The quote that forms the title of this blog post is an actual quote that I read, clearly written by a moron. Whilst depression and anxiety are not necessarily visible to the naked eye (although quite frequently, they present themselves in symptoms which are visible to the naked eye), they can still exist. The assumption that nothing can be proven to be real unless it can be seen is ridiculously ignorant, and frankly moronic.
I know that depression exists. Why? Let me tell you:
I’ve felt it
I’ve lived it
I’ve seen it
I’ve heard its voice
Ive fought it
Ive overcome it.
Depression can be felt. Infact, it demands to be felt. Sometimes it feels like there’s something inside of your body that is ripping your heart out. Nevertheless, whilst depression can force you to feel in negative ways that you never knew existed, it can also destroy any feeling – it can leave you numb and empty. When I wake up feeling blank and expressionless, I know depression is there. The numbness tells me it exists. And when depression decides to relieve my mind of the numbing, it can often replace it with a sadness that I simply cannot put into words. To feel sad is natural, and it is healthy, to feel depressed is something quite different altogether. It is these feelings that I find within myself, that make me certain depression exists.
Depression, and anxiety, have a voice. Yet they are clever. They morph their cruel lies and their irrational perspectives to replicate the voice I am familiar with. They morph themselves into the voice I recognise as “me”. Believe me, sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the voice that is mine, and the voice that is the illness. Yet I know that depression and anxiety is real. And I know that depression and anxiety is not me.
From my experiences, I would suggest that illness can be debilitating. The illness can limit you, and prevent you from reaching your full potential. For as long as the illness is around, some things may be impossible. Mental illness is no different. It has stolen my voice, and sometimes my words. I have felt it behind my eyes, taking up the space where life once existed. I’ve felt it strip me bare of all emotion. I’ve watched it engulf me, push those close to me away.
It stole my innocence, it stole my energy, and it borrowed my hope.
How can I be so certain that these feelings and these thoughts truly are the result of mental illness, and not simply a result of my personality?
The answer is simple. I know that depression and anxiety is real, and that it is separate from me, because I have lived without it. I have periods where I am winning, and depression and anxiety are weak. It is these times that I am able to confirm, with full confidence, that depression and anxiety exist. That they can come and go like many other illnesses. I can contrast the times when I am well, with the times that I am ill. Those close to me could undoubtedly think of periods when I am well, and contrast those with periods when depression and anxiety have their grip.
Depression stole my innocence, it stole my energy, and it borrowed my hope.
So, dear moron, depression and anxiety may not be as obvious as other illnesses which you suggest can be “proven to exist”, but if you actually open your eyes, you will realise that they can be seen. They can be seen, and proven, if you broaden your mind and get your head out of your arse.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: “An anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviours that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions)” (www.psychologytoday.com).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has become massively stereotyped, and used colloquially in day-to-day conversation. For example, an individual may prefer their environment to be clean and tidy, but that does not necessarily mean that they are suffering with OCD. Time and time again you hear the term OCD used to describe an individual who likes things to be clean or in a particular order for example, yet this is not necessarily an accurate representation of what OCD is. Granted, these behaviours may be part of an individual’s OCD, but may also simply be a part of a person’s personality that has no mental health implications.
I suppose I am someone that does exhibit some of the stereotypical “OCD behaviours”. I have a particular obsession with germs and illness which has resulted in compulsive hand-washing and avoidance of any potential triggers. This aspect of OCD is present in some, whilst not in others, and is essentially anxiety surrounding contamination. Triggers surrounding this obsession are public toilets, shaking hands, door knobs, bannisters and hospitals (extremely ironic, considering the environment that I work in and plan to work in for the foreseeable). This obsession resulted in a behaviour that is commonly linked with OCD – excessive hand washing. At its worst, I would wash my hands with boiling (yes, literally) hot water every 15 minutes or so. Without access to water and soap, I would carry hand sanitiser with me, which I would apply every 5 minutes. The rationale (if you can call it that) behind my thoughts were that I would be literally burning and scrubbing any germs on my skin that could make me unwell. This clearly links to my emetophobia – the fear of vomit and vomiting – as I was terrified that I would catch a bug of some sort which would make me sick. Thus I would carry out hand washing compulsions, and excessive checking of white meat etc etc to relieve the obsessive thought of vomiting. SPOILER ALERT: It never worked. Sometimes I might calm for 5 minutes, but no longer. Literally no longer. Yet I continued to carry out these compulsions anyway, probably because doing something to control it is better than doing nothing.
