“..but WHY do you feel like that?”

First things first, whilst this blog was mainly designed as a place to express my thoughts, and I suppose had an element of selfishness to it (in that the sole purpose of my writing was to offer myself some relief from my own head), I am truly overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received since making my blog public. I’ve received lovely comments from so many people, and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that my friends and family can know how i’m truly feeling. More importantly, I think, however is that it seems my words are relatable to a  fairly large number of people, and that my blog is offering reassurance and hope for those who may also be struggling in similar ways to myself. Never in a million years did I expect people to respond so positively to my writing, and I feel so privileged that the words I write on this page may (albeit only slightly) offer other people comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone.

So, my aim is to only post on this blog when there is something I feel I’d like to express. Sometimes I find it easier to organise my own thoughts if I write them out on a page and shuffle them around and analyse where those thoughts came from. From personal experience, I have often found that my true feelings are trapped within my mind and that the speech does not accurately portray my emotions. Perhaps that trapped feeling resides from an embarrassment to verbally express how I’m feeling, although I think it may just be a component of anxiety that renders me unable to organise my thoughts coherently. As a quick side note, it is important to me that I stop assigning personal pronouns to mental health. Unlike a lot of other individuals I’ve spoken to, when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I was really desperate for my GP to explicitly say the words “you have anxiety”, or something similar. Many people I guess may not understand this because the idea of labelling someone is undesirable and can be deemed as unnecessary. However, the way in which (my) anxiety manifests itself has lead me to consistently need reassurance and clarity. It may sound irrational to those who do not experience mental health in the same way as myself, but I remember feeling very concerned that perhaps I do not suffer with anxiety or depression, and that I have subconsciously picked up on the symptoms of such mental illnesses and created an adequate description that would lead to a diagnosis by my GP. Of course now i’ve had time to reflect upon these thoughts with a more rational outlook, I can see that actually these thoughts of needing an explicit diagnosis, and the fear that I am creating something that I do not have, is most likely a result of having an anxiety disorder. I completely understand that this sounds confusing and impossibly irrational, and I can’t say I particularly understand it myself, however what I do know is that there is absolutely no way I could have been ‘making up’ having depression and anxiety. My feelings were (and are) very real to me and so deeply rooted, and could perhaps not be felt by an individual who does not suffer from anxiety or depression. Or perhaps they can, I don’t know because I’m not everyone else, I guess I’m just speculating to try and understand my thoughts a bit better.

That leads me on to another thing I feel very strongly about, and whilst it is addressed to an extent, I’m not sure it’s being emphasised in the right ways. Based upon my own personal experiences, and from listening to experiences of others, I have swiftly learnt that mental health is not an objective thing. How I perceive depression to feel and sound, is most likely not going to completely correlate with another individual who also suffers from depression. Again, this reinforces that mental illness (in my opinion) strongly parallels physical illness; in so far as a person could be suffering from the common cold, but yet one individual’s experiences of having a cold (for example, blocked nose and a headache) could be very different from another individual’s experiences of a cold (for example sore throat, aching limbs and fatigue). It is easy to generalise both physical and mental health symptoms, so that there becomes a criterion for having these illnesses. Of course I understand that illnesses need to have a criterion to an extent to enable accurate diagnosis, however I feel that somewhere along the way, the subjectivity of illness has become lost. In addition, in the same way as physical illness, I have found that mental illness has the capacity to fluctuate from day to day, and sometimes over extended periods. Whilst for myself I think my mental health is relatively consistent in its frequency and intensity, I am aware that for some there is a greater variation where the consequences of mental health can be hugely intense on one day, and relatively ‘at bay’ the next. Now, for physical illness I suppose the answer to this fluctuation of symptoms and the subjectivity to each individual could be explained in terms of biology. I’m not a doctor, but perhaps one day the physical symptoms may be dampened as your body fights the illness, whilst the next day the body is tired and needs to rest for that day.

So whats the answer for mental illness then? How can mental illness fluctuate and sometimes seem so prominent in people, and other times seem to not exist? Well I think I might know the answer: in exactly the same way as physical illness. The brain is part of the body, serotonin and GABA are neurotransmitters involved in the brain, if these neurotransmitters are chemically imbalanced, it’s likely your brain may not be operating optimally. The brain is part of the body, therefore the body is not operating optimally. Is this not just the same as what happens when someone contracts a physical illness? Sometimes the body can efficiently and quickly fight an illness so that it does not have too great an impact on one’s day, but the next day the body is tired and needs to take a rest before it can return to its optimum function. This is just my opinion, i’m sure there are much better explanations for how physical illness is fought, but my main point here is that physical and mental illness are much the same. Similarly, everyone has different bodies and reacts differently to certain viruses and diseases, so in my mind I suppose I can’t understand why this is not understood as the case for mental illness also. People deal with things differently, but it doesn’t make their experiences any less ‘bad’ or ‘intense’ than anothers’.  One person’s mental illness is simply not comparable to anothers’.

Whilst slightly side tracked, the reason for writing this post is that I want to reinforce that mental illness does not define me. I plan to beat my depression and anxiety, and so I will not offer it a personal pronoun. This is because it is not who I am, it is a part of me that has contributed to my character and my perception, but it does not offer an insight into my identity. Therefore I’m going to consciously try not to use phrases such as “my depression” or “my anxiety” both in speech and in writing, because I feel once I’ve separated who I am, from the depression and the anxiety, I’ll be able to tackle the depression and anxiety without losing my sense of self. This does not mean that I will stop talking about it, because that will not make it go away, it simply means that I’m wanting to draw a distinct line between the factors of my personality that are healthy and create my character, and the factors which are pushed upon me by depression and anxiety.

