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

How to help someone with a mental illness – The Do’s and Don’t’s

Some people are just annoyingly, frustratingly and enviably normal. We all know someone who seems to breeze through life, always positive and never phased by anything. Those individuals are often fortunate in the sense that they may never have to understand mental illness, and may sail through life oblivious to the brain demons.

However blessed these people may be; there is sadly nothing to prevent those close to them from developing or encountering a mental illness. By now, we all know the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will be impacted by a mental illness.

Image result for 1 in 4 mental health

With this in mind, it is important that everyone has an awareness of how to help, support and care for someone with a mental illness – whether it is your friend, partner, parent or colleague – whether it is Anorexia, Alzheimer’s, Anxiety or ADHD – there are a few basic steps or rules that you can adopt to support those close to you.

Do – Be available for support or a chat.

Conversation and communication is one of the easiest and most effective ways of helping an individual who is suffering from a mental illness. Often it is difficult for the person to reach out and seek interaction with others, so make sure that you’re messaging them often, engaging in conversation when and where possible, and making it known that you’re happy to have a sit-down and a chat. More often than not, you don’t need to give any advice or practical methods of solving their problems. Simply having a functioning pair of ears and an appropriate response is enough to help someone feel better.

Don’t – Allow them to become dependant on you.

Unfortunately, it is possible for the scales to tip in the opposite direction, and for the individual to become highly dependant on the interaction of one specific person. Of course, this is not the case with all mental illness, however, it is common for a vulnerable person to attach to one close person who they can share the depths of their thoughts with, and constantly refer back to for advice and support. This can become an issue when the dependency causes the individual to be unable to make their own judgments and losing their sense of independence. If you feel as though a loved one is highly dependant on you and your judgment, then you need to take the appropriate steps back. Depending on the severity of the illness, this could mean arranging a professional team to support your loved one, or merely encouraging the individual to make choices themselves and take small steps towards dictating their own lives.

Do – Encourage positive views and highlight their achievements

Often the sense of reality can be altered in the mind of an individual with a mental illness. This means that they may completely ignore their successes, and frequently come to you with their problems or things that they think they have done wrong. For example, someone with depression or a personality disorder may truly and honestly believe that they are a terrible person. As someone with a subjective perspective, you have the ability to remind them of how well they are doing on their journey. You have the voice to address their achievements and all of the amazing qualities which they may not even realize that they have. Let them know how and why you love them and be the voice of encouragement.

Don’t – Disregard their feelings of hopelessness, or belittle their sense of reality.

Whilst a positive perspective can really help someone in a dark place, ignoring or disregarding their negative feelings can make them feel as though they aren’t being taken seriously.

Image result for mental illness symptoms

“You’ve got nothing to be sad about.” “You’ve got an amazing life, why are you depressed?” “There’s nothing wrong with you, you just think there is” “You’re imagining everything, none of this is real” “It’s all in your head” “if you stop thinking like this, then you’ll be happier.” “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” “You’re just paranoid.”

All of the above are examples of phrases which may be well-meaning and intended to help someone feel better or steer away from their distorted reality, however, all of the above are examples of phrases which can make a mentally ill individual feel marginalized and often feel worse. Whatever you do, do not try to convince someone that they have no reason to feel down, or that their feelings aren’t real. Whilst their rationale or basis of their feelings may not be accurate, their actual feelings and emotions are valid and must be taken as seriously as anyone else.

Do – Try to make plans and arrange dates for the future.

The case with many mental illnesses is that the individual can be stuck inside their own head and whether this is a depressed or manic state, they may not be able to think beyond the current day or week. Making plans with your loved one ensures that they have got some dates to look forward to, and this can range from sitting in their living room with a cup of tea for a few hours on a Friday afternoon, or a weekend city break. It all depends on the type of illness and the severity of the case. However, having something different from the everyday grind and pattern can really help the individual with motivation, an improved sense of reality if they are leaving their house, and the chance to focus on something other than their own mind.

Don’t – Be Offended if they push you away or turn you down.