With that being said, I also experience other obsessions and compulsions that are less popularised within today’s society. One of these is excessive double checking. Anyone who knows me will know that I am constantly double-checking and ‘fretting’ over mundane things. I think there is a clear cross over here between OCD and generalised anxiety – checking switches are off numerous times, checking and re-checking locks, windows, appliances, lights, car doors etc. Alot of people may experience these obsessions – “Did I definitely lock my car?” – but the key difference is, they can ‘brush off’ this thought and continue their day without disruption, returning to their locked car much later on. OCD prevents the ‘brushing off’ mechanism from activating, thus resulting in excrutiating amounts of checking to calm the obsession. This checking is a compulsion in response to the obsession, offering brief relief from the anxiety the obsession provokes. For myself, the obsessions and compulsions I experience all surround one key component – reassurance. I constantly check, to reassure myself, and bring myself back to a calm state of being (ish). I check not only physical objects, but also times, dates, and locations of events, aswell as whether I am liked/loved/moral.
Additionally, when I was younger I frequently experienced intrusive thoughts. Most common were thoughts of my family dying, contracting illness, and failing exams. Intrusive thoughts could occur at any moment, and therefore I developed some..interesting..compulsions to soothe the anxiety these thoughts caused. Here is a scenario that is very real, and happened frequently:
Intrusive Thought: You’re going to fail all your exams and you will never get anywhere in life.
Intrusive Thought 2: There is something you can do to stop it though. If you get to the top of the stairs in 5 seconds, you wont fail.
So then I’d find myself running as fast as I could to the top of the stairs, counting all the while. Once I reached the top, I would feel calmer, but then sometimes only 2 minutes later another intrusive thought would take its place – “Your family will be hurt if…”. It sounds humorous, because rationally it is clear that reaching the top of the stairs in under 5 seconds has no causal influence on whether I fail my exams or not. I did know that, but if I didn’t carry out the behaviour, the anxiety would just increase until I was forced to carry out another behaviour. Intrusive thoughts are a relatively rare obsession for me now. They mostly occur when I’m anxious about something that I feel is out of my control – exams, illness in myself or those I love, and death. I do still carry out some compulsions related to various obsessions I have, but I’m trying not to be driven by “what ifs”, and I have found that letting go of the phrase “what if” has helped relieve obsessions, compulsions and anxiety.
When the topic of medication came up in a consultation with my doctor, he asked me various questions to assess which SSRI would be best suited. Considering the combination of depression, anxiety and OCD-like tendencies, he concluded that the most suitable medication would be sertraline. Sertraline is, I believe, often given to individuals who complain of obsessions and compulsions, and has a fairly high success rate. I am one of those successes, as since taking sertraline, the obsessions and compulsions that haunted me and disrupted my day-to-day functioning dramatically increased. They are still there, but I have the final say over my behaviour now, and my day is very rarely impacted by the existence of them. Of course, some may not agree that medication is at all beneficial, but for me it is. Perhaps it is a placebo effect, but as long as it is working for me, I’m not sure I mind whether the pill does “work” or if it “doesn’t really work”. As I often try to emphasise, medication alone is not necessarily enough, and I have worked hard to change my thought processes. If I start a sentence with “I’m really worried because…”, I will correct myself and start the sentence again. If someone offers me reassurance, I try my hardest not to respond with “yes but..” or “but what if”.
Sometimes altering your language usage can gradually alter your thought processes. Since cutting out “what ifs”, ive found that I am less likely to give in to obsessions, and I am less likely to let the negative voices in my head answer back when offered reassurances. I do believe medication has helped this, but so has strong will and determination.
NB: Yep, it is now October and I wrote this in June – oops.
Sunday 12th June 2016; 22:35pm.
I always really struggle to start writing these posts. I have a burning desire to express how I feel, yet I just do not know where to start. That in itself causes a great deal of anxiety for me, which I suppose is almost funny; I use writing to relieve anxiety, yet not knowing what to write or how to start writing exacerbates my the anxiety.
I find myself stuck between wanting to express how mental illness manifests itself for me, which I suppose naturally warrants a negative energy in my writing, and wanting to express hope that things will get better and to encourage others to carry on fighting. To do both simultaneously is difficult. I think I find it hard to start writing because I’m searching for an equilibrium between expressing the stark truth about depression and expressing the sense of hope that I desperately cling onto. When I am immersed in depression, I don’t think things will get better, I can’t see a way out of the pain, and I most certainly don’t maintain the capacity to rationalise and have hope. Yet once I have pulled myself out of a particularly difficult episode of depression, I am able to reflect on my experiences and consider them rationally. It is only then that I can write coherently; representing the bare bones of depression whilst portraying the underlying message of hope that I am so desperate to communicate to others.