I think for my own personal wellbeing talking about mental health is crucial, however offering it the privilege of being connected to my sense of self is no long an option.

X

A few months on..

Hello,

It’s been a long time since I last wrote on this blog, reason being that I went through a particularly bad patch where I sort of gave up on most things, including trying to help myself. I first began my blog when I was away for a few weeks conducting research for my  third year project, and whilst i really wanted to regularly post on here and splurge my feelings and emotions onto ‘paper’, there was something in me that felt I couldn’t. I felt I couldn’t write effectively, I felt I was embarrassing myself by revealing things, I felt like I would be judged. Those reasons alone stopped me from continuing to write, however they also didn’t encourage me to search out another form of emotional release, or another way to help myself fight my mental illnesses. From mid-September to around early December, things became really terrible for me. On the surface, I have a wonderful life and I do not take this for granted. I have the most amazing support network from friends that i have known forever, and from friends that i have made as i’ve grown older. Whilst I could hear what my friends were saying to me, and I knew that they were right, there was something  in my mind that would simply not accept their words, and would always find a “but” for every resolution they found. How my friends put up with this I will never know, but I am eternally grateful and will endeavour to stand by them through thick and thin.

Whilst these past few months have been really tough for me, there is one huge benefit that I can take away from it, and that is feeling able to talk to my immediate family about how I’m feeling, and to express when I’m feeling bad without being embarrassed or worried. Of course, I could have always talked to my parents about anything, but I think I had put up a barrier myself which led me to believe that I could’t connect with them in the way I wanted to. As a result of an extremely intense meltdown on a Friday, emerged a later understanding that my thoughts on acceptance in my family were rather inaccurate, and that some of the words I have previously heard from others have been poisonous or misconstrued to create a picture that wasn’t really there. The details of this Friday, along with the comments and conversations i have had in the past, do not matter to me anymore. What matters is that I learnt who was truly there for me, my family and my friends, and I learnt that sometimes its important to put myself first and think of others second.

That last sentence still feels particularly wrong for me to type, and equally wrong to say or think. I think that a mixture of my innate personality, and my upbringing, has resulted in me having a particularly sensitive personality. I’m not suggesting my sensitivity is necessarily a bad quality, in fact its something i’m quite proud of because i think it forms the basis of my ability to see the good in everyone. I can 100% guarantee that if someone, anyone, reached out to me for help, I would drop whatever I was doing and be by their side. I know this because I know how it feels to be in that state, and I know how it feels to be second best and distraught, and I know that I would never wish that feeling upon anyone in the world. However, with this experience I have also learnt that sometimes its equally as important to consider yourself and your own feelings, and remove the negativity in your life. Remove anyone who would not do for you, what you would do for them. This was an unbearably difficult decision to make for me, as I hate the idea of cutting off another person and of hurting another’s feelings, however over this past month or so I have come to appreciate that sometimes the best decision for both parties is to call it a day; appreciate the good memories and forget the bad, but leave that person as a memory.

Obviously, whilst my friends and family have been my rock, sometimes its equally as important to consider other coping mechanisms. I have tried a fair few coping mechanisms in the past which have been nothing but detrimental to my mental health, however there are coping mechanisms out there which ease the pain that comes with mental health. Firstly, in late November I decided that I needed to be brave and stop lying to my doctor and tell him exactly when things were bad. My main problem with this is that often when i was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment, i’d be having a ‘good’ day, and therefore i’d feel like things were fine. It wasn’t until the ‘bad’ days struck again that i’d realise i’d over-generalised the ‘good’ and forgotten the bad. So, with the help of my mum, I opened up to the doctor and he increased my dose of medication. Whilst medication remains a controversial aspect of treating mental health, I can honestly say for me that the medication has helped me enormously. I find that my sleeping pattern is a lot better, i find it easier to get up in the morning, my thoughts have become clearer and my general mood has uplifted slightly. In addition to medication, my family also got me a ‘Lumie light’ (http://www.lumie.com) for Christmas. This light has been a huge contributor to my general mood and has made getting out of bed infinitely easier. The lumie light essentially mimics the sunrise and is designed to aid individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. I do not have this specific disorder, but I do have depression and this light is invaluable to me.

I think I’m beginning to learn to take each day as it comes, to appreciate the good and reflect on the bad in a positive and healthy manner. Whilst some may not agree, I’ve really begun to believe that everything does happen for a reason, and it is this that ultimately keeps me going. I wanted to convince myself that everything that has happened to me, good and bad, is shaping my character so that I become the best version of me and have a happy and promising future. And you know what? I am actually beginning to believe it. I’m taking baby steps, but I think i’m finally making progress and becoming who I know I truly am.

I guess what i’m trying to say is, sometimes things can seem really bad. From around August-December, this was how I felt. I honestly could not see a way out, and I was afraid, alone and depressed. But I’ve proven to myself that things can get better. A marginal improvement in outlook on life (which i am experiencing at the moment) is infinitely better than being stuck in the mentality that I was last Autumn/Winter, and for now I will accept that marginal improvement and be happy with it.

X