What it’s like to live with depression and anxiety – and how to cope

A quick google search of “anxiety” brings up the following definition:

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.” – NHS England

A quick google search of “depression” brings up this definition:

“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.” – NIMH 

Of course, both definitions are extremely loose and very broadly skim the severity and complexities of both illnesses. By their own rights, depression and anxiety can have very mild to extremely severe symptoms and consequences for the sufferer.

We are fortunate to live in an era where mental health is becoming more frequent in conversation, and understanding of these illnesses is expanding in the general public.

But what is it like to suffer both illnesses at the same time? We so often hear that people are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and this can conjure up the idea that the depression aspect of the person’s mental health operates in a different way to the anxiety side of their mental health. But the truth is that the two work together as an evil, chalk and cheese duo.

  • Anxiety makes you worry and overthink the most simple of situations. A simple trip into the town centre can take hours of planning, with each step meticulously planned. Leave the house at 12:35pm, make sure you’ve got your keys, bank card, phone and headphones. Draw out £10 at the cash machine, get the 12:50pm bus. Get into town for 1:15pm, meet friend at 15:25pm. Depression can make you feel like a failure and worthless for no reason, or for the smallest thing going wrong. Missed your bus and had to text your friend to say you’ll be late? You’re a failure, stay at home and don’t bother going now. There’s no point. 
  • Depression is often completely unexplained and comes out of nowhere. This means that you can feel very low for a few hours, days or weeks. The more frequently this happens, the more you become aware of it and can understand when you’re starting to slip or become more withdrawn. However, having anxiety means that you overthink and over analyse why you’re depressed. How can I be sad? I was literally fine yesterday. Nothing has even happened to make me feel like this. What is wrong with me? Maybe I’m broken, maybe my brain is defective. I shouldn’t feel like this, I don’t want to feel like this. Maybe if I try I can just get over it. Or maybe it’ll get worse, maybe I’ll never be happy again. (Side note, this can also happen when you’re feeling happy or non-depressed. There are times when anxiety can make you question why you’re feeling happy, or why you’re not stressed about anything. This follows the same principle; overthinking your mental state and wanting an explanation, or jumping to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with you)
  • Fear of failure. Depression causes withdrawal and lack of enjoyment in most things. Anxiety attempts to predict the future and assumes that you’re never going to be successful because you’re always going to be withdrawing from things. This further accelerates the desire to withdraw and resign from things.
  • Anxiety throws your central nervous system into overdrive. Depression wants to sit in the same place and not move an inch. The very basis of anxiety goes back to pre-historic times when our ancestors would be on edge and wary of being mauled to death by a wild animal. Therefore, when necessary, their central nervous system would kick into action and propel them out of the cave with the scary animals. In 2018, our biggest fear isn’t a sabre tooth tiger – it’s waiting for a message back, finances, sitting exams, planning events, talking in front of a large crowd – or simply living a good life. This means that anxiety and central nervous activation is almost none stop, which is bad enough in itself, but this is made even stronger by the resistance of depression. Imagine if cavemen had no motivation to run away from the predators? Imagine if cavemen thought that they were better off dead than running away? Their body would eventually go into survival mode and cause them to run away, despite what their emotions were. Anxiety always tries to defeat the depression, meaning that you can be in a state of intense despair, yet still on edge and worrying, wanting to get up and move and be running away or dealing with your fears.

You may have gotten this far into the post and be wondering how on earth anyone is expected to get better. Unfortunately, both illnesses are very difficult to completely eradicate. Unlike physical health, mental health can’t be completely and 100% cured. There’s research into the biological basis of mental illnesses (the chemicals in your brain, of which are supported with medication such as anti-depressives or benzodiazepams). There’s also a psychological basis of mental illness (the stuff that happens to you in your life, e/g parents divorce, loss of a job etc) and these things cannot be controlled very easily. This means that nobody is immune or completely safe from developing a mental illness. Someone with a perfect cocktail of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) may encounter a very difficult situation in life, which can cause a mental illness to develop. Someone with a very easy and perfect life may have an unfortunate brain chemistry and develop a mental illness.

The good news is, that every situation is unique, and getting to know your own brains and your own symptoms is the most important step to recovering.