Frequently, these posts begin as a series of frantic bullet pointing, littered with darkness, sadness and hopelessness. It is not helpful to publish these in isolation, because they are wrong. Depression has once again clawed its way through all of my rationality, stripping me bare and leaving behind a series of lies. So instead, I tend to leave the thoughts there on the page, and once the episode has passed (which it always does, by the way) use the bullet points as a framework for the post. I listen to what my the depression was telling me to feel, but I reflect on that and tackle each point with as much rationality as I can muster. It is only then that a clearer representation of my personality can be produced.
Ok, enough of my incoherent babble, the reason I sat down to write this piece is because I wanted to share my recent discovery – Bullet Journalling – and how it helps me with regards to anxiety and depression.
So, what is the ‘Bullet Journal’?
Essentially, the Bullet Journal is a DIY organiser/planner. The beauty of a bullet journal is that it is what you want it to be. It can be your personal ‘dear diary’ log, your ‘to-do’ list, your doodle pad, your academic diary, your ‘books-to-read’ log, etc. Basically, it is anything and everything, and it is yours. Clearly that is a poor definition, and I think that’s because there isn’t a definition per se – it is a journal that you create yourself to suit your needs, without being confined to a pre-determined layout that dictates the way in which you should organise your life.
If you’d like an actual, more-definition-y, definition of a bullet journal, please see the following website created by the creator himself:
How can a ‘glorified organiser’ provide relief from mental illness?
I suppose if someone was asked to suggest a mental illness which planning and organising can relieve, anxiety would be the most frequent and the most understandable answer. An answer to which I very much agree, yes, bullet journalling is a fantastic resource for relieving the toils that come with anxiety. Ryder (creator of bullet journalling and all-round mastermind) has created a system which makes planning your days, weeks, months and even years much simpler and much more effective. Essentially, within each day you would log ‘tasks’ (things to do) with a bullet, which can be completed (turning the bullet into a cross upon completion), migrated to a different day (turning the bullet into a rightward arrow) or scheduled later in the month/year (turning the bullet into a leftward arrow indicative of pushing the task back to later in time). As well as tasks, events that will occur in that day are represented using a O bullet, for example ‘Doctors appointment’ would occur alongside an O bullet. Any notes for the day, or notes from the day that you wish to document can be written alongside a dash -. This system allows an objective overview of the day, week, month, which allows you to clearly see tasks that need completing, tasks completed, tasks migrated, events occurring, notes and the date those notes were taken, and so on.
Honestly, it’s hard to explain but it works. It really, really works. Just take a look at the website, watch the video, Ryder explains it 1000 times better than I ever could. Anyway its clear to see how this may help anxiety, allowing clear, objective documentation of what needs to be completed, when it needs to be completed and any events that co-occur with these tasks. However, the flexibility of the bullet journal allows all kinds of documentation to take place, which can be carried around with you all in one notebook. Thus, I have begun to adapt ‘anti-depression’ strategies (for want of a better phrase) within my bullet journal which help me not only when creating them, but also through the knowledge that I can turn to these spreads and be greeted with a reminder that my life is good, things do get better and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
This relieves anxiety because: I can clearly see each day what tasks I need to complete (which are now all crossed through – indicative of completion), I can see the events I have on that day (coloured circles), the weather so I can assess whether tasks are appropriate for the day, and notes of that day so that I can look back in the future and recall memories of that day. The bar across the top of each day represents each hour of the day (1-24). Blue = sleep, red = busy and white = free time. This means I can see at a glance the times I have available in the day to complete tasks, relax and socialise, aswell as blocking out hours that I need to keep free for pre-scheduled events.
At the end of most double page spread, I try to write a small encouragement for that week and to look back on in the future. I try my best to end each spread with a positive – symbolising that at the end of the roughest of weeks, there will be some positive that can be drawn out of it.
I also tend to write even the most trivial of events or occurences that had a positive impact on my day. For example, “Saw X friend for an hour’s catch up”. This is helpful for me because it grounds me. I often think that everything is bad, but if I flick back through my journal, I can see at a glance all the lovely things I have done each day that depression fails to remind me of.
Another thing I like to do is list things I am grateful for each day. This is, again, another way of reminding myself that I have so many amazing things/people in my life so that when I’m feeling particularly bad, I can look back at my gratitude log and hopefully shift my mindset back somewhere towards rationality. Sometimes I just draw an image on one of the pages. I am far from artistic, but just having something to concentrate on can sometimes relieve any unwanted thoughts. I also log when I have accomplished something which demonstrates that depression does not define me – for example graduating, getting a job etc. I try and dedicate a whole page to each of these accomplishments to remind myself that I can do things, even when depression tells me I cant.
I hope this makes sense, I just wanted to express how helpful I have found bullet journalling. If you are interested, search ‘bullet journal’ on youtube or other websites and there will be huge amounts of resources to inspire you.