Emotional difficulties and conflicts are prominent in a high amount of mental illnesses. Even though many people still love their friends and family, a common coping mechanism is to push them away and force people out of their lives. This is often the point where friends will leave, people can lose their jobs, families can break up and relationships can fall apart. Please, please persevere where you can. If they cancel plans, make more. If they ignore your phone calls, go and visit them. If they tell you that they don’t want to be your friend or that they don’t need you – then they do need you.

Of course, take this information with a pinch of salt, and do not put yourself or the individual in danger. If it is extremely clear that the relationship needs to end, then make the most appropriate decision. However, don’t allow the friendship, romance or companionship to be severed instantly. Mental illnesses can put people at their most vulnerable, and often the actions are irrational and not thought out properly. Do not take offense if your plans are repeatedly canceled, or they are pushing you away. Instead, try to understand why they are behaving like this.

Do – Watch out for unusual or dangerous behaviors.

There is a whole range of unusual behaviors and self-destructive patterns that an individual may start to engage in. Consider how the individual behaved when they were well, or at their most stable. Then, look out for anything that they are doing which strikes you as out of character. Examples to look out for are: Under/overeating, becoming obsessed with someone or something, making impulsive decisions, spending large amounts of money, refusing to spend any money, sleeping all the time, hardly sleeping at all, using drugs, changing physical appearance often, promiscuity, isolation, not leaving the house etc. etc.

Of course, those listed above are indicative of unusual or dangerous behaviors if they are new or something that the individual doesn’t normally do. This could be an indication of a manic episode, depression, self-neglect or a cry for help.

If you do notice any unusual or dangerous behaviors, try to gently address this with your loved one, and explain that you’re concerned about the impacts this may be having. Try to ask why they are choosing to behave like this – or if they are even aware that they are doing it at all. It may be at this point that professional help should take over.

Don’t – Make every interaction about their illness or make them think that you feel sorry for them.

Of course, this may be difficult if you are genuinely concerned for the well being of your loved one. However, try to remember what your relationship was originally based on. Are you best friends who loved to go to football games together? Then try to talk about football as much as you can, talk about the old times and distract them from their illness. Are you a married couple? Then continue to base your interactions on your love for each other and your family. Are you working alongside someone with a mental illness? Then ensure that you’re acknowledging their illness, but also still in a working environment.

Again, this step may be difficult, but the general basis is that you need to remain at the core of your relationship with the individual. Try to think about old times, and have a laugh and a joke where you can. Complain about boring everyday things, like the traffic on the way to work, or the fact that your cat woke you up at 5am. Sometimes, the smallest distractions from the individual’s mental health can help them to build up towards a stronger recovery. After all, as they get better, your friendship/relationship/marriage will be based less on their illness, and more upon the great future you’re going to have together.

Related image

 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

It goes without saying, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychiatrist and I am certainly not a therapist. I am a 20 year old girl who dropped out of her first year of Mental Health Nursing. However, I am fortunate/unfortunate enough to have an extensive knowledge on recovery from various mental illnesses, whether that be myself or those around me. I have been the one in recovery, and I have also been the one supporting unwell loved ones. All I can say is, any effort is better than no effort, and as long as you’re doing the best you can, that will still mean the world to someone.

I’ll leave some links below for support services.

Hope you’re all well, and thank you for reading 🙂

Understanding Mental Illness

Mental Health Self Referral

Carer’s support

Local Support Groups for Carers

 

 

 

 

 

First thing’s first

cropped-22687530_1447575702005671_5233367318804861639_n.jpg

I am somewhat struggling to create an introductory post which will successfully encompass my aims and desires for this blog. My ultimate intentions are to document, share, and express my experiences through life.

I will be the first to say that I’m not always normal – I’m very aware of that. There’s something about the way that my brain works, which confuses me and those close to me. However, despite numerous doctors appointments and assessments, the conclusion from a mental health point of view is that I merely have depression and anxiety – which is really no news to me. After convincing myself for years that I am “broken”, it turns out I’ve just got a ridiculously negative perspective of myself, life and everything in between.

