I have written this post hundreds of times in my head but never in black and white. “What have you got to be sad about?” is a question I have been asked on a few occasions and you know what? I get it, I get why people would screw their face up in confusion when they hear that I have been at the mercy of my own mind. I have a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter who is the most joy inducing little girl, I live in my dream home and I am lucky enough to travel at least once a year. There is no right for you to be anxious! That is a statement I have told myself a million times and I genuinely believe it. I am, by nature, an optimist, I am sociable, bubbly even, I like to make people smile and I guess I sometimes even make them laugh and that’s partly why even I struggle to understand myself when completely irrational anxiety kicks in, when depression covers me like a dark, heavy cloud. I am not alone in this, millions of us struggle with mental health problems every single day; on the scale (if there was one) I would be seen as a minor case, thank goodness! I am a huge advocate for mental health awareness, I even trained as a Counsellor and yet I really struggle with the ridiculous stigma attached to this issue and more often than not, keep my suffering completely hidden away, until it all gets too much.
The strangest thing about suffering with mental health problems is that, in my case anyway, it is interspersed in normal, happy, everyday life. It creeps up out of the blue and completely takes me by surprise. It is not in any way mistakable for hormones, just a low mood, or nervousness, it is a force to be reckoned with, a vast emptiness, and something that takes control of my whole being for periods of time. In hindsight, I can identify various times that I suffered without knowing the cause, in fact, the first time I ever suffered from panic attacks which caused me to pace the floor most of the night was during a summer that we lived in America. I had no idea what was happening and of course the sleepless nights led to difficult days and it became a running joke that I would rather lie on the sofa than play in the sun, it was, on reflection, spiralling out of control but we brushed it off as ‘teenage hormones’ and eventually it all settled down again. It is only knowing what I know now that I realise I was suffering from my first ever bout of anxiety. The trigger was trivial, but isn’t that so often the way? There is always a trigger and it always seems insignificant until it becomes a problem.
I am upbeat by nature; it’s what my friends tell me they love most about me, but when that heavy cloud rolls in it takes all my strength to keep up my otherwise effortless persona. I have lost “friends” during particularly difficult times; I was their ‘pick me up’, the one who would help them feel better or make them laugh on a tough day and so when I could not do that for a few weeks, my role in our friendship was redundant. I realise now it was a blessing in disguise but at the time it was a catalyst to my already delicate mindset; useless, boring, a burden. I was, and ashamedly still am, embarrassed by my mental health problems, so much so that when I suffer I do my very best to hide it from everyone. The most recent trigger was a scary episode last winter. In the middle of the night my daughter became unresponsive and suddenly my safe haven was lit up with blue flashing lights and my precious little girl was rushed to hospital. It turned out to be a febrile seizure and nothing that a few ice lollies and calpol wouldn’t help but we were clueless and that night I honestly believed my world was about to be shattered. I went from being in my little bubble of motherhood bliss to being panic stricken by every cough and murmur in the night. For six long months I didn’t link my nightly panic attacks to our scary experience. On the worst night I was awake for five hours, pacing round and round my kitchen, crying, itching at my skin and struggling for breath…by morning I always felt ok again and so I would forget about it until, like clockwork, I would wake in a panic and the whole cycle would start again. Nobody knew, just me, and it was my own private demon to fight.
The thing is though, that even though I have suffered on and off for years, with every new episode I have to remind and reteach myself how to deal with it and how to get better and the very first step in all of that is admitting that there is a problem and telling someone, anyone who will listen. I have to remind myself that there is no shame in having mental health problems. The stigma should not exist. There will be people who will never understand, people who don’t want to understand and people who just don’t care enough to ‘put up’ with you when you are at your worst. I have had conversations with other Christians who one hundred per cent believe, with all their heart, that a Christian should never be able to get depressed, nonsense! I want to clear something up while we are on that subject; it is not a character defect, a spiritual ailment or a lack of faith. Having faith in Gods ability to heal is hugely important but to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone with a mental illness is no different than denying treatment to someone with a physical illness. In my experience, my Faith has been crucial in the healing but not exclusive, I have used medication and I have changed aspects of my lifestyle and God’s grace has helped me through.
I am blessed with a wonderfully understanding and supportive husband who had no real experience of mental health issues before he met me (poor soul) but who has learned how best to support me when times are tough. I understand that not everyone has someone to lean on but if you do, talk to them, keep them in the loop and for goodness sake let them in. For so long I fought my (now husband’s) help, seeing myself as a burden and mistaking his kindness for pity. As soon as I let him into that place with me, I began to feel his calming influence soothe my irrational thoughts. It may not be your spouse who can provide that help but there will always be someone, allow them to help. If you are the person who could be someone’s shoulder then my best advice to you would be simple; if they are under the metaphorical covers, get under the covers with them – they may not be ready to talk and find solutions, join them in whatever space they are in and let them lean on you. That’s the best help you can be until they are ready to explore healing.
Why am I writing all this? Well I guess it’s a mixture of things. This time of year, the short days, dark mornings, twinkly lights and hefty spending can often lead to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ becoming the most overwhelming time of the year and those who suffer can sometimes find it heightened over the winter months. Also, I have noticed a significant increase in awareness across social media; conversation openers, experiences being shared and non-judgemental support being offered. I have mostly read and nodded along but felt compelled to share a very small part of my own experience. For some unknown reason to me my audience has increased, as has my interaction with fellow instagrammers and so I feel it is my duty to shine a light on the reality behind my pretty pictures. I am not a fraud, what you see on my grid is absolutely my real life. My ordinary every day is fun, I seek out adventure, my kid is pretty awesome, my husband is a hero, my friends are incredible, my family is big and bold and full of laughter but I also suffer from anxiety and depression. I don’t talk about it every day; I doubt anyone would want to read about it and in all honesty, it doesn’t affect me every day. When anxiety comes knocking or depression creeps in, I often retreat, away from my phone, away from my network of friends and family and so I am not posting unrealistic pictures, I am just not posting. This is not a ‘woe is me’ post, I do not want anyone to pity me, in fact, I am healthier in my mind than I have been for a very long time, I am certainly not writing from a place of depression. What I hope to achieve is that this post helps someone to feel braver about seeking help, less alone in their suffering or maybe even realise, for the first time, that what they are feeling is not their fault and it doesn’t have to be this way. I also hope that it will shed a light on the topic and therefore maybe equip you to help someone a little bit better; I hope that this insight into the mind of a sufferer will help you to understand what they can’t communicate right now. Most of all, I hope it brings hope.
If you are suffering please do not suffer alone, it’s ok not to be ok, confide in a doctor, family or a friend but just confide in someone.
I realise I have barely touched the surface so here are some posts you may find useful;
- 3 ways to care for your depressed friend
- Depression & Anxiety: its all in your head
- Why I can’t give you simple help