Friday, 10 October 2014

Let's talk about Depression. (Don't be afraid.)

I began writing this a few months ago, but didn't feel quite ready to post it until now.

I've wanted to write about this for a long time, but I think it always felt too personal before. However, my feelings have changed, and although it is still deeply personal, I'm no longer ashamed, and feel like sharing would be a positive step, for the greater good an' all that.
(It is World Mental Health Day today, so I can't think of a better time to finally talk about this.)

It's strange how I feel like I've been "in the closet" in some way. I'm sure many people who have suffered from any form of Mental Illness can relate to this. 
Telling someone you have the flu, or a broken arm, has a pretty standard sympathetic response. They can physically see that you are suffering. Telling someone you have depression, is a lot more difficult. It's often met with awkwardness. Avoidance. No one knows the right thing to say, to ask. Simply through lack of understanding. Fear of what they don't know. Fear of saying the wrong thing. 
It's not deemed acceptable to say "I need to stay home today, my brain feels ill." 

 I was 18, I'd gone through huge changes, in a very short space of time, with little time to take it all in. Everything that I thought made me who I was: my town, my house, my friends, my family. All of it changed. (That's the short story anyway.) I lost my identity completely, which is a difficult thing to understand unless it has happened to you.

Depression (and anxiety) seemed to slowly creep over me. It was like having a bag to carry, then another bag, then another, until I was just completely overwhelmed by luggage.
I'd wake up feeling like I'd just had a huge argument. Angry, anxious, upset, tired, like anything could send me over the edge. It was a black cloud that seemed to hang over me and everything that I did. I was still me, getting on with everything as normal, but with my thoughts and feelings clouded by this horrible dread and anxiety. I forgot who I was underneath it.
I distinctly remember losing the ability to look forward to anything. Nothing sparked my interest, or seemed worth it really. Minor tasks felt like mountains. There was an overwhelming sense of pointlessness to my entire being. I can remember my lowest point quite clearly. I can remember thinking "What is the point of me continuing to live? No one cares, I don't even care." Luckily, it didn't go any further than that thought. 

When I think of that person now, having those thoughts, my heart breaks; No one deserves to feel that they or their life are worth nothing. 

Visiting the doctor, and saying the word Depression out loud, was pretty traumatic. I was met by, more or less, apathy. I was prescribed antidepressants and told to seek a counsellor at college.
The antidepressants helped to stabilise me, which was what I needed at first, but after a certain point, I felt like they kept me too stable, and not able to be creative or expressive.
The counsellor basically sat in silence, whilst I skimmed over the details of my life, and for a while I felt like it was achieving nothing. My "epiphany" came one day, as I walked out of one of the sessions. I'd spent the last hour rambling, and suddenly the root of the problem really hit me. I went home and cried and cried, but it felt like relief more than anything. It may sound ridiculous, but in simple terms, I realised that I had to face the fact that everything had changed.
I truly made sense of what made me feel so awful in the first place, and then started to let it go. I stopped being in denial about my life, who I was, and accepted the changes. I had to learn to accept that things were never going to be the same, and adapt. It took a really long time.

I also have to mention that music, and musical theatre specifically, played a huge part, and still does, in helping me feel better. Music makes me feel that wee bit more alive. 
This song seemed to describe my feelings so accurately at that time, and still makes everything better. (I actually almost cried listening to it just now.) (I know, it's a bit cheesy. I don't care.)
Again, it may sound ridiculous, but the honest truth is that I find real solace in musical theatre. The musical RENT, and it's message, played a huge part in making me look at things differently, to see myself, and my life in a different light. 

I have to add admiration and appreciation to Jake, as without him, I'm not sure what would have happened. I don't really have the words to explain what he tolerated, and how he was there, but I will never forget.

While I feel like someone who is mostly mentally healthy now, I recognise that like with many illnesses, I still live with it and probably always will. 
I go through periods of feeling fabulous, confident and happy. Then others that are a real struggle. It's like I'm more vulnerable to big changes, or stress. It's a battle, but I know how to fight it now. I'm able to recognise that it is an illness, just like any other, and not who I am. 
I try never to let myself obsess over things in the way that I used to. I try not to let what other people think of me, affect me too much. I have to remind myself of what's actually important. It definitely opens your eyes, and makes you thankful for the small things.
Quite honestly, a part of me feels like it was a part of my life that had to happen, in order to make me realise how strong I actually am.

The reason I wanted to write this was because, I feel like if I'd have known how common depression was at the time, I would have felt better. If I'd have known that I wasn't weak, or abnormal, if my peers were discussing depression, if the doctor had shown some empathy, then maybe it would have been easier. If someone had told me "This isn't your fault" a lot sooner, it would have made all the difference.
I feel like it's my job, everyone's job, to talk about this. To be open. To not be ashamed. Which is why I am literally trying to make it my job. (I'm studying Mental Health Nursing.)

Depression is not always easily visible like you might think. 
I'm pretty certain that the only people that have had any clue about this, have been the people I have actively told. It's easy to hide. It's secretive. That's the worst thing about it. It doesn't get taken as seriously as a physical illness because it can't be seen. Some could argue that in a way that makes it worse than physical illness, because it pollutes the very person that you are, the brain, the thing that ultimately makes you, You

If you, (or someone you know) is suffering, please don't feel that you are alone. There will be people around you every day who have been affected by this. 
You aren't weak, or pathetic, or worthless. You don't deserve to feel that. This isn't your fault. Give yourself credit for the little steps that you are able to take, and give yourself credit for recognising that you need help, because that will make you feel more in control.
Also, talk to me. I'm no expert on this and the things that helped me, might do nothing for you, but I at least can understand and am willing to listen.
I hope that this can help anyone, in any small way.

If you have read all of this, thank you. Truly. I know it seems self-indulgent, but I felt like it had to come out. It took a lot of tears and anxiety to write this, and even more to press "Publish", but I feel better.

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