My aim of this blog is to document my journey and attempts to move away from the cynical and soul-sucking reins of depression. And by that, I don’t mean that I am going to be a #positivity #unicorn #angel. I am fully aware that pretending that everything is sh*ts and glitters is just as delusional as thinking that life is sh*t and sh*tter. My hope is that I can become someone who is accepting of the good, the bad and the plain bog standard average.

Recent events have lead me to fully re-evaluate my life and the way that I have been reluctantly dragging my meat skeleton around for the past 20 years. It turns out, living life feeling guilty for absolutely everything, hating everything about yourself, downplaying all your achievements and treating yourself like trash will catch up with you. Last week, it caught up with me.

Last week, 20 years worth of self-hatred and unexplained resentment for myself finally took its toll, and I gave up. Despite being a perfectly competent, clever, witty, caring and valuable member of society – I convinced myself that I am a terrible person and that I don’t deserve to be here anymore. Last week, I wrote a note and shoved a load of pills down my neck. Last week; when the doctor told me he couldn’t ascertain whether I would actually live or die; it struck me that all I want to do is live.

Now, I do not for one second want to write as though my actions and behaviours last week were acceptable, normal or rational. If anything, I am reluctant to even share any of this, but that’s purely because I am worried that someone will get the wrong idea. But I feel as though having been through the literal rock bottom of my existence; things can only get better. In the past 7 days, I have really dug deep into the dark depths of my depression and anxiety. I have realized things about myself and my behaviours which I have been oblivious to for years.

I always assumed that struggling with anorexia between ages 15-18, and recovering from food issues, that I was now “cured” of any mental illness. I wrongly thought that eating like a normal human, not crying over a bagel and not jogging on the spot for 4 hours whilst watching The Inbetweeners meant that I was #recovered and that my life would be sprinkles and rainbows from that point onwards. With this in mind, I set my sights on pursuing a degree in Mental Health Nursing; hoping to inspire and help others to recover from the bullsh*t that their own brain fires at them on a daily basis. I truly just wanted to help as many people as I could, and I thought that my journey and recovery from anorexia was enough knowledge to allow me to excel in this field.

However, as I got further into the degree, I realised that my daily life was still tainted by the subtle bullsh*t of depression and anxiety. I additionally realised that I don’t actually want to be a nurse – I know, I can’t believe I am actually saying it, but it’s something that I’ve known for a good 6 months. However, I pushed myself to make the most out of every placement and every assignment. I certainly had moments where I loved it, and truly thought that I might be able to continue for another 3 years and beyond, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

Yet the events of last week solidified to me that I really was in the wrong profession. Sitting in A&E after attempting to take my own life, being asked by a mental health nurse “what do you study at university then?” I couldn’t help but squirm in the irony of the whole situation. Yes, I have made some absolutely massive mistakes, the degree, the lifestyle habits, the overdose and the general sarcastic approach to life is all a big mess. however, I am optimistic that I will make something of myself.

For some reason, I survived last week. I don’t believe in Jesus or VooDoo or fate, but I do believe that I am resilient as f*ck, and I am still standing here, all five foot eleven of me.

The next few years are going to be so much better. I won’t pretend that I am suddenly cured or happier or less depressed than last week. If anything, I’ve gained about a stone, become addicted to cheese & crackers, had 7 midlife crisis’ and forgotten how to drive. But, I know that things are going to get better, and I am starting this blog right at the very start. So that’s all I have to say for now.

I will always be 100% real and 100% honest. Whether you can relate to what I’m going through or not, I somehow manage to make everything sound entertaining, so at least you won’t be bored reading this.

 

 

(Disclaimer) – Everything that I have addressed in this post is the truth, and I am fully aware of how serious and severe the topics are that I have spoken about. My way of dealing with things and moving on past things is to make light of it, and to brush it off in a sarcastic way. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t been through some of the most emotional and heart-wrenching situations, I just don’t really want to write about how I cried myself to sleep for 2 years; or how I pretty much can’t sleep anyway. Something about that isn’t really as readable as paragraphs of Heather mocking herself.