Therapy in the form of medication is often an option recommended to help initially, however therapy in terms of behavioural support, or counselling is a good option for long-term coping mechanisms. There is a range of lifestyle methods which can help someone to understand and cope with their mental illness, and finding out the methods which work best for you and coincide with your stressors/triggers takes time and a lot of trial and error.

If you do feel like you need support in managing your mental health, and learning to cope with the ups and downs, the first port of call would be your GP. However, simple things that could help in the meantime are:

  • Self-help books (I recommend ones written as a novel rather than those targetted at the health/wellness sector)
  • Turning off notifications on your phone
  • Having a handful of friends who you feel comfortable sharing things with, and just ranting any irrational stressors out to
  • Writing about it *aka me writing this blog post*
  • High-intensity exercise, such as swimming or running, as this can give an outlet for the pent-up anxiety
  • Reading about other people’s stories, and learning that you’re not alone

 

Thank you for reading, I hope this has helped in some way.

Do not hesitate to speak to someone about how you are feeling

Conversation is the most important thing.

 

Heather x

Accepting where you are – right now

If you’re reading this right now, then you’ve got a lot to be grateful for.

At the moment, there’s a lot of conversation surrounding mindfulness, gratitude, and living in the moment. But what does this actually mean? To the average person, it may all sound like flowery nonsense or something that requires you to sit in your bedroom meditating. However, whilst meditation is an aspect of mindfulness, it’s only a small aspect of a mindful and grateful approach.

By definition, mindfulness is “the state of having full awareness of the present moment”, which sounds pretty simple, considering that we are usually consciously aware of what we are doing – driving to work, reading a book, scrolling through your phone, eating a sandwich etc. However, the importance of living in the present moment and having full awareness of the here and now is a fundamental part of living a fulfilling life.

If you see a professional about any mental (or physical!) illness, you’re likely to be recommended a form of mindfulness; whether that be meditating, body stretches; or even sleep. There’s no denying that focusing your attention and mind on a certain aspect of yourself is a positive step towards understanding and healing it.

This post isn’t going to attempt to teach you mindfulness or explain all the benefits of it. I just want to highlight how important it is to stay fully aware of what is going on Right Now. 

I am writing this, as I’ve just looked through my Snapchat memories and seen photos from October last year. It’s strange because I look back and I initially see someone who looks happy, healthy; glowing even. Yet I know at the time I was stressed up to my eyeballs. Despite having absolutely nothing to stress over, I was so unhappy with my current life. I wanted to be better, better, the best at everything. I never come across as a competitive person; in fact, I’ll be the first to throw in the towel and say “whatever”, when it comes to actual competitive activities (unless its Mario Kart, in which case, I am going to win).

Yet in my life, I’ve always compared and competed with other people on a subconscious level. Wanting to be better than someone at something, all the time. Whether it’s the best grades, best figure, best hair, best job, more money, better aspirations, more friends… the list goes on.  I don’t think I’ve ever just been happy with what I have right here, right now.

It’s only after everything completely fell apart, that I had to scrape back to the basics and genuinely be grateful for having a roof over my head and oxygen filling my lungs.

It’s when I look back at myself this time last year, and I think of how much pressure I put on myself to be perfect; without even realising that I was doing it. The irony is, in terms of my goals for last year; I’ve actually failed at what Heather in 2017 wanted to achieve. I put myself through so much stress to be perfect, that I actually cracked and failed at said perfection.

But that’s okay, because whilst it caused a ridiculous amount of heartache and difficulties, I’ve reached a point now where I am grateful for everything that I have, and I know that I don’t need more in my life. It’s okay to have goals and aims for the future but don’t let the chase for other things take credit away from what you already have.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertisements and rhetoric surrounding improving yourself – buy these clothes (they’re on sale!), eat these foods, get a degree, get a job, get a boyfriend, get more friends, my body is better than yours, my car is faster, save your money, spend your money etc etc. Just take a step back and understand that what you have right now, at this very moment, is the best that you’ve got.

You don’t need to be changing all the time to reach a new level of yourself. You don’t need to have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Despite what Instagram and retailers may tell you; you don’t need to buy the on-trend clothes, have the current trendy body (which makes no sense), you don’t need perfect grades, you don’t need a fat stack of cash or to be travelling the globe.

Any goals you have will be completed in their own time. Stressing and pressuring yourself can’t and won’t make it happen – if anything, stressing over something usually makes it harder to obtain.