Today is Time To Talk day – you may have seen the topic making the rounds on social media. Put simply, it’s an awareness day for mental health problems, to encourage people to break the silence and start talking about mental health. So, I’m going to to talk about depression and anxiety. You can create your own Time To Talk day shareable image over on their website.
I stared at this blank page for a good while, contemplating whether to actually go through with this post.
“Does anyone really give a shit about anything I have to say on this topic?”
“Will it alienate followers and readers who ‘don’t get it’?”
“Is it self-indulgent to do a whole post about yourself and your life?”
I could go on, and trust me my mind has a way of questioning everything I do on a daily basis, but it gets boring. Yes people give a shit. Some people who read this will be suffering silently – and I’d like to think in some way it will help. And if I can’t talk about the ways in which my mind has betrayed me, then what are we here for? To talk about the weather?
Time to Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk
Talking may seem like an obvious way to work through your problems. We are told often enough to “Just talk it out”, or to “Just tell me how you feel”. But, when you’re waking up in the morning, and can’t stand to face yourself – never mind the people who rely on you to be there – talking is the last thing you feel capable of doing. Sometimes, even when you try to speak, you realise there are no words that can fully describe how you’re feeling.
What is Depression?
Depression, normally categorised solely as a mental illness, can dig its way through your mind and manifest itself in your physical form. You find it impossible to climb out of bed, to take a shower, to make food and feed yourself. You end up still, unmoving, and even the simplest tasks feel like a mission to Mordor. Time to talk? For me, there was never a right time to talk about depression, which is why I lived with it for so long before I spoke up.
It’s ok now, for me at least, to talk about it. I spent half my life burrowing a hole into the ground to hide away from everything. The problem was, I could never dig deep enough to truly hide away, and the longer I lived life like that, the darker the world seemed and the more lonely I felt. Depression isn’t the opposite of happiness. Depression isn’t just sadness. Depression is waking up in the morning and believing you don’t have a purpose. It steals your confidence, your memories, your time and your friends. It wears you down, and when you think it’s given up, it just continues stronger than ever. Overcoming depression isn’t ‘finding happiness’, it’s finding a reason to fight for your life.
How Do I Tell Someone That I Feel Depressed?
I was a teenager when I first thought that I might have depression. I was angry, sad and tired all the time. I had low self esteem, and good friends were hard to come by. I was an introverted Lord of the Rings fanatic with a passion for music, and not much else. I wrote in a diary almost every day – something that I was so heartbroken by when I re-read it at 21, that I spent an hour ripping each individual page into tiny pieces. As if the smaller the paper was, the less true it all was. I remember hiding it all in a carrier bag in a box with old shoes, only to forget it was there and rediscover it when I was 24 and packing up to leave home. This time I knew to let it go, to let the past go and start something new. For a while I thought I had and I began to really enjoy the prospect of envisioning a happy future. But I still hadn’t said it out loud to someone. “I think I need help”.
That isn’t to say that I hadn’t tried to tell people before. To me, it seemed obvious that I had a problem, and I assumed the people who knew me well could see that too. Not everyone you speak to about depression is going to understand it. You may have the dreaded experience of someone asking you ‘why’ you’re depressed. Sometimes there may not be a direct reason. A lot of the time, you just haven’t been in a strong enough place to really ask yourself why. There may have been a reason that triggered it all at the beginning, but right now, the reason isn’t the issue. You don’t have to explain yourself or your feelings – so don’t take it to heart if the reaction you wanted from someone isn’t the reaction you get. Move on, and find someone else to confide in.
Fast forward to the age of 25, I found myself in a job that I hated, that was draining the life, and passion, out of me. I was let go after 3 months, and this was the beginning of a dark spiral. Hindsight is a bitch. If I’d have known then how that feeling of little worth and no purpose would end up controlling my life, I would have reached out sooner.
The first person I opened up to completely about my problems was my boyfriend, Andy. I decided to see a doctor, and after 6 months of antidepressants (SSRIs – Citalopram 40 mg/d) alongside balancing work as a freelancer, I had my first assessment for therapy. Half an hour after my call, I was told that their team couldn’t help me at that time. I was encouraged to continue taking my antidepressants, which I did for another 9 months, and was sent links to self help websites – none of which I felt helped me at the time.
Anxiety ruled my every decision and I reached a point where I would avoid leaving my apartment. I rarely saw my friends, and cancelled most of the social events I’d previously agreed to go to. A few months later I moved from the city to a little valley where I was surrounded by greenery and friendly folk. Not long after, I took on a full time job, stopped taking my antidepressants and almost instantly regretted it all. One day I emailed HR, said I wasn’t returning to work, and that was that. Weirdly enough, at the time I questioned myself, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve made so far.
As much as anxiety can create a cycle of avoidance, sometimes your intuition is right and you should do what feels right for you. No one is going to tell you that your feelings aren’t real. That you’ve made it up, or that you’ve exaggerated how you really feel. (If they do, then I think they’re also in need of some help). Admitting you have issues you need to face is brave, and it’s the first sign that you’re on the right path to a healthier life. But, the more you think about how you’ll say it, who you’ll say it to or when you’ll say it, the harder it will be to actually just say it. When it comes to depression and anxiety, giving yourself time to think will more often than not, make you feel worse. So if you’re sat there umming and ahhing about it, or worse, thinking ‘maybe I’m not depressed, maybe I’m just weaker than everyone else is and I need to toughen up’ – STOP. I’ve found that the toughest people – the strongest people – are the ones who don’t actually believe they are.
Do I Really Need To Have Therapy?
The UK is seen as a well-developed country, until you look at the mental health services and the only suitable reaction is to hang your head in shame. Treatment for depression and anxiety isn’t exactly varied, and if you want something outside of what the NHS offer, you have to pay for it. I chose to rely on the NHS to get me through because I didn’t have the money to explore any other options.
Last year, a year after my first assessment for therapy, I was offered therapy (CBT and EMDR) from Insight Healthcare, which is a not-for-profit organisation providing free NHS talking therapies. I look back at when I went to my first session, and I can’t believe that that was me. I was exhausted due to regular insomnia, most days I didn’t eat until Andy came home from work, I had social anxiety and couldn’t look my therapist in the eye, and I cried at literally every question she asked me. In the end I was diagnosed with Complex-PTSD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Severe Depression.
In December 2016, I was discharged from therapy and my depression is no longer classed as severe. The changes I’ve made in my life since I started therapy have had a positive effect on everything else in my life. I can control how my mind thinks in moments that would usually cause me extreme panic and stress. But the biggest thing of all, is even though I questioned whether I should write this, writing it feels therapeutic. In the past, I would have worried about what people will think of me, I would have believed that people would think I am lying about it or exaggerating my illness. But, I don’t think that right now, and I find it all easier because of therapy. So, in all honesty, I believe everybody should have therapy.
Depression is a very personal illness. It’s driven by your own experiences, and your own perspective of the world and the people in it. Specifically, for me, it was a side effect of another disorder that I didn’t have under control. Even though I’m no longer taking antidepressants, and I’ve been discharged from therapy, I still have my low days – sometimes weeks. I don’t know what my future holds, and if it involves depression I’m ok with that because I know now that the ‘truth’ you so strongly believe when you’re depressed, is nothing compared to the reality of life after you’ve learnt how to rise above that black hole. Life isn’t fair, but you know what’s really not fair? Not giving yourself the chance to prove that you can make something good out of it all. It’s TIME TO TALK.