didn't want to spend the next 60 years feeling this way. I didn't want to get old and think ‘I should have done that’ but didn't because I couldn't’ drag myself out of bed.

Several people helped me along the way – a work colleague, my parents, my friend Emily (who got me through final year!) and Theodore, my little fluffy friend who I've just lost. It’s strange in a sense, something so small can change something so big. On the bad days, I made sure he was fed, had water and, as he has a skin allergy, had to have ointment daily. Having that little thing to look after was enough to get me up and moving about. 

Your focus just needs to shift a little. You need to have a rethink, do a bit of exercise – yoga has helped me massively, as has writing. I've said in posts before that my blog has changed shape over the two years of writing it – it’s become more honest, that’s the main difference. I’m not afraid to admit I have suffered with things, and still do. It is not something to shy away from, be embarrassed about – it’s not a matter of being down in the dumps, it’s serious but it’s also manageable, given the right support.

So I urge anybody suffering in silence, to help themselves by seeking some advice and some support.

And where I can, I’m going to contribute to helping. The best advice often comes from people that have been through the same or similar experiences.
Take comfort in knowing that it’s ‘a thing’ – you aren't alone, there are ways out.

For some reading this, who may have known me for years, this may come as a surprise. Or it may not.

But it’s often much easier to plaster on a fake smile and a ‘yeah, I’m great’ attitude to hide what’s going on. Thankfully I realised that admitting to myself I wasn't okay was not weak, it wasn't pathetic – it was brave and it was a good thing because now I suppose I’m finally starting to become somebody I’m happy to be. I still have a long way to go…but I’m going, and that’s the important thing